The new data released by Italy's National Institute for Statistics for 2016 sounds again like a death knell. There has been a new negative record of births: 474,000 compared to 486,000 for 2015, which had already fallen to historic lows. There were 608,000 deaths in 2016. In one year, Italy lost 134,000 people -- the equivalent of a city of the size of Ferrara or Salerno.
The demographic "illusion" is kept only by the influx of immigration (135,000). If one needs an idea of what Italy would be without immigrants, look at Emilia-Romagna, one of Italy's most populated and affluent regions: in 2035 it will have 20% fewer residents.
Italy is sometimes thought of Europe's guinea pig: wherever Italy goes, much of Europe follows it, especially in the central and southern countries. In 1995, Antonio Golini, a professor at La Sapienza University and a former president of the National Institute of Statistics, was contacted by the director-general of Plasmon, Italy's largest producer of baby food. Looking at the declining birth rates, the firm asked him if something could be done to prevent the company from going out of business. Plasmon started to make dietary products for adults.
A year ago, European geographers went in search of "the most desolate place in Europe". They discovered it not in northern and cold Lapland, but in sunny Spain, specifically in the area of Molina de Aragon, two hours from Madrid. Depopulation has not been the consequence of the climate, as in the Russian steppe or northern forests, but of a demographic crisis.
A report by the National Statistical Institute of Spain explained how the Iberian peninsula has become the sick man of Europe: Spain loses 72 inhabitants every day; 20% fewer children are born there than two decades ago. Demographers draw a line where Spain has no future and 30% of the population will be over the age of 65. In some Spanish regions, the fertility rate barely reaches one child per woman. Deaths already exceed births. Even the newspaper El Pais asked, "Are the Spanish people in danger of extinction?". The Spanish government just appointed a "sex czar" to try to figure out how to sustain the shrinking population.
Spain, in 2050, will be a depopulated nation dominated by older people and singles. The country will lose 5.3 million inhabitants: 11% of the current population. By that time, there will be 1.7 million Spanish children fewer than there are today. No children means that, in the long run, there will be no economic growth or prosperity; democracy will become a gerontocracy and Spain will embrace global irrelevance. Alejandro Macarrón Larumbe, director of the Foundation for Demographic Revival, has provided figures on the number of Spanish provinces that have already seen a loss of population.
The Islamic world has launched a demographic challenge to a sterile Europe. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently exhorted Muslims in Europe to have five children, "because you are the future of Europe". It echoes what the President of Algeria, Houari Boumedienne, said in 1974: "The wombs of our women will give us victory". They dream of conquering Europe through demography instead of terror -- and it seems they are succeeding.
While Italian and Spanish statistics were released, another headline should have captured our attention: "Islam will surpass Christianity" -- to become the world's largest religion in 2070. There is a link not only between Europe's empty cradles and Islam's expansion, but also between Europe's demographic suicide and its passivity facing its many troubles during the last two years: mass immigration, terrorism, intimidation.
No modern, affluent society ever stopped having children before. The influx of Muslim immigrants is a symptom, not a cause of Europe's decline. Members of a healthy continent, who embrace the future in its most elementary form (raising a new generation), would have never have allowed foreign immigrants carving out separate spheres of sharia law in Europe's multicultural enclaves.
As the British author Douglas Murray, has asked, why were workers not brought in from European countries suffering high unemployment, such as Portugal, Italy, Greece or Spain? A sterile Europe apparently thought that civil liberties could be bargained away in exchange for a temporary peace. Everything became negotiable, because everything seemed perishable. An entire continent is filled with aging occupants indulging in childlike illusions of "internationalism", and claiming that all conflicts can be resolved peacefully, non-lethally and diplomatically. Europe's culture is essentially pacifist. It demonizes war, and seeks pleasure and comfort above all else.
Europe's demographic suicide also has serious consequences for the security of a society. During the transition to an elderly-majority state, democracy will be endangered. Welfare redistribution depends on younger workers providing payroll taxes to fund social security. What happens when an elderly majority can vote for itself more and more, at the expense of the dwindling young? National defense will be endangered. Today Europe already refuses to invest in the NATO alliance. Old people's entitlements will take precedence over defense spending. States that will not spend money on defense will be vulnerable to those that do.
A clear-eyed U.S. Congressman, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), correctly said recently that, "You cannot rebuild your civilization with somebody else's babies." He instantly drew that white-hot fire reserved for people who tell truths that threaten treasured fantasies (think Giordano Bruno or Galileo).
Decline is a choice, not a destiny. There is still time, but not much, for Europeans to choose not to disappear.
Giulio Meotti, Cultural Editor for Il Foglio, is an Italian journalist and author.