According to Eurostat, the population of the 27 countries that make up the bloc fell by close to 172,000 in 2021, with net migration and births failing to offset the death rate.
The EU's population declined in 2021 for the second year in a row, in part due to the lingering effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the latest figures released by Eurostat, the EU.
The total population of the 27 EU member states fell from 447 million on 1 January 2021 to 446.8 on 1 January 2022, the European statistics office said in a note, a net decline of about 172,000 people.
The only other time since the 1960s that the EU registered a fall in population was in 2011, but it picked up the following year due to net migration.
"The negative natural variation (more deaths than births) has not been offset in number by a positive net migration, for the second year in a row, most likely due to the impact of the pandemic,” the institute said.
The EU has attracted more residents coming from outside the bloc, with a net migration of around 1.06 million people, compared with 800,000 in 2020, it found. Even so, this increase has been insufficient to offset the imbalance between the birth and death rate.
There were 113,000 more deaths in 2021, compared to 2020, while the birth rate remained almost the same as in the previous year.
"Given the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic since 2020, the fact that the number of deaths is expected to increase further due to population ageing, and assuming that fertility rates remain at a relatively low level, this negative natural variation could well continue," Eurostat experts said.
"If this is the case, the EU's future population decline or growth will probably depend largely on the contribution made by immigration," they said.
There is a strong disparity between countries. Ten states in the EU saw their populations decrease in 2021, with Italy (-253,100) recording the highest drop. On the other side, 17 countries saw an increase in their populations, led by France (+185,900).
The population of individual EU member states on 1 January 2022 ranged from 500,000 in Malta to 83.2 million in Germany, with Germany, France and Italy comprising almost half (47%) of the total EU population as of 1 January 2022.
Over a longer period the population of the EU has grown steadily, from 354.5 million in 1960 to 446.8 million on 1 January 2022, an increase of 92.3 million.
However, the rate of population growth has slowed in recent decades, with the population growing, on average, by about 0.7 million people per year between 2005–2022, compared with an average of around 3 million people a year during the 1960s.