Africa's scramble for Europe

Then consider: Today there are 738 million Europeans (500 million of them in the E.U.) and just under 1.2 billion Africans. In 2050, according to the latest U.N. projections, Europe’s population will have dipped to (an aging) 707 million, while Africa’s population will be 2.4 billion. By 2100, there will be 4.4 billion Africans – two of every five human beings overall — and Europe’s population will be just 646 million.

The Mediterranean is far wider than the Rio Grande, but this is still a wildly unstable demographic equilibrium. What’s more, as Noah Millman pointed out recently in Politico, northward migration – a kind of African “scramble for Europe” – is likely to increase whether African states thrive over this period or collapse. Desperation might drive it, but so might rising expectations, the connections forged by growth and globalization. (Many Africans currently braving the Mediterranean, for instance, seem to be ambitious, educated citizens from countries with growing economies, not just refugees.)

If Africans were to migrate to Europe at the rate Mexicans have migrated to America since 1970, Millman notes, by 2050 a quarter of Europe’s population would be African-born. That probably won’t happen: The birthrate projections will be off, the migration patterns will be different, European countries will impose restrictions that actually succeed in keeping people out.

But something significant is going to happen.