When it comes to debating declining birth rates, it seems like everyone is a winner—no matter your political allegiances. When the National Center for Health Statistics revealed in May that U.S. birth rates hit a historic low of 1.76 births per woman, social conservatives took it as a cue to rail against abortion and a decline in family values. For liberals, it bolstered their arguments in favor of more immigration to fill the labor gaps.
But occasionally the debate can tip into uncomfortable racial territory, as it did last year when Iowa Congressman Steve King tweeted that “we can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.” The comment caused outcry, but in Europe—which collectively has one of the lowest birth rates in the world—nationalists have discovered rich political opportunity in the continent’s baby shortage, and some of the rhetoric is worryingly reminiscent of the eugenics programs that haunt Europe’s past.
In Germany last year, an election poster for the far-right Alternative für Deutschland showed a pregnant white woman reclining below the caption: “New Germans? We’ll make them ourselves,” reminding many of Nazi-era propaganda. Geert Wilders, an opposition politician in The Netherlands, speaks of being “wiped away, our population replaced and our culture annihilated.” Valeri Simeonov, a Bulgarian politician who has called the Roma minority “ferocious anthropoids” whose women had the “instincts of stray bitches,” has been put in charge of the country’s demographic polices.
The fact that nationalists and the far right appear to have hijacked the issue is particularly worrying to experts, who say the demographic decline is an issue that should concern everyone.
“This is a real pity,” says Alejandro Macarron Larumbe, author of Demographic Suicide in the West and Half the World. “If only parties from the extreme of the political spectrum talk about this, we will hardly improve in this major issue.”