The European Union's population shrank for a second year running last year, the bloc's statistics office said on Monday, as the region reels from over two million deaths from the coronavirus.
According to Eurostat, the population of the 27 countries that make up the bloc fell by close to 172,000 from the previous year and over 656,000 from January 2020.
"In 2020 and 2021 the positive net migration no longer compensated for the negative natural change in the EU and, as a consequence, the EU total population has been decreasing," it said, pointing to impacts from the pandemic.
The number of deaths began outstripping births in the EU a decade ago, but immigration from outside the bloc helped offset the gap until the first year of the pandemic.
The previous time the EU had registered a fall in population was in 2011 - the only other time since 1960 - but this rapidly picked up due to net migration.
Given the pandemic, an aging population and relatively low fertility rates, Eurostat said deaths should continue to outstrip births in the coming years.
"Should this be the case," it said, "the EU's overall population decline or growth in the future is likely to depend largely on the contribution made by net migration."
While Italy, Poland and Romania recorded the largest population falls, more than half EU member states saw their populations increase, led by France, the Netherlands and Sweden.
Eurostat counted 446.8 million people living inside the EU at January 2022.
See interactive graphic: https://tmsnrt.rs/3atw0e9 (Reporting by Alizée Degorce and Sarah Morland in Gdansk; Editing by Nick Macfie)