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Europe since 1990: new borders, new population dynamics?

Alexandre Avdeev, Bénédicte Gérard, Jean-François Léger et Jitka Rychtaříková

New and different borders in Europe since 1990

Since 1990, Europe's internal borders have been considerably changed. Changes apparent both in its eastern part following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and in its western part under the impetus, in particular, of the creation of the Schengen area in 1995 and the expansion of the European Union.

Indeed, since 1990, some land borders have disappeared (notably those between East and West Germany after the reunification of these two countries in 1990) while others have appeared due to the creation of new states. Thus, the break-up of the USSR resulted in the creation of fifteen republics, seven of which were in its European part (1991); Czechoslovakia split into two states (the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic on January 1st 1993); and, in the Balkans, Yugoslavia fragmented into six independent states after a war that lasted several years.

At the same time in the West, the progressive expansion of the European Union (from 12 states in the early 1990s to 27 since 2013) was accompanied by a desire to promote the free movement of people and goods between countries, in particular with the implementation of the Schengen area from 1995. While this area does not abolish land borders, it does contribute to minimizing the constraints that they can exert upon mobilities of people and goods.

However, the question of borders and the affirmation of identity and culture has not disappeared in Western Europe. The recent Brexit is an illustration of this on a national scale; whilst the Catalan and Scottish desires for independence, or the autonomy demanded by Corsica in France are other examples on a regional scale. Moreover, during the recent Covid-19 epidemic, borders were once again imposed on the inhabitants within the Schengen area. This virus, which transcended international borders, has at the same time reminded us of their importance (for health reasons in this case).

Despite these few examples, a twofold movement can be highlighted in Europe over the past thirty years: on the one hand, the multiplication of nation-states in the area of Europe formerly dominated by the USSR and, on the other, the permeability of national borders, which has been confirmed in a context of economic globalization and which has progressively extended, in line with the expansion of the European Union, as far as Russia's western doorstep. This large area of free movement of people, capital and goods tends to render obsolete the old opposition between Western and Eastern Europe.

It is particularly in very large cities where one finds the populations that have benefited the most from increasingly easier movement within the European area. The beginning of the 1990s also marked the increasing dominance of these very large cities - the metropolises. Con-sidered by states as economic, intellectual and cultural forces of international projection, they contribute to the blurring of borders between countries, to the extent that today there are surely fewer socio-demographic differences between these international metropolises than between them and the cities of the lower urban strata in their own country. One might even ask whether these metropolises do not define a human geography that transcends land borders.

As the history of the last thirty years in Europe shows, borders are not set in stone, far from it. Boundaries sometimes separate populations that are very close culturally and linguistically. Borders have also become more blurred, due on the one hand to the increased mobility of populations in almost all European territories and, and on the other hand, to the circulation of ideas, lifestyles, and individual and collective behaviours, which has intensified since the rise of the Internet in the 1990s. As a result, the borders in Europe today, both in their layout and in the nature of the separations they are supposed to impose between the populations of this continent, are quite different from those of the late 1980s.

How have the populations of Europe evolved in this new geopolitical context?

Generally speaking, since the beginning of the 1970s, Western European countries have seen a marked decline in fertility, a continued increase in life expectancy at birth (due in particular to the decline in mortality at advanced ages), a diversification of family forms (single-parent families, blended households, complex families, same-sex couples with or without children, etc.) and an encouragement of early international mobility, as shown by the creation in 1987 of the European educational program Erasmus. In Eastern Europe, in the 1980s, fertility had stabilized at a level barely exceeding the threshold for the replacement of generations, while life expectancy at birth was no longer increasing and remained, with values close to 65 years old for men and 75 years old for women, clearly lagging behind Western European countries. Demography thus also drew a very clear dividing line between East and West in Europe. On the other hand, at the end of the 1980s, the slowdown in demographic growth and the ageing of populations were problems common to the whole of Europe and already well identified by demographers.

In view of all the geopolitical upheavals over the last thirty years, how have populations and the demographics of Europe evolved? Have the major demographic trends mentioned above continued since then, despite the upheavals of European borders? Or, during the last thirty years which have reshaped the maps drawn at the end of the Second World War, has there been a change, an acceleration of these dynamics, or even the emergence of new trends in mortality, fertility, family structures, migrations…? Do similar demographic trends characterize the whole of Europe today? Or are we seeing more localized movements (on the scale of large European regions, states, regions or more local territories) of demographic convergence or, on the contrary, of demographic divergence? Are these developments tending to redefine the geography of populations in Europe, and if so, at what scale(s): the continent, continental regions, countries, sub-national territories, urban strata?

What kind ok links between population dynamics and borders in Europe?

It is tempting to go beyond comparing the evolution of borders in Europe with that of demographic dynamics and behaviour, and to understand the geopolitical context and demography within the framework of a cause-and-effect relationship. Thus, it is possible to consider contemporary demographic developments in Europe as a consequence of the disruption of borders since 1990. In other words, have these changes resulted in movements of convergence in mortality and fertility, for example, where borders were being eroded, and in divergences where they were on the contrary being reinforced? What consequences did this profound geopolitical upheaval have on international migratory movements, but also on those within each country? What effects have these demographic movements been able to have upon the populations of the different countries or regions of Europe, on the spatial distribution of populations, at the international, national and local levels? In a way, does demography follow the geography of borders, or does it define another, more cultural geography (via behaviour in terms of health, fertility, union formation, professional activity, language, etc.)?

This last thought invites us to question the link between state borders and demography in a different way: to what extent and in what way have the geopolitical upheavals of the last thirty years in Europe been influenced, at least in part, by particular demographic developments? Could the analysis of the evolution of demographic phenomena allow us to understand, or even anticipate, the recomposition of many borders in Europe? This approach can also be applied to finer geographical scales and have a more prospective dimension. Given their socio-demographic characteristics, their behaviors (health, fertility, migration, mode of cohabitation, education, languages learned and/or spoken, etc.), towards which territories are certain populations trending? Is it the one in which administrative borders inscribe them? Or do their behaviours define spaces that go beyond these borders and could even, in the long run, define new ones? We may think of course of border populations, but also others. What about the French overseas territories, for example? What about certain metropolitan populations that are sometimes more in tune with those of foreign metropolises than with the populations of the lower urban strata of their own country? What kind of space do these populations define?

Naturally, these lines of thought also raise the question of public policies, whether international, national or subnational, that have been implemented over the last thirty years to accompany the demographic changes that have been observed, to slow them down or even prevent them, or on the contrary to accelerate them, or to initiate new ones. The measures taken by Eurostat to harmonize national census operations and European statistical surveys can also be included in this field of political action. What effects can the harmonization of statistical practices and questioning in European surveys or the common adoption of the same territorial aggregation units for sub-national data (NUTS) have on the representation of possible demographic disparities between countries and within countries? Might these actions not lead to the undermining or accentuation of "real" differences?

Summary of the theme of the issue

This issue of Espace populations sociétés is devoted to the link between demographic evolutions and the changes (terrestrial, symbolic) that have affected borders in Europe since 1990. Prospective approaches are also welcome.

These demographic evolutions cover amongst others:

- demographic behaviours: mortality, health, morbidity; fertility; migration; lifestyle and family structure;

- population characteristics and dynamics: natural increase, net migration and total population growth; replacement of generations; population structure by age, employment status and nationality; demographic aging; etc.

Public policies implemented to accompany or anticipate demographic changes are also included in the scope of this issue.

Demographic changes and population policies may be considered at various scales, from the continent to sub-national levels. Articles may focus on one or more territories, either in terms of their interactions or in the context of a comparative approach. Other articles may focus on populations whose characteristics and evolution are related to one or more territories. In all cases, the demographic characteristics of the territories or populations will have to be linked to the changes that have affected the borders in Europe and that have been describes in great detail in this call for papers.


- Deadline for submission of paper proposals (title and abstract of about 1-2 pages): December 1, 2022

- Selection of abstracts by the Editorial Board and announcement to authors: December 16, 2022

- Deadline for submission of articles to the Editorial Board: April 30, 2023

- Publication of the issue: September 2023

Submission instructions:


Abstracts and articles should be sent to

Jean-François Léger (University of Paris 1, Idup):

And for any further information:

Alexandre Avdeev (University of Paris 1, Idup):

Bénédicte Gérard (University of Strasbourg, SAGE):

Jitka Rychtaříková (Charles University of Prague):

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