MEPs call for regional policy to combat demographic changes

The population is getting older and older - in itself a welcome development. But this comes with challenges. [Shutterstock | l i g h t p o e t]

Europe’s regions are changing. The population is getting older and cities are growing while rural regions are increasingly dying out, causing strains on urban infrastructure. EURACTIV Germany reports

“These demographic trends have a strong impact on all local communities,” MEP and rapporteur for the report Daniel Buda (EPP), said in Monday’s (1 February) debate in the European Parliament’s regional development committee on how to use European structural funds to combat demographic change. His home country of Romania is particularly affected: 240,000 people left the country in 2019, an 8% increase compared to the previous year.

But it affects virtually all member states, Buda said. The problem has grown since the 2008 financial crisis, which exacerbated economic disparities among countries, he said.

The housing situation in many European capitals is becoming a cause of growing concern. Labour markets cannot absorb the oversupply of workers, resulting in poverty and homelessness, and overburdened social safety nets.

Societal aging is also creating problems for the pension system: falling numbers of employees are paying contributions for an increasing number of recipients.

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“The challenges are different,” Buda said.

Poor regions suffer from underpopulation, the economy is collapsing and with it infrastructure. In wealthier areas, it’s the other way around: too many people for too few resources.

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Local perspectives

According to Buda, to combat this, “simple, flexible and attractive” instruments are needed.

In his view, people need local prospects and local value creation. Infrastructural improvements, such as broadband internet connection and better public transportation could result in growth and new jobs.

In addition to the Green Deal, Buda proposes a “Demographic Deal,” a set of measures aimed at redistributing Europe’s population more evenly across the continent.

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Particular emphasis on young women

Austrian MEP Monika Vana (Greens/EFA) also supports the project. “European regional policy must take targeted action against aging in rural areas,” she told EURACTIV Germany.

This requires “targeted infrastructure projects” to “make rural regions attractive for the younger generation as well,” she said.

Vana wants to place a special focus on young women, who were particularly affected by the pandemic. Where kindergartens and schools were closed, many had to give up their jobs to take care of the children while their partners worked – often an economically sensible consideration because of the persisting gender pay gap.

“Central to this, especially for young women, is improving the compatibility of family and career in rural areas,” says Vana, “From broadband expansion to education and care services, there is a clear need for action. Young Europeans should have opportunities in all regions of Europe.”

Research first

One of the leading MEPs on the file, Cristina Maestre Martín De Almagro (S&D), also believes that regional policy is an effective tool against demographic challenges.

However, she urges that nothing be rushed: “We depend on deep research to take effective action.”

For example, it is necessary to define what exactly “underpopulated areas” are, “without falling into clichés,” said De Almagro. She proposes uniform criteria for this purpose.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic and Vlagyiszlav Makszimov]

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