Spidla presents strategy to solve “demographic crisis”

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More babies, longer working lives, increased labour productivity, well-managed immigration and “sustainable” public finances are the five remedies for Europe’s demographic crisis, according to a new Commission communication.

The Commission’s strategy rests on five policy pillars:

  • promoting demographic renewal, in other words, new birth policies, which, the Commission recognises, should be combined with better access to accomodation, affordable and quality childcare and a better balance between working life and private and family lives. The Commission has started a consultation  with the European social partners on this reconciliation of professional, private and familiy life;
  • promoting employment: creating more jobs and longer working lives, stimulating “active ageing” and improving public health;
  • improving the productivity of Europeans at work;
  • receiving and integrating migrants;
  • making sure that public finances remain healthy and guarantee adequate social security and equity between generations.

“The source of the problem”, the communication says, “is not higher life expectancy as such, rather it is the inability of current policies to adapt to the new demographic order and the reluctance of businesses and citizens to change their expectations and attitudes, particularly in the labour market”.

The “demographic challenge” has to be “mainstreamed” (integrated) into all other European and national public policies, according to the Commission. It can be questioned whether this “mainstreaming” will fare any better than in other areas where the Commission has wanted more horizontal policy integration in the past (Lisbon, sustainable development).

The Commission’s strategy to tackle the “pension bomb” has paid litte attention to research which has pointed to the more positive impacts of this demographic change (improved role for women in society, less use of natural resources, reducing therefore Europe’s “ecological footprint” or new consumption patterns of older generations leading to new market opportunities). 

Commissioner Spidla pointed to the need for reform. "Public policies need to be adapted to the new demographic order. For example: increasingly women between 30 and 45 have to carry a triple burden: having children, making a career and taking care of aging parents. In a 'life cycle approach' we need to make our educational systems and our work patterns more flexible to support those who want to have children when they want them”, Spidla said.

The Party of European Socialists also sees more work as the answer to the "pension crisis". In a first reaction to the Commission's new Communication, PES President Poul Nyrup Rasmussen called for a "strategy of coordinated investments to kick-start growth and active labour market policies to get more people into work".

The Social Platform  was more negative of the "narrow approach" of the Commission. The umbrella organisation, which represents several social organisations and action groups, expressed frustration "that the [Commission's] sole answer to the challenge of demographic ageing is to keep people at work for longer" and said that "the necessary qualitative changes to the economic, social and political structures of society deserve equal attention". Anne-Sophie Parent, President of the Social Platform added: "It is not by scaring citizens with alarmist projections that the Commission and national policy makers will win the necessary support from the overall population to turn demographic ageing from a challenge to an opportunity".

Because Europeans these days live longer and have fewer children, Europe is facing a challenge of "demographic ageing". This will have serious implications for the economy as less working people will support those who have retired. The size of Europe's working population is predicted to decrease by 48 million between now and 2050, according to Commission figures. This would lead to major negative impacts on economic growth and public finances if current policies remained the same. 

To tackle this challenge, Social Affairs Commissioner Vladimir Spidla presented his communication "The demographic challenge - a chance for Europe" on 12 October 2006. The communication is a follow-up to the 2005 Green Paper on Demographic Change, which received input from a wide-range of stakeholders. 

The communication was presented in a joint press conference with Economic Affairs Commissioner Joaquin Almunia, who focused on the long-term "sustainability" of public finances  in the EU as a result of these trends.

Europe is not the only continent getting older. Big emerging economies such as India and China are also living with serious "age timebombs". Moreover, the demographic crisis should be looked at within the perspective of the continuing expansion of the global population in general (prediction 9.1 billion by 2050 - UN).

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