The challenge of adapting to demographic changes is now more than ever on the EU agenda. Perhaps the most visible sign came through the creation of a vice-presidency on Democracy and Demography at the European Commission in 2019. Ms Dubravka Šuica and her team have since dedicated enormous efforts to bring demography to the center of European discourse and to support member states to tackle concrete consequences of population change. It is essential to keep the demography agenda alive, strong and relevant even beyond the EU elections in 2024.
Three areas of pressing relevance demonstrate this.
First, the new era of ageing: The socio-economic challenges around ageing are here to stay. Luckily, some of the societal implications of this trend are reasonably predictable when seen from a demographic point of view.
Crises are inevitable. Policies that address ought to enhance resilience. They should enable both citizens and service providers to cope and adapt to the next shock – whatever it will be. A focus on resilience means that policies are thought of in terms of proactive planning, adaptability, flexibility and where possible, prevention, rather than post-hoc solutions to challenges related to the ageing of the population. Resilience means that our policy-generating system must also be resilient for all living generations, from education and health care to employment and family policies. As ageing is taking place everywhere in Europe, the EU must be a key player in terms of exchange of knowledge and coordination on resilience-enhancing policies.
Second, gender: Equality and empowerment are key elements of a demographic agenda. They have consequences on economic growth, productivity and competition – and thus to society.
The European Pillar of Social Rights sets out goals that include competitive economies, economic growth, social inclusion, equality and wellbeing. The European Commission has already made great progress in promoting gender equality. However, stark country differences remain. In most places in Europe, women still bear a double burden through work and child-rearing. Frequently a third burdensome task falls to them, which is the care for older parents. This helps explain persistent low fertility. Poor public infrastructure for child-care imposes family dependence, holds back the transition to adulthood, and delays the onset of family formation and childbearing among the young. The European Union must promote strong care-related policies and commit to ambitious targets for gender equality.
Third, migration within the EU: Migration between member states is a core characteristic of Europe. Yet it is often misunderstood.
The dimensions of intra-European migration are diverse, and must be studied. In many EU regions, young people are leaving rural areas and seeking opportunities elsewhere. This has direct EU policy implications. From the Functioning of the European Union, article 174, one reads: “… the Union shall develop and pursue its actions leading to the strengthening of its economic, social and territorial cohesion. In particular, the Union shall aim at reducing disparities between the levels of development of the various regions and the backwardness of the least favoured regions. Among the regions concerned, particular attention shall be paid to rural areas, areas affected by industrial transition, … and permanent natural or demographic handicaps...” Migration from eastern and southern EU countries to northern and western regions is also persistent and long-established. Yet, in public discourse, emigration processes are often given a negative connotation and frequently coined as “Brain-Drain”. The fact is, however, we know very little about the existence and the dimensions of a Brain-Drain process, as we have little data on migration flows and their consequences. In this case, efforts need to be made at the EU level to monitor intra-EU mobility to properly document the dimensions and consequences of the freedom of movement in our region.
Views and opinions expressed are those of the author only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union, the European Commission, or the institution in which he is affiliated.