Demographic Change : Commission Bracing for a Silent Revolution'

Article excerpt

In an effort to face up to the challenges posed by demographic changes, the European Commission is preparing a new Communication for the autumn which may be presented to the European Council on 20 October in Lahti, Finland. The first elements were unveiled at the recent informal Council of EU Employment and Social Affairs Ministers, the European Commission having staged the first policy debate on 13 June on the basis of contributions from various Directorates-General.

The stakes are high: the anticipated fall in the population of working age will have an impact on the majority of EU policies. The EU, therefore, needs to maintain production potential, improve the health of the population at large, achieve balance and long-term sustainability of public finances, adapt services and infrastructure to requirements, boost net immigration and seize on this silent revolution' which will see the simultaneous coexistence of four or five generations compared with three in the past.

IMPROVING HEALTH

First challenge: developing "additional actions" alongside the Lisbon Strategy to "tap economic potential linked to ageing and to address demographic trends in the longer term". Action should notably focus on enabling pensioners to remain active and autonomous for longer and increasing efforts to promote healthy lifestyles. The Commission feels that EU cooperation on research into illnesses affecting the aged will also be beneficial. Likewise, professional training should be enhanced. Finally, a Commission Report in 2007 will address the issue of age-related discrimination.

NEW MARKETS

Second challenge: adapting the goods and services on offer. "Longer life expectancy will boost demand for services [tourism, leisure services]", according to the document drafted by the Commission. The provision of affordable local professional services and further support for voluntary assistance should therefore be developed. An EU action programme to develop new technologies might encourage the emergence of these new offers.

ENCOURAGING FAMILIES

Third challenge: encouraging demographic renewal. A debate should be launched on ways to help young people start a professional life, their social protection and access to housing and on achieving a better quality of life for families. "An increased birthrate is not conceivable without gender equality and greater responsibility on the part of fathers", according to the Commission. The social partners should pledge to negotiate EU agreements going beyond parental leave with a view to addressing all aspects of reconciling working life, private life and family life.

OPENING THE DOORS TO IMMIGRATION

Fourth challenge: immigration, which should be considered in a more positive light. …