Sweden took over the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union on 1 July 2009. The country’s domestic family policies have achieved some exemplary results: female and maternal employment rates are among the highest in the EU and child poverty among the lowest. With a view to moving family policy forward across Europe, Sweden set out two priority areas for its six-month Presidency: “gender equality and non-discrimination” and “healthy and dignified ageing”.
A new phase of action is underway to underpin the principle of gender equality and non-discrimination in the EU. A major new anti-discrimination proposal, presented by the Commission and passed by the European Parliament, is on the Council agenda. If approved it will extend legal protection against discrimination beyond the field of employment for the grounds of age, disability, religion or belief and sexual orientation.
In the world of work, meanwhile, the Commission has proposed legislation to both make it easier for women to start and run businesses and to improve the position of assisting spouses. Council will also discuss a proposal on improved safety and health at work for workers who are pregnant, have recently given birth or are breastfeeding.
On 15-16 October, Stockholm will host a conference on gender and equality and their link to economic growth and development. This will prepare the ground for Council discussions at the end of the year, which will focus on how gender equality can be strengthened to promote economic growth, increased employment and enhanced competitiveness.
The EU population is ageing and EU Member States need to step up their commitment to care and dignified ageing for elderly people accordingly. The Swedish Presidency has identified people who work in care for the elderly as a key target group. It has stated that better cooperation and an intensified focus on the elderly in care services will be crucial.
On 15-16 September, in the framework of the Swedish Presidency, a conference on healthy and dignified ageing will be held in Solna. Sweden is well placed to take the chair on the topic, as one of the first EU countries to experience the demographic shift towards an older population. Eurostat figures for 1995 showed that Sweden had the highest proportion of its population aged over 65, at 17%, which was to become the EU average ten years later. Eurostat projects a 30% proportion of the EU population to be aged over 65 by 2060.