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Mr. László ANDOR
EU Commissioner responsible for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion
"The Future of Families and the Europe 2020 strategy"
Informal Ministerial Meeting on Family and Demography
Budapest, April 1st 2011
Honourable Prime Minister,
Minister, Colleagues, Ladies and gentlemen
First, I would like to thank the Hungarian Presidency and Minister Réthelyi in particular for making today's discussion happen on this very important issue: the demographic future of Europe.
It's not an easy task for any presidency to put one of the EU's structural weaknesses like the irreversible ageing of our societies on the agenda.
These are far-reaching issues that cannot be sufficiently discussed over a six-month period. That is why I welcome that the forthcoming Polish and Danish Presidencies also have the interest and commitment to keep this topic high on the agenda.
Daily headlines all over the world are littered with stories about demographic change. This shows it is truly a global issue. In fact, many countries outside Europe are already facing the economic and social impacts of demographic ageing, low birth-rates and migration.
Although the ongoing transition in many countries in the South Mediterranean, or the recent devastating natural disaster in Japan, do not have direct effects on Europe's demographic future, data from these countries - Japan, where the society is ageing at an even faster pace than in Europe, or for example Egypt, where the median age is just over 24 - throws an interesting light on our demographic trends.
Ladies and gentlemen,
My job here today is to talk about the Community dimension of the issue at hand. What really matters is how the European Union can contribute to make Europe more "family friendly" – as Madam State Secretary Enikő Győry said a few days ago.
Demography and family policies are the responsibility of the Members States. However, there is a strong European dimension too. Member States can get support from the European Union to achieve their objectives. This support can add real value, such as the strengthening of economic, social and territorial cohesion across the EU.
This is particularly true for Member States and regions that are confronted most with ageing, critically low birth rates (such as the Central and East European Member States) or with their young professionals leaving the country en masse.
Allow me to start with a tangible “product”: Today, right after our meeting, we will release the latest Demography Report. The Report was prepared jointly by the Commission and Eurostat and it shows that Europeans are living longer and healthier. This is, of course, welcome news.
The Report confirms recent trends and brings new data on fertility, life expectancy with a special focus on mobility and migration. Overall, Europe’s population is becoming increasingly diverse. According to the latest Eurobarometer, more young people report work experiences in another Member State.
From an employment perspective, the most important issue is that the active population will start shrinking already in 2013-2014. This trend is due to the phasing out of the baby-boomers from the labour market, coupled with low fertility. And it will continue during at least the next quarter of a century.
As our economies recover from recession, there will be new jobs created as well. The need for sustainable public finances, as well as any future labour-force shortages will require new measures. These are, among others, the raising of higher effective retirement age and better harnessing the potential of immigration.
These are challenges of such magnitude (let us just think of issues stemming from the increasing of retirement age or the integration of migrants), that we cannot put them off any longer. Finding the right answers is a matter of urgency. This is also why I find it so important to promote this Europe-wide debate on demographic ageing.
For the next ten years, the Europe 2020 Strategy provides us with political guidance. In practice, the implementation of the Strategy will start this year alongside the seven flagship initiatives. This will require even stronger cooperation among EU institutions and governments in the economic, monetary and social fields alike.
Two of our flagship initiatives under the Europe 2020 Strategy have a direct bearing on families. The Agenda for new skills and jobs requires Member States to implement their national pathways for flexicurity to facilitate the reconciliation of work and family life.
In this context, perhaps the most urging issue is to ensure that women can return to the labour market after childbirth. The Demography Report shows that Member States with developed reconciliation measures and gender equality tend not only to have the highest female employment rates, but also the highest birth rates. This shows how modern employment and family policies can play an important role in shaping demographic trends.
The Gender equality pact that you (Employment and Social Affairs Ministers) have approved not even a month ago is not far from this notion.
The other flagship initiative is the European Platform Against Poverty. Under this, the Member States are required to define and implement measures addressing the specific circumstances of groups at particular risk, such as one-parent families.
The latest data on families and children tell us that one single parent in three is at risk of poverty. In some Member States it is almost one in two. If we add that a quarter of European families with three children or more, while in some Member States a half of those families are at risk, then it is not an exaggeration to say that we are facing a very serious problem is society.
On average, Member States spend just over 2% of GDP on support for families with children. The lower the spending on family benefits, the higher the risk of child poverty and vice versa. This seems obvious, but the higher poverty risk for children is also due to inadequate family policies. This will be an important aspect I intend to address in the Commission Recommendation on child poverty, which I will propose next year.
The Demography Report also shows a clear inverse correlation between child poverty and fertility, and a positive correlation between total spending on family and fertility.
However, the reality is that, although Europe is starting to crawl out of recession, unemployment is still too high, while social spending is falling. This means it is families, and especially larger families, who are exposed most to the risk of poverty.
This is why it is critical that the EU, despite its limited competences in the area, continues to try helping families in various ways:
Ladies and gentlemen,
Important changes in society and policy choices lie ahead, not least to ensure continuous and effective support for families and children. In addition, all this has to be done under the pressure of consolidating and stabilising the economy.
Therefore, it is important to look beyond traditional approaches and methods when it comes to dealing with major social challenges. That is why the Commission does all in its power to promote social innovation and full involvement of all the concerned parties – including in particular the social partners – in the innovative process.
Of course, job creation and fighting youth unemployment are closely related to the lives of families. It is an acknowledged fact that economic uncertainty impedes childbearing. This is why it is our priority to reduce quickly the current 21% youth unemployment rate in Europe.
It is equally important to prevent older workers from getting squeezed out of the labour market. Likewise, it has to be guaranteed that those already retired can continue to participate in society, while remaining autonomous and healthy.
The 2012 European Year for Active Ageing will be used to promote this objective. I trust that Council and Parliament will agree soon on the outstanding issues and we can start the preparation with the Member States.
To conclude, I am convinced that modern family policy is a topic on which there is still a great deal to learn from each other. What is at stake is to find the right policy mix that can produce the best results for families. Better family policies that facilitate reconciliation, boost employment, gender equality and reduce poverty are certainly part of this.
Thank you very much for your attention.