EU commisisoner Šuica sounds alarm on demographic shift

The European continent is ageing and the bloc is not ready for this radical change in the age pyramid, Dubravka Šuica, the EU’s first demography commissioner, stressed on Monday 25 March.


“This [change] demands a profound rethinking of institutional, political, economic and cultural frameworks, since they are designed for shorter life spans, so we have to change the mindset,” she told a conference in Brussels.

The EU commissioner warned that although this change is slow and often invisible to EU citizens in their daily lives, it is also extremely powerful and very difficult or impossible to reverse, especially in rural areas.

Today, a growing proportion of the EU’s population is over 65 and a significant number over 80. By 2100, the EU’s working-age population is expected to fall by 57.4 million.

At the same time, around half of the babies born in Europe today will live beyond the age of 100.

“The challenge lies in ensuring that people remain active in the workforce as long as they can or want to, and that our welfare states remain balanced,” said Belgian foreign minister Hadja Lahbib.

To take just one example, public spending is already projected to rise from 24.6 percent of GDP in 2019 to almost 27 percent in 2040.

“If we do not consider demographic trends and mitigate them where possible, we may end up sleepwalking into dark scenarios,” said Šuica, referring to the strain on public services and pensions, the potential for unfilled jobs, the pressure on budgets or the negative impact on competitiveness.

Addressing these demographic challenges will require more sustained efforts and cooperation at all levels of government and society, the Commissioner said, admitting that the task will also have to be taken up by the EU institutions to level up the portfolio during the next mandate.

“We need dedicated structures to deal with demography in all its aspects, gathering data, analysing it and proposing policies,” Šuica said, adding that the commission would also need “natural counterparts” in the Council and the European Parliament to take the work forward.

In mid-October, the EU executive proposed a “toolbox” for tackling Europe’s demographic changes, following concerns from member states about the potential impact of an ageing population on public finances and labour markets.

The toolbox included new and existing regulatory instruments, policies and specific funding in four areas (migration, parents, youth and older people), with a particular focus on tackling the so-called ‘brain drain’ in regions experiencing population decline and significant migration of young workers.

“Let’s not consider demography as something that overcome us, let’s pre-empt it with the right policies,” said the commissioner.

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