European Commission’s conference on demography took place in Zagreb on 11 December

The international event gathered Croatian and European officials and experts in the field to discuss ways by which Europe can address its negative demographic trend.

The conference was held under the auspices of the European Commission’s Vice-President for Democracy and Demography, Dubravka Šuica, who is also the Croatian member of the commission. Participating in various panels numerous Croatian and European officials agreed on the necessity of designing a comprehensive policy that will reverse the negative demographic trends on the old continent.

In her address Commissioner Šuica noted that recent data indicated an extremely negative trend in Europe’s demographic picture: “In 2021 a population census was conducted in all member states, and when compared to the previous census nine EU member states registered a significant decline in population, including Croatia. The situation is even more problematic on the regional level, as some regions registered a drop in population of up to twenty percent. Additional data shows an accelerated aging of the population, increasingly lower birthrates and changes to the structure of households. This is borne out by the data point that one third of European households are single occupancy households.”

For his part and Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said that the problem is severe and will require a serious solution if European countries are to save themselves from extinction: “If we do not find effective solutions that will reverse these negative trends in the coming decades Croatia’s very survival will come under threat. This includes the sustainability of the pension system, and Croatia’s economic vitality and competitiveness. At the beginning of our mandate we recognized this problem, and understood just how important this challenge is.”

Speaking to the Croatian state broadcaster ahead of the conference Commissioner Šuica emphasized that going forward demography must be at the heart of all European policies, especially those that deal with economic development: “Given that every child born today will live 95 to 100 years, thanks to advances in medicine and better lifestyle habits, we have to somehow adjust our policies accordingly. All of our policies and laws are geared to a 65 to 70 year model, and we have to change that way of thinking and harmonize our laws with the new life expectancy.”

Programme of the conference

Opening remarks by President von der Leyen at the international conference ‘Demography Dynamics: Navigating Europe’s Future’, via video message

Dear ladies and gentlemen,
dear Andrej,
dear Dubravka, 

thank you for the invitation to participate in this event. I am sorry that other obligations prevented me from being with you in Zagreb today. It is a great pleasure to address you during this important conference on demographic change in Europe. And where better to talk about change than in the newest EU member: Croatia.

Among the many challenges we are faced with today in Europe, demographic change is one that requires particular attention. Demography, they say, is always important but never urgent. However we must use our most precious capital, the people, to build our future competitiveness. As we start working on demographic change, we embark, together, on the journey towards a more resilient and thriving European future.

Through this conference we are recognising that demographic change is not a distant concept but a reality shaping our societies and our peoples’ everyday lives. These shifts and realities, be they aging populations or changing family dynamics, require strategic responses. Through the toolbox which you are looking at deeply today, we are focusing on empowering younger generations to thrive in a dynamic world.

We also look at balancing family aspirations and paid work and delve into labor shortages and legal migration, exploring solutions to strike the right balance. In your conference today local leaders will paint a canvas of demographic outlooks, shedding light on the actions and projects they are running and sharing their different experiences.

As we look forward, I invite you to reflect on how to best use this toolbox not just in Croatia but across the entire European landscape. I hope this event is not just a dialogue; but a catalyst for tangible, positive change. Let’s open this toolbox, explore its contents, and use the available resources together.

Thank you for your commitment, your expertise, and your partnership in building a Europe that thrives.And I wish you a very good conference.

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