EU Demography toolbox : a milestone towards a proper strategy?

In October, the European Commission published a set of policy tools to help EU Member States manage the social and economic impacts of demographic change. A first comprehensive step, but with a – too – strong economic focus.

Europe is undergoing a major demographic transformation that requires “holistic and integrated solutions”, as the European Commission states in its press release. If we want to avoid further exacerbating labour shortages and increasing pressure on public budgets, “concerted and decisive action” will be critical in the coming years.

In that context, the European Commission proposed a ‘Demography Toolbox’ which includes action on four pillars:

  • support to parents through work-life balance policies;
  • support to the younger generations in accessing the labour market and affordable housing;
  • support to the older generations in promoting their autonomy and participation;
  • attract and integrate talent from outside of the EU to address labour shortages.

Our first comment

We welcome the fact that this toolbox focusses not only on the fiscal aspects but also on non-discrimination, which is an important issue for older job seekers. Many important policy areas are emphasised as well, such as:

  • the link between environmental conditions and health or longevity,
  • the need to look at older persons to improve energy efficiency,
  • the focus on health promotion and prevention,
  • the need to find additional sources of income than labour contribution to cover the cost of ageing policies.

A caveat is that ageing is again seen only from the economic angle rather than the angle of rights or quality of life. For instance, in terms of care, it is mentioned that ‘welfare’ rather than well-being should be improved. While the recommendations focussing on the labour market are a bit more specific, the ones on care, adaptable housing, accessible environments etc. are much less concrete.

On the issue of promoting longer working lives, some of the directives mentioned as key EU-level tools presents some shortcomings that prevent them to effectively reach their target. For instance:

  • the Employment Equality Directive aimed to protect against age-based discrimination at work: the directive, adopted 22 years ago, allows a degree of flexibility in its implementation, which does not prevent stigmatisation and age-based practices in practice. (add link to our 2021 article)
  • the Work-Life Balance Directive does not take enough consideration of middle-aged informal carers who are still of working age and have to cope with carers’ duties and consequently might struggle to stay in employment. It is important to stress that a large majority of informal carers are women among whom many are in middle and late middle age. A trend that contributes to the gender employment gap.

Our proposals

We have just launched our 2023 AGE Barometer with recommendations and examples of good practices to support employment in older age. (Read more in our Special Briefing)

Beyond employment, we call again on the need for a  comprehensive European Age Equality Strategy to move ahead and ensure equal rights and opportunities at all ages.

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