EU must fight against depopulation with strong family and employment policies

With its share in the global population at an all-time low and another baby boom unlikely, Europe will need to take a holistic approach if it is to reverse its demographic decline, stimulating employment and embracing strong economic and social policies that can restore its citizens' confidence in the future.

In the opinion Demographic challenges in the EU in light of economic and development inequalities, the European Economic and Social Committee said that such an approach should prioritise active labour market policies that combat unemployment and help create quality jobs, especially for young people, whose unemployment rate remains about twice the average in every EU country.

Another key to ensuring positive demographic trends is stable and proactive family policies that promote work-life balance, such as parental leave and flexible work.

Although it can make up for labour and skills shortages, immigration is not the ultimate solution for tackling the consequences of demographic ageing in Europe, the EESC said.

"Member States with active family policies have higher birth rates than those which have none or weak ones", said the rapporteur for the opinion, Stéphane Buffetaut. "The aim is to guarantee that having children does not have a penalising effect on the standard of living or career prospects."

According to the co-rapporteur Adam Rogalewski, the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights is a very important factor in improving the EU's demographic situation, thanks to the strong social measures it proposes.

Drafted at the request of the Croatian EU presidency, the opinion pointed to the problem of "brain drain", most acutely felt in eastern Europe, as its workers leave for economically stronger countries.

Although the free movement of EU citizens is a fundamental freedom of the EU, care should be taken not to foster the systematic migration of the highly qualified and highly skilled, further exacerbating the skills gap with developing countries which would harm their economic and social development, the EESC warned. (ll)