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News blog18 July 2023Directorate-General for Communication6 min read

Democracy & demography - reflections & a way forward in the European and global context

It has been a while since my last blog and the weeks since have been very busy! During this time, I have continued my tour of EU Member States. I always try to meet a broad spectrum of stakeholders during these missions. Of course, I meet with national governments but equally important are my exchanges with regional and local authorities as well as civil society. Wherever possible, I travel outside of the capitals, because the EU is also our rural areas and smaller cities. I am always struck by the richness of our European heritage; how our culture is such a diverse mix, but also with many common threads that link us all.

It was enriching to reach out to the various parts of our Union, as we declared an end to the devastating, life-changing pandemic. In many ways, it feels as if life has returned to “normal”, as travel has resumed and in person meetings are now back. This is proof of the resilience of humankind. We adapt, we change, and we can do it very quickly. Even in the most difficult of circumstances. Nevertheless, I believe that we have also learnt key lessons. About how we interact, how we work, how important it is to practice solidarity. These lessons will remain with us, I hope. They show what can be done when we come together.

But, nothing will be normal as long as the war in Ukraine rages on. Indeed, one of the experiences that has marked me most in these past weeks was a mission to Kyiv in April. I went there together with my good friends, Minister Camilla Waltersson-Grönvall, representing the Presidency of the Council, and Ewa Kopacz, Vice President of the European Parliament. We felt that it was very important that the three institutions would travel together to show how united the EU is in its support of Ukraine. Our main objective was to focus on the plight of children, who are the first victims of this terrible aggression.

Vice-President Suica on a Conference in Stockholm 3

We tackled the challenges ahead, notably the de-institutionalisation process that we are supporting with a pilot project to find appropriate family-based care for the children who are in EU member states. We were also briefed on the children who have been forcibly deported, which led the International Criminal Court to issue arrest warrants for Vladimir Putin and his so-called Child Rights Commissioner.

We insist on protecting children today because they need to be the ones who will reconstruct their country – with our help and support – in the future. A reconstruction that will in time see Ukraine take its rightful place in the EU family.

Our shared vision for Ukraine, is to ‘Build Back Better.’ Without safeguarding Ukraine’s future generations, the reconstruction of the country will neither be complete nor sustainable. This is an important message I passed on subsequently at key conferences on Ukraine, in Stockholm and in London.

Conference London 2023
VP on Conference in Stockholm
VP Suica on Conference in Stockholm 2

That visit to Kyiv brought back many memories of living in wartime. Difficult, personal memories. Remembering the sirens in my hometown, Dubrovnik, when we ran to the shelters, with my daughter who was only 8 years old. These memories strongly influence my determination to support those suffering from war and to preserve our democracies.

But just 30 years later, I am so thankful that this same country, the one I know best, is celebrating 10 years of accession to the EU. Croatia, currently the “youngest” Member State has now taken its rightful place at the very centre of the EU. Young Croatians are growing up as members of the euro-zone and Schengen area. The frontiers have come down. Such an achievement takes courage, time and yes, dreaming too! Things can change for the better! Dreams can come true!

Croatian accession to the EU
Croatian accession to the EU 2

The reflections on war and peace, lead me to thinking about the state of our democracy, because the attack on Ukraine is also an assault on our values and way of life. People are fighting for their right to determine their own future path. I must say that I am worried when I see that we are not always in the best of health ourselves. What does it say about our democracy when hundreds of migrants, including children, who are fleeing to seek better opportunities, die a horrible death on our shores? How can we say that our democracy is fit for purpose if our citizens are losing faith in the institutions that are designed to serve them? How can we expect citizens to engage if they cannot afford essential services? When it is increasingly difficult to distinguish between an honest political message and the disinformation that is crowding our media? When the universality of rights and values is questioned from within?

In this vein, I have continued my work on strengthening our engagement with citizens and civil society. I find a lot of enthusiasm at events and meetings on how we can strengthen our democracy. The Commission is leading by doing. In the past weeks, we completed the first cycle of European Citizens’ Panels. We invited three sets of 150 randomly selected citizens from every Member State of the EU to deliberate on food waste, virtual worlds and learning mobility. Their recommendations fed directly into the Commission’s policy initiatives.

European Citizen's Panel

We also look ahead, to future generations. We want to engage our children. Child participation in policymaking is a right. It is also becoming a real necessity to build more resilient democracies. Last week, I opened the first General Assembly of our new on-and offline EU Child Participation Platform. This platform will include children’s voices in our policymaking. Our decisions today will undeniably impact the world they will live in for decades.

This enhanced engagement with our citizens is one of the most tangible outcomes of the Conference on the future of Europe. But it is certainly not the only one: we have adopted strategies on mental health, critical raw materials, protection of children online, climate-related legislation and on brain drain, among many others. All inspired by the proposals of the Conference.

COFEU Plenary Session

I am particularly proud of the last one, because I steered the so-called Harnessing Talent communication, which launched the Talent Booster Mechanism. I find this tool particularly exciting. It is designed to help regions that are experiencing population decline: losing their best and brightest. It is very important that we provide concrete support to these regions – which are to be found all over the EU, from Portugal to Romania, and from Germany to Greece.

These demographic challenges are finally being given the recognition they deserve. At the European Council on 29-30 June, our leaders called on the Commission to draw up a Demography Toolbox, which will help us to ensure that the EU can design the right policies to cater for new realities. A reality where people are living much longer and healthier lives, but where our labour force is shrinking. These policies will help the EU maintain its competitive edge. And make a tangible difference to the lives of citizens.

This also coincided with the start of the Spanish Presidency on 1 July. The programme put forward places a great deal of emphasis on demographic change and I look forward to a very busy, fruitful semester where much of the work that my team and I have been doing will reach fruition. I also take this opportunity to thank the Swedish Presidency for a very successful first half of the year.

Spanish Presidency
Spanish Presidency 2

So, as we draw down this phase of our work and look forward to a well-earned rest for all, I am also already looking forward to the many interesting steps that are ahead of us. Delivering for the demos in democracy and demography. But first, enjoy the summer!


Publication date
18 July 2023
Directorate-General for Communication