Year 2 Democracy and Demography
There is a sense of deep change in the air. When you feel that you are witnessing a significant moment in time. A sense that no matter what has passed before, or whatever passes afterwards, life will never quite be the same.
This, in a nutshell, sums up the second year of my mandate as European Commission Vice-President for Democracy and Demography. Perhaps we had sensed this flavour of change already in 2020, as we laid the solid foundations of an entirely new portfolio, which is, so to speak, our home. I want to look forward, and not only to the short-term. I especially want to continue looking deeply at the interactions between democracy and demography, because this house must stand on strong pillars. So we take the long view, to the end of this mandate and even beyond. Working, thinking and building our portfolio beyond any time constraint. In the interest of all generations. No matter where we live or what age we are, we need a vision to orient ourselves and work towards, with unflagging enthusiasm.
Moving forward requires the ability to look back in appreciation of a year that taught us all so much about who we are, where we want to go and how we can get there. Together. And the lesson of solidarity. Take two key personal experiences of mine. The first is one that I share with everyone. Our common global experience of COVID-19 has left nobody untouched and makes this world a village. Despite populist rhetoric, there is no quick, simple solution to such a complex and unprecedented situation. It is only by working together that we can beat it. The second relates to how earlier this year, Croatia in addition to being in the throes of the pandemic, experienced a series of earthquakes. I witnessed first-hand how devastating such an event is. I also experienced tremendous solidarity from the assistance we received from Member States. When we needed it most, our European sisters and brothers provided us with housing containers, winterised tents, sleeping bags, and so much more. A powerful reminder of the fact that Croatia is a member of the European Union family.
We kicked off our year by launching an ambitious EU-wide debate through our Green Paper on Ageing. The demographic mega-trend of our time. Ageing is not just for older people. Ageing also impacts the young in all their life choices. This Green Paper is a blueprint for a European Union for all ages. And because at some stage, we must ensure that this home can also accommodate the adults of tomorrow; in fact we have not forgotten the young as we issued the first ever EU Comprehensive Strategy on the Rights of the Child. Because a child is a child everywhere and should live a life free from discrimination of any kind. And since every child deserves an equal start in life without facing social and economic exclusion, we also adopted the European Child Guarantee, as we seek to eradicate child poverty in our societies. As agents of change, children can teach us a lot. Therefore, we developed the Strategy and the Guarantee for and with children.
This is actually an approach that also inspired our work when drafting the Long Term Vision for Rural Areas. This Vision was written not just for the rural areas but with them. Rural areas provide us with our food, our homes, jobs, leisure and essential ecosystems. Just like every home stands stable on its pillars, so too we built the Long Term Vision based on stronger, connected, resilient and prosperous rural areas.
We have also devised an innovative tool to help identify where we need to focus our attention when dealing with demographic issues: The Atlas of Demography. This is a new interactive tool to help identify, monitor and anticipate demographic change in the EU. It provides robust data that can be used to provide effective policy-making in all areas, including health, labour and education, at the finest level of geographical detail. Because each rural area is different. Because a one-size-fits-all approach just won’t work. Because some regions are facing a twin-challenge of low income and declining population. Different areas are facing similar challenges of population decline and brain drain. We are looking at ways to support areas most affected by these two phenomena and are working on an initiative to be adopted next year. We plan to look into different drivers of population decline and its long-term consequences.
This is because we really care about all regions of the EU and since I mention care, that brings me to another point that I have been spending a great deal of time on. In the context of ageing, we have to deal with the fact that the number of people in need of long-term care in the EU will likely rise from 30 million in 2019 to 40 million in 2050. I am leading the Commission’s work on a new European Care Strategy to support men and women in finding the best care and the best life balance for them. Quite simply, we need to value the care that is given to those that we hold most dear to us. This shows our commitment to support those in need of care, as well as those who provide it. We cannot have a robust strategy without looking at both. The European Care Strategy will also deliver on the child rights strategy by including a revision of the Barcelona targets on early childhood education and care. In addition, in 2022, we will table legislation to effectively combat child sexual abuse and exploitation, present an updated Better Internet for Kids strategy, and develop a Youth Action Plan in EU External action, looking beyond the borders of our Union.
We work on all these initiatives for citizens – and increasingly with them. Even though the European Commission is increasingly using participatory methods, none can engage citizens quite like the innovative exercise in deliberative democracy that is the Conference on the Future of Europe. I have witnessed citizens of all ages and backgrounds, standing up in public for the first time in their lives to deliberate on the future European Union they want to live and work in. Citizens are nothing short of inspirational. And we cannot, and will not let them down: we have committed to follow up on the outcomes of the Conference. Together with them at the heart of the process. This is all part of our work in making our democracy fit for the future.
And on my own reflections on the future of our democracy, I would hope that historians may look at European democracy from a pre- and post- Conference perspective. We are transforming the way we engage with citizens. And I believe that this is a key pillar in building the most stable home we can for every family member, today, and in the future.
- Publication date
- 1 December 2021
- Directorate-General for Communication