Opinion Factsheet 

EU response to the demographic challenge

Opinion Number: CDR 40/2016
Commission: SEDEC
Status: Currently in discussion
Date: 16/06/2016
Demographic change is one of the biggest challenges facing Europe's regions and cities. Forecasts for 2060 point to an ageing Europe with big demographic disparities among territories. These issues will have a major economic, social, budgetary and environmental impact.
Europe's regions and cities have reacted by adopting measures within their areas of competence and participating in horizontal cooperation strategies. A change of this magnitude cannot be tackled without vertical cooperation initiatives that complement local and regional action with national and supranational intervention.
The present EU response to demographic challenges is partial and poorly developed. It is, moreover, focused almost exclusively on ageing. Many policies that could help to tackle these problems lack specific approaches. In the case of Cohesion Policy, for example, Articles 174 and 175 have not been sufficiently developed and implemented and positive measures on demographic handicaps have not been adopted. There also needs to be further attention to demographic challenges within the European Semester.
First of all, we need to have as our point of reference a European strategy on demographic challenges, as requested by the European Parliament in its resolution of 9 September 2015. This would be a strategy that aligns all policies: on cohesion, innovation, transport, health, social affairs and employment, ICT, rural development, and so on. It is also important that the strategy be backed up by detailed forecasts in our future multiannual financial framework and European budgets.
Post-2020 Cohesion Policy, in particular, should be geared to facing demographic challenges and to equipping itself with specific instruments for the areas most affected by these challenges. The Europe 2020 strategy should be more sensitive to these issues, as should the European Semester, including local and regional initiatives.
No impact

- states that demographic change is one of the major challenges facing the European Union. Its factors include an ageing population, a decline in the number of young people, and a lower birth rate;

- considers that the demographic change that Europe is experiencing is on such a large scale that if it is to be tackled, strong vertical cooperation initiatives are also required, which back up action taken at regional and local level by means of measures designed at national and supra-national level;

- indicates that cohesion policy should play a more vigorous role in tackling demographic challenges, in accordance with the explicit mandate of Article 174 TFEU. This Article stipulates that "particular attention shall be paid to rural areas, areas affected by industrial transition, and regions which suffer from severe and permanent natural or demographic handicaps such as the northernmost regions with very low population density and island, cross-border and mountain regions." Similarly, Article 175 TFEU stipulates that the objectives set out in the preceding article must be taken into account when formulating and implementing the Union's policies and actions; that their achievement must be supported by the Structural Funds, the EIB and other financial instruments. It adds that other specific actions might prove necessary. To date, however, these provisions have not been sufficiently implemented, while positive action measures corresponding to demographic handicaps have not been adopted;

- believes that the EU's response to demographic change should be broad, coordinated and integrated, as this is a cross-cutting issue. A European strategy on demographic change is needed, which will bring all policies – cohesion, innovation, transport, health, society and employment, ITC, rural development, emigration, etc. – more into tune with this issue. This strategy should have a firm basis in common EU values, equal treatment and human rights. A strategic approach should also involve cost-analysis and projections at national, regional and local level;

- recommends that the Europe 2020 strategy should be more attentive to local and regional demographic challenges, by means of a flagship initiative on demographic issues;

- emphasises the link that must exist between demographic change and the European Semester, and stresses the fact that the latter must have a territorial dimension.

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