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Procedure : 2010/2157(INI)
Document stages in plenary
Document selected : A7-0350/2011

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Debates :

PV 14/11/2011 - 22
CRE 14/11/2011 - 22

Votes :

PV 15/11/2011 - 7.9
Explanations of votes
Explanations of votes

Texts adopted :


Monday, 14 November 2011 - Strasbourg OJ edition

22. Demographic change and its consequences for the cohesion policy (short presentation)
Video of the speeches

  President. – The next item is the report by Kerstin Westphal, on behalf of the Committee on Regional Development, on demographic change and its consequences for the future cohesion policy of the EU (2010/2157(INI)) (A7-0350/2011).


  Kerstin Westphal, rapporteur.(DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, demographic change is one of the most important themes in our times. For example, we know that every second girl born in Germany today will live to see their 100th birthday. My 13-year-old daughter was happy when she heard this news. However politicians must naturally also respond to this fact, drawing conclusions and establishing general political conditions.

My report, which will be the subject of a vote tomorrow, deals with some of these conclusions and the associated general conditions. It does not deal with social issues such as pensions. This is quite simply beyond the remit of the Committee on Regional Development. What it does consider, however, is the question of what European cohesion policy can do and how we can organise future cohesion policy in order to respond to the pressing issues. I would like to draw attention to four areas mentioned in the report.

Firstly: we need to tailor European cohesion policy more closely than ever to demographic change. Demographic change continues to play quite an important role in the Europe 2020 strategy and in the legislative proposals. Now, as we come to implement the strategy, we must ensure that the topic remains on the agenda.

The second area relates to infrastructure: we need infrastructure suitable to the needs of older people in order to avoid social exclusion. This includes accessibility to public buildings, for example. This move would also benefit other groups, such as families with small children or people with disabilities. At the same time, we need to make areas affected by emigration more attractive, particularly to young families.

The third area relates to older people, children and families. More and more older people live in the various regions of Europe. Regional policy must respond to this fact. For me, this also means promoting so-called multi-generational housing, as well as European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and European Social Fund (ESF) support in the social and health care sectors. Also, when it comes to the prevention of emigration, I believe that well-qualified full-time day care for children plays a very important role. It is a pity that the majority in the committee were not in favour of providing free child care. I would have liked to see much more courage here.

The fourth area of concern is employment. Our prime concern here must be to combat unemployment among women and young people. We have a cohort of young women who are the best-educated generation in Europe of all time. If these women are denied employment opportunities, then we could be accused of being responsible ourselves for creating the shortage of specialist professionals. It is also important that we should make much more use of the knowledge and experience of older people. Appropriate structures must also be established for this purpose in the regions.

I believe we all agree that we need to take an active approach by shaping demographic change rather than just managing it. European regional policy can make a huge contribution here. I would like to thank all the members of the committee who have worked on this report. This has been a long journey and several people have grown old and even retired while the work went on. The result has been worth the effort, however. I think we have produced a good report and I hope that the majority will vote in favour at tomorrow’s plenary.


  Anna Záborská (PPE). (SK) Mr President, there are two reasons for demographic changes: people are living longer and there are far fewer births than before. This report is intended to find a solution to the needs of an ageing generation. It mentions only superficially the measures which could help to increase birth rates. In regions with dwindling populations, families with a higher number of children represent a valuable asset. Despite this fact, the report proposes measures that contribute to the break-up of families – full-day programmes for children or increasing irrational quotas on the gainful employment of women.

The Committee on Women’s Rights also proposed including in the report a requirement to evaluate the invisible work of women; in caring for family members, managing the household and bringing up and educating children. We proposed that Eurostat investigate the importance of the family as regards cohesion policy. We wanted this report to recognise the unpaid work of women when calculating health insurance and pensions. Unfortunately, none of these proposals have been accepted, which is why I sometimes see this report as social engineering.


  Phil Prendergast (S&D). – Mr President, demographic change in the EU is a fact, and adapting to it has become a key priority for the future. There have been demographic changes due to low fertility rates, an ageing population, migratory patterns and a population shift from rural to urban areas.

These changes in our population levels and patterns have brought a number of challenges and opportunities with them. We must make sure we are able to address these challenges and take advantage of these opportunities. Member States can use the Structural Funds to develop strategies to manage demographic change. We must ensure that we have up-to-date information on demographic changes within our Member States and especially within the different regions in our states. This information can then be used for the redistribution of Structural Funds to the areas in greatest need. Housing upkeep and social integration of the elderly in Ireland and elsewhere certainly must be a priority.


  Gerard Batten (EFD). – Mr President, demographics, of course, is a fascinating subject, and behind great historical developments and changes there is often an untold demographic story.

Britain is now undergoing a massive population explosion which, until very recently, went unreported. When Tony Blair became Prime Minister in 1997, we had a population of just over 58 million. That population has now grown to over 62.4 million and, on current trends, the population will grow to over 70 million by 2030 and thereafter spiral ever upwards.

Demographers calculate that all this unsustainable population growth is down to migration and births to migrants.

There is nothing wrong with some appropriate, moderate and sustainable immigration, but the UK is adding over one million people to its net population every four to five years. England is more densely populated than India, China and Japan.

Britain does not have a cohesion policy, but if it did, it would leave the European Union and regain control of its borders and its immigration policy.


  Miroslav Mikolášik (PPE). (SK) Mr President, European society is faced with a number of demographic challenges, which will intensify in the coming decades. The increasing life expectancy in the European Union, of course, makes me happy. However, as far as the low birth rate is concerned, I am aware of the need to review many European and national policies, above all, in the fields of health care, pension systems, support for families and intergenerational solidarity.

I am surprised that the authors here are not able to generally support complete families consisting of a father and a mother, because it is crystal clear that many more children are born in such families than in single-parent families or in any other type of cohabitation.

Concrete measures will need to be taken in European regions and cities faced with the new challenges and also with the new opportunities. This is why it is extremely important that a debate is held on the demographic changes and the latest trends at a regional and local level. It is therefore necessary to use cohesion policy resources in accordance with these indicators too.


  Radvilė Morkūnaitė-Mikulėnienė (PPE). (LT) Mr President, I would like to thank the rapporteur, Kerstin Westphal, for her excellent report and constructive work overall. I had the opportunity to be shadow rapporteur on this subject. Europe’s society is ageing and it has the lowest population growth rate in the world. The Commission stresses the importance of demographic change. It is, of course, a threat, but also an opportunity. In their operational programmes for the 2007-2013 programming period, the Member States plan to spend 8.5% of structural fund appropriations. Regional policy is therefore a key instrument in tackling demographic change. There thus has to be coordination at all levels for a more flexible structural assistance policy, and local authorities and local communities need to be more involved in decision making. Demographic change is a complex issue, and it is therefore equally important for there to be balanced consideration of the needs of children, young families and the elderly. The report focuses more on ways of putting out the fire, but the preventative measures mentioned must also be implemented effectively, and in the future, we will still have to review pension systems which were established and worked effectively at a time when demographic trends were quite different.


  Katarína Neveďalová (S&D). (SK) Mr President, the cohesion policy of the European Union has to reflect the current status and future development in the Union in order to be effective. This is why I warmly welcome the own-initiative report of our colleague, Ms Westphal. The European population is ageing; average life expectancy is increasing and birth rates are declining. Demographic change is often regarded as a problem; however, it may lead to new challenges in many regions of the European Union. Regions and cities, however, need their own initiatives and strategies, but guidelines and coordination are also necessary.

Regional policy is a key instrument for solving the problem of demographic change, so I am voting for the draft reform of the structural policy, where I think it is important to establish a social infrastructure and help for the ageing population. Of course, I also welcome the plans for urban development and the strategy for care for every generation; it is also important to provide adequate support for children, young people, the middle-aged and the older generation and families by ensuring their active participation in the life of the community.

Furthermore, it is necessary to focus on the more vulnerable sections of the community – children, school-leavers, the unemployed, women, people in poverty, immigrants and elderly people. For such a policy to be effective, of course, the coordination of bodies at all levels is essential as well.


  Czesław Adam Siekierski (PPE). (PL) Mr President, demographic change is a problem in many countries and regions. In Europe, we have a low birth rate and a high percentage of migrants, consisting mainly of young people moving from rural areas to large, wealthy cities. The author of the report believes that structural policy in particular should take up the huge challenges posed by demographic change and suggests six main focuses. I will concentrate on three of them. Firstly, the Structural Funds must be better adapted to the challenges of demographic change. Demographic indicators should be used for the regional distribution of Structural Funds.

Secondly, the rapporteur identifies major challenges for both rural areas and urban areas with regard to infrastructure. Depopulation and the social exclusion of the elderly need to be prevented, and urban planning must adapt. Structural Funds can help here. Cities and municipalities must be attractive to their residents, including by means of child- and family-friendly infrastructure and good local public transport. Increasing the female employment rate is a core issue for handling demographic change. Youth unemployment must also be reduced.


  John Dalli, Member of the Commission. – Mr President, I would like to thank Ms Westphal for this report. This report represents a precious contribution for the European Commission. As the report acknowledges, there are great differences in the demographic trends in Europe which some regions are going to experience. Therefore, a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach will not work.

Cohesion policy already supports demographic change through actions such as active labour market policies, investment in entrepreneurship, modernisation of social and health sector infrastructures, kindergartens and housing, as well as support for the economic and social integration of immigrants and minorities. Regional responses to demographic change should address the challenges through integrated approaches. The cohesion policy legislative package for the period 2014-2020, adopted by the Commission on 6 October, will offer a framework to fund a wide variety of investments to tackle demographic change.

In this regard, the Commission has adopted a number of common provisions for the three funds included in the package: the European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund, and the Cohesion Fund. The provisions related to the local development approach, integrated territorial investment and sustainable urban development will allow further flexibility and additional possibilities for funding to address demographic change at regional and local level.

Active and healthy ageing is critical for a sustainable European society. In order to face the demographic trend to a further ageing population, the EU has to reduce the differences in terms of health and must contribute to improving access to health services.

The Commission is now drawing up a common strategic framework that will cover the three funds mentioned, plus the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the European Fisheries Fund. The framework will translate the objectives of the EU 2020 strategy into key actions that will be supported by the different funds. It will address the multi-dimensional aspects of demographic change and will determine how the different funds can better collaborate in this field.


  President. – The debate is closed.

The vote will take place tomorrow (Tuesday, 15 November 2011).

Written statements (Rule 149)


  João Ferreira (GUE/NGL), in writing. (PT) The increase in average life expectancy is an advance that has been made possible by scientific and technical development and the progress of civilisation during the last century: an advance which, sure enough, confronts us with new challenges as well as new opportunities. Within the European Union, this same advance is being used as a pretext for imposing retrograde measures: in other words, for calling into question the rights and entitlements won by the workers and the people of various countries, such as social security systems. At the same time, many of the challenges are not being met as they should: these certainly include the challenges of cohesion policy, regional development, the fight against desertification, and the strengthening and diversification of public services, to name but a few. This report deals with the important question of using Structural Funds, namely, the European Regional Development Fund and the European Social Fund, in order to face up to some of these challenges, especially in the countries and regions worst affected by ageing and depopulation. An increase in the absorption rate of these funds is crucial, and all the more important if we realise that many of these countries and regions are confronted with unacceptable so-called austerity programmes which shrink investment to poverty levels, impeding the full use of the funds by those who most need them and at the very moment when they need them more than ever.


  Filiz Hakaeva Hyusmenova (ALDE), in writing. (BG) Demographic change has a serious impact on the economic and social situation in Europe. The actions required to resolve its adverse consequences are one of the main tasks facing the EU. An ageing population requires suitable measures for increasing the opportunities for elderly people to participate actively in society, for using their knowledge and experience, and for providing them with a decent existence. At the same time, it is also important to increase the support for women and young people by providing them with better access to training, qualifications and labour market integration, and ensuring a work-life balance. Efforts are still required to improve living conditions and the level of employment in every region and to foster their specific potential so as to avoid a high concentration of population in some areas and depopulation of others. The opportunities for curbing the adverse consequences of demographic change should be analysed and used, including support from the cohesion policy instruments. Good coordination among measures funded by the ESF, ERDF and EAFRD would significantly help tackle these problems. I think that additional technical assistance needs to be provided to the hardest hit regions to ensure that they have sufficient capacity to implement Structural Funds projects.


  Marie-Thérèse Sanchez-Schmid (PPE), in writing.(FR) Europe is currently experiencing the most serious economic crisis it has seen since 1929. Member States are faced with intense pressure from the markets, which doubt our ability to return to healthy growth and reduce our deficits. Therefore, it is not the time to ‘spend more’ but to ‘spend better’. Europe can no longer afford to waste taxpayers’ money on needless grants. It should be the driver of smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. Cohesion policy, still too underrated, could provide leverage for the effective investment needed for the embodiment of European solidarity and for the portrayal of a Europe that works to achieve growth and development across its Member States. I would like to raise two points. Simplification must be a central tenet of the next programming period. While the ex ante and ex post conditions can ensure greater efficiency of funds, in no case should they increase the amount of red tape that recipients face. In addition, the Europe 2020 strategy will only be effective if it receives political support across all levels of governance and from the citizens. I am disappointed that culture, sport and industrial policy were regrettably missing from the proposed thematic menu.


  Georgios Stavrakakis (S&D) , in writing. (EL) Without doubt, demographic change is a huge challenge which the regions are required to meet and it will be an even greater challenge in future. Population ageing, the decline in the young population in rural areas and the massive pressure on large towns are just some aspects of the problem. The Structural Funds have earmarked funds of EUR 30 billion for the regions for the period from 2007-2013 for actions in connection with demographic change. Within this framework, we need to find ways of optimising and making effective use of these funds. However, the challenges of demographic change cannot be addressed under a single EU policy. Actions are needed not only in the employment and infrastructure sectors, but also in the fields of education, health care, social benefits, social innovation, immigration policy and action to reconcile family life and work. Within this framework, therefore, the demand that we have repeatedly voiced in the European Parliament for stronger synergies between all EU policies and the corresponding funds is proving to be of vital importance. It is only through coordinated actions that we can formulate comprehensive responses to multi-dimensional problems such as the problem of demographic change.


  Valdemar Tomaševski (ECR), in writing. (PL) The world’s population has grown to more than seven billion. Paradoxically, despite the worldwide increase in the birth rate, Europe is ageing, and the name ‘the old continent’ is becoming painfully literal. Population decline in Europe would be even more pronounced were it not for migration – more people settle in the Union than leave it, but this gives us a false sense of security because too few native Europeans are being born, too few to ensure our demographic security and reverse the trend of our ageing society. We should ask ourselves why this problem is affecting Europe and whether we can do anything about it.

One should not explain the problem of an ageing Europe without taking account of the increase in the average life expectancy of Europeans, which is indeed a pleasing phenomenon. Nevertheless, the main problem is the dramatic decline in the number of births. This problem is certainly not solved by the influx of immigrants. The core of the problem lies in the shift away from Christian values in Europe since the Second World War, especially as regards promoting the family. Instead of encouraging motherhood and fatherhood, the family has been sacrificed over the years in favour of so-called free relationships, abortion on demand, and even euthanasia in some countries. Today, we are reaping the poisoned fruits of this policy: a falling birth rate, an ageing society and the collapse of the pension system in Europe. To reverse this worrying trend, which will lead to the extinction of Europe, we must return to Christian values in Europe and resolutely support the family.

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