Doc. 9805

13 mai 2003

Population trends and their sensitivity to certain policy measures

Motion for a recommendation

presented by Mr Tkáč and others

This motion has not been discussed in the Assembly and commits only the members who have signed it

1.       Europe stands on a demographic threshold. After a century of natural population increase the outlook for this century is instead natural decrease of Europe’s population. A large part of Eastern European countries are already facing substantial population decline and many of the western countries are experiencing close to zero growth. Although fertility trends are notoriously hard to predict, there is no reason to suppose that the coming decades will see a substantial and durable recovery in fertility rates in Europe. It follows, therefore, that the only possibility for continued growth or maintenance of population is through immigration from countries outside Europe. The shift from population growth to decline would influence all sectors of society and shape European policy choices in almost all areas.

2.       The new demographic transition that Europe is experiencing started to evolve in the middle of the late 1970s. However, it is only now that the real effects are starting to become noticeable. The combined effects of ageing and smaller cohorts of potential mothers lead to structural changes, such as much smaller shares of people in working age. Structural changes such as this have far reaching effects since they directly affect the mechanisms that make European welfare states possible.

3.       The relatively recent emergence of below-replacement fertility in Europe coincides with modernization processes in society, such as changing family patterns and the changing role of women, especially women’s participation in the labour market, etc. Social policy is known to be slow in responding to these changes. We need to consider whether current social policies may not have the effect of presenting additional obstacles for citizens who desire children.

4.       Ageing in Europe, while regarded as a very positive result of a century of social policies and progress in health care, will have far reaching consequences for the member states’ institutional capacities. Particularly, the oldest of the elderly constitute the group that can be expected to increase most rapidly in the near future. This group is known to require more institutional care for a longer period of time than the elderly in general.

5.       Apart from structural changes, the potential for population decline resulting from persistent below replacement fertility levels poses an obstacle for continued economic growth. Economic growth has so far been achieved by a combination of population growth and increased productivity, but unless a large migration intake can be secured to counteract the decline, Europe will have to rely on increasing productivity in order to not fall behind other economic regions in which it competes.

6.       Europe is facing multiple problems regarding its capacity to provide social welfare over the coming decades. These, in different ways, involve some form of social and economic reform. A number of local, regional, national, European Union, Council of Europe and other international initiatives have focused on the problems related to Europe’s demographic development, but so far most solutions have focused more narrowly on the nation-state.

7.       The Council of Europe’s commitment to social policy is manifested in the European Code for Social Security and the European Social Charter, two unrivalled instruments for standard-setting in this area. The Parliamentary Assembly and its Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography, concerned with the ongoing demographic changes, recognize that the population changes facing Europe in the coming decades will directly and indirectly affect the very base on which these instruments rest.

8.       Population trends are in turn affected by political decisions, such as access to kindergartens, the balance between working life and family life as well as sex education and measures to promote reproductive health. Also lack of political decisions affects population trends. The challenge of raising a family in Europe in the 21st century is not the same as it was in the 1960's and 1970’s. Modern society has been characterised by high participation rates among both men and women in the labour market, family patterns are being remodelled, single mothers and fathers are both socially accepted and common, high divorce rates are common across Europe, etc. In sum there is evidence that young people who want to start a family face a very different set of choices today than just 30 years ago. Has society kept up with these changes or is it lagging behind? Are the demographic consequences of policy measures in different fields analysed and understood?

9.       Adapting current institutions and policy measures to a changing demographic landscape in Europe concerns all parts and all directorates of the Council of Europe and is a process that is likely to take several years to implement. Thus, it requires high-level political involvement for a sustainable period of time. Failing to adapt current institutions to new demographic conditions would affect the member states’ capacity to finance elements of their social welfare and social security in the coming decade. At the same time population trends do not necessarily have to be taken as given; it may be possible to have a degree of influence on them through carefully planned policy measures.

10.       The Parliamentary Assembly also recognizes that the demographic development occurring in Europe has to be followed through by institutional changes that adapt to these new conditions, dictated by the population structures that are now in the making. This work concerns all the member states, the Council of Europe’s Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, and a large number of the Council of Europe’s steering committees involved in work related to social cohesion, health, social policy (particularly in relation to the Social Charter and the Code for Social Security), and not least of all, population issues – including migration.

11.       The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe regards population issues as a fundamental component in the Council of Europe’s social policy work, and recognizes the role of its Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography in monitoring and shaping the Organisation’s work in this regard. A major concern of this Committee is the assessment of how ageing, very low fertility, population decline and migration flows within and into Europe are likely to change the structure and composition of Europe’s population in the coming decades and how different policies may influence demographic trends. Such changes may challenge current social and economic policies in the member states. Close monitoring and adequate projections of demographic trends is therefore an essential tool for managing social welfare policies in response to demographic changes. In this regard, the Parliamentary assembly has benefited from its close working relationship with the Council of Europe’s European Population Committee.

12.       Consequently, the Parliamentary Assembly recommends the Committee of Ministers to:

i.       ask its European Population Committee to elaborate a study of whether policy measures taken in member states have had an impact on demographic trends, especially fertility rates;

ii.       make provisions to provide close monitoring on the following population trends: low fertility, ageing and health, and migration;

iii.       investigate how social policy could be modernized to accommodate people’s desires to have and raise children as well as assessing the possible impact of such policies;

iv.       investigate how the ageing process will affect institutional care, and the sustainability of the welfare states in a society with the new demographic profile of Europe;

v.       investigate the effects of migration and its role in sustaining Europe’s population size. Special emphasis should be put on the barriers for labour migrants, integration, and equal rights of migrant populations;

vi.       investigate the sustainability of the welfare state accommodating the demographical changes taking place in Europe between now and 2020;

vii.       ask its relevant committee(s) to assess the Council of Europe’s instruments concerning social security and social cohesion with regard to how these instruments will affect social policy reforms in countries of Central and Eastern Europe and in particular focus on the demographic changes taking place in Europe between now and 2020.

Signed 1:

Tkáč, Slovakia, EDG

Branger, France, EDG

Bušić, Croatia, EPP/CD

Cilevičs, Latvia, SOC

De Zulueta, Italy, SOC

Einarsson, Sweden, UEL

Hancock, United Kingdom, LDR

Higgins, Ireland, EPP/CD

Nasufi, “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”, EDG

Popa, Romania, SOC

Torrado, Spain, SOC


1        SOC: Socialist Group