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Population trends in Europe and their sensitivity to policy measures

Doc. 10320
6 October 2004

Opinion[1]
Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee
Rapporteur : Mrs Christine McCafferty, United Kingdom, Socialist Group


1.         The Rapporteur congratulates Mr Brunhart on his report on population trends in Europe and his observations on policy measures aiming to respond to the trends of population ageing and population decrease.

2.         A number of issues raised in the report have also been dealt with by the Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee in recent years, namely :

3.         In line with Mr Brunhart’s report, the Committee was of the opinion that reforms necessary to respond to the challenges of ageing societies in Europe ought to be part of a wider political debate in order to: create conditions for active ageing in good health; make pension systems viable while maintaining standards that are enshrined in the legal instruments of the Council of Europe; reform healthcare services while guaranteeing access and quality of care; increase levels of employment of the working age population; improve working conditions in order to reconcile paid work with family life; achieve more equal sharing of paid and unpaid work between men and women; and finally reduce labour costs through a shift in taxation.

4.         The Committee also made a number of recommendations with regard to protection of retired and elderly people, their participation in society (active ageing, flexible retirement arrangements, inter-generational exchange of experience; voluntary work, etc.) and with regard to individual dignity and image of the elderly in society (role of media and advertising worlds, vocabulary used particularly in public services, etc.).

5.         Persistence of mass unemployment in many member countries and the threat of lessening of social rights through reform of social security systems are of deep concern. Social rights, if effectively guaranteed, are a factor of social cohesion, as well as one of democratic stability. Social security has a price but it can cost still more economically, socially and politically to be without it.

6.         In line with the objective of greater social cohesion and solidarity, the main criterion for judging the success of health system reforms in Europe, should be effective access to health care for all without discrimination - a basic human right. Measures undertaken by member states to raise additional revenue and contain costs in health care should be sought without affecting equality of access and greater emphasis should be placed on prevention and primary care. 

7.         In June this year, the Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee adopted a report on European strategy for the promotion of sexual and reproductive health and rights which is tabled for a debate this week in the Assembly. It coincides with the 10-year review of implementation of the Cairo Programme of Action which was adopted at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in 1994 and which represents the acknowledgement by the international community and by all signatory countries, including all Council of Europe member states, that the individual must be placed at the heart of all population, demographic and sustainable development policies.

8.         The ICPD Programme of Action is often heralded as a paradigm shift away from the purely demographic targets of the 1960s, 70s and 80s towards an approach which recognizes the central and legitimate right for every individual, in this case particularly women, to make their own informed choices about if and when to found a family and the number and spacing of their children.

9.         According to The State of World Population 2004 UNFPA report[2], approximately 150 countries around the world have taken active steps to meet the commitments enshrined in the ICPD Programme of Action since 1994 and an ever increasing number of countries around the world have adopted comprehensive population policies, in Europe, often in the form of legislation on sexual and reproductive health and rights. For example, Armenia adopted such a law a few years ago and Georgia has recently started working on such a piece of legislation.

10.        To this day, the ICPD Programme of Action is the only global consensus on what we as the international community must do to tackle population challenges at a global, regional, national and even community level.

11.        Population challenges in Europe are different from most other parts of the world, as Mr Brunhart points out in his report, even when compared to other developed regions such as North America where population is increasing. The closest parallel to European population trends can be found in East Asia, particularly those countries which have undergone, as we have, what is called the demographic transition; countries such as Japan, South Korea, Singapore and increasingly Thailand.

12.        Looking at demographic decline in Europe, we should consider the following factors:

13.        With this in mind, when considering future population policies in Europe, we should first of all be inspired by the internationally agreed consensus and objectives in the field of population, particularly this year as the UN General Assembly meets on 14 October to commemorate the ICPD Programme of Action.

14.        In concrete terms, this should mean that :

15.        Finally, in addressing population and demographic trends we must also recognize that many people may not wish to have more children or found a family. In this respect, we must give particular attention to the need to adapt social systems to conform to this new reality.

Proposed amendments

to the report of the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Population (Doc. 10182)

Amendment N 1

In the draft recommendation, after paragraph 6, introduce a new paragraph as follows:

“The Programme of Action adopted at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo by 179 countries in 1994 represented the acknowledgement by the international community and by all signatory countries, including all Council of Europe member states, that the individual must be placed at the heart of all population, demographic and sustainable development policies. The ICPD Programme of Action, which marks ten years of implementation this year in 2004, is often heralded as a paradigm shift away from the purely demographic targets of the 1960s, 70s and 80s towards an approach which recognized the central and legitimate right for every individual, in this case particularly women, to make their own informed choices about if and when to found a family and the number and spacing of their children.”

Amendment N 2

In the draft recommendation, in paragraph 9 vii, at the end of sub-paragraph a. add :

“in line with the ICPD Programme of Action (Cairo, 1994);”

Amendment N 3

In the draft recommendation, in paragraph 9 vii, after sub-paragraph c. add a new sub-paragraph. as follows:

“recognise that many people may not wish to have more children or found a family and in this respect adapt social systems to conform to this new reality;”

Amendment N 4

In the draft recommendation, in paragraph 9.vii.f.A., introduce a new sub-paragraph as follows:

“address health challenges which inhibit people to have the number of children they desire, improve health conditions to allow people to remain fertile and respond to looming health challenges which can negatively impact demographic trends, such as HIV/AIDS;”


Reporting Committee : Committee on Migration, Refugees and Population (Doc. 10182)

Committee for opinion : Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee

Reference to committee : Doc. 9805, Ref. No. 2842 of 27.05.03

Opinion adopted by the committee on 5 October 2004

Secretaries to the committee : Mr Mezei, Mrs Nollinger, Mrs Meunier and Mrs Karanjac


[1] See Doc. 10182 tabled by the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Population.

[2] The Cairo Consensus at Ten: Population, Reproductive Health and the Global Effort to End Poverty, UNFPA, 15 September 2004.