Europe's population is ageing fast, and the decline of Europe's working-age population is likely to start in 2012, while the over-60 population will continue to rise by about two million people a year, according to Eurostat figures, a pace twice as fast as before 2007.
These trends are not new, and represent a formidable challenge for EU policymakers.
The first aspect of the demographic challenge is internal: demographic change means new needs, in particular in the healthcare sector, and threatens the stability of European social systems. Designed in times when life expectancy was shorter and birth rates were strong, they will have to cope with a shrinking pool of contributors and an explosion of beneficiaries. In a context of monetary crisis, a further worsening of public debt could mean, among others the collapse of Europe's economic and monetary system.
The second aspect of this challenge is external, as a dwindling population and workforce is putting Europe in a difficult position in a world where other emerging economies still have relatively younger and growing populations, which means a growing pool of future talents. In the long run, this could affect Europe's competitiveness and relevance in a world whose centre of gravity is shifting towards Asia.
Countdown to 2020: a decade to get back on track
The European Union has vowed to address the issue and made it the focus of its Europe 2020 strategy. To turn the challenge into an opportunity, it has decided to support investment in new technologies and services that can be adapted to an ageing population, as an important part of initiatives such as the Digital Agenda and the Innovation Union. It also has pressed Member States to conduct the structural reforms needed to save Europe's welfare systems from bankruptcy.
According to the European Commission, Europe has about a decade to get its house in order, or be left behind in the global competition. Will these efforts be sufficient to maintain Europe's competitiveness? As public opinion turns increasingly hostile to both structural reforms and immigration – which will be indispensible to alleviate the impact of population decline – can European policymakers turn the tide? Can the European social model still be counted as an asset – to attract talent and investment – or has it become a liability? Are emerging countries at such an advantage? What are their weaknesses, and where can Europe still compete? Will climate change level the field?
This event will look at the latest trends inside and outside the European Union, and will try to give a global perspective on ageing and competitiveness.