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Gepubliceerd in: Geron 1/2015

01-12-2015 | Herman Van Rompuy

Immigration is inevitable if we want to maintain our population

Auteurs: Max de Coole, Jan willem van de Maat

Gepubliceerd in: Geron | bijlage 1/2015

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Abstract

For the European citizen, Europe is increasingly linked to the word crisis. From Greece to the boycott of Russia, from the climate to more refugees pouring in. The current generation of older people was the cradle of Europe or, rather, they looked on willingly from the sidelines when the idea of a united Europe was developed. Do you understand that even among older people there is a lot of disappointment about what Europe has brought them?
Opmerkingen
Postscript:
This interview was conducted by letter.
Translation: Angelique van Vondelen
For the European citizen, Europe is increasingly linked to the word crisis. From Greece to the boycott of Russia, from the climate to more refugees pouring in. The current generation of older people was the cradle of Europe or, rather, they looked on willingly from the sidelines when the idea of a united Europe was developed. Do you understand that even among older people there is a lot of disappointment about what Europe has brought them?
I am aware of how finite we are. We need to be ‘prepared’ for death, in that we need to be aware of it. Those who are aware, accept more
We live in turbulent times – not only in Europe – but also worldwide. For some political developments, the EU is dependent on what happens elsewhere in the world. Take for instance the wars in Ukraine or Syria, this is something we can hardly come to grips with. But the crisis in the Eurozone is our own responsibility. I do understand their disappointment, but this disillusionment holds true for national governments as well.
Europe tries to look at the ageing of the population mainly in terms of an opportunity for innovation and the economy. This is underlined by comprehensive subsidized programs such as ‘Europe 2020’ and the research program MOPACT (Mobilizing the potential of active ageing). What is, according to you, the major challenge for an ageing Europe?
The ageing of the population is indeed a challenge for our economy. We all have to stay active longer and we need creative solutions from a smaller group of younger people. If we want to maintain our population, immigration is inevitable. This could increase to 10 percent of the total population according to a study from the European Commission. On the other hand, we need to reserve budgets in order to cover public expenditure for health care and pension schemes. All in all this will add up to three percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) in 2013 and six percent in 2060.
Is the ageing of the population typically a subject for the European Commission and the European Parliament or does it also fit the agenda of the European Council in which the heads of state of EU countries are assembled?
In the first place, this is a task for the 28 heads of state because many of the authorities that can tackle the problem of the ageing population lie with national governments and national parliaments.
With respect to the previous question: to what extent is an overall European policy proportionate to the individual, national policies of the Member States in this domain? How comprehensive is the European agenda?
Europe should take its responsibility when it is not possible anymore for individual Member States to take action. The list of subjects increases: climate, terrorism, euro, common market, cybercrime, criminality et cetera.
Luuk van Middelaar, author of ‘De passage naar Europa. Geschiedenis van een begin’ (2009), states that there is a third Europe. Apart from the ‘Europe of the Citizens’ (European Parliament and European Commission) and the ‘Europe of the States’ in which the heads of state are assembled (European Council), there is a ‘Europe of the Offices’, in other words a Europe that is governed by bureaucracy. He poses urgent questions about the complicated issue of the democratic status of the European Union. Citizens do not recognize themselves anymore in the enormous offices, nor can they relate to the European Parliament that adopts legislative acts. How can we prevent the alienation of European citizens?
First of all, Europe should come with results in several fields: unemployment and economic growth, tax fraud, illegal immigration, financial speculation and so forth. Citizens judge every government - also the European government – on the basis of its results. And they are sometimes slow in coming. The gap between citizens and politics also manifests itself on a national level, judging by the ever changing election results. Where voters become disappointed in one party, they go and look for another ‘better’ party.
Which role should the older generation play within society, today and in the future? What does it ask of them and what are the demands on society?
There are many different kinds of older people. ‘The’ older generation does not exist. But society will need older people more and more. If not on a professional level, at least because of their importance for the civil society. What would the voluntary sector be without the contribution of older people?
Herman Van Rompuy (1947) is internationally well known as the first permanent president of the European Council (2009-2014). At the time of his election as president in 2009, he served as prime minister of Belgium. From an early age on, he was politically active and during his career he has acted as a minister in several Belgian cabinets. He was also president of the Chamber of Representatives for several years, and in 2004 he was appointed minister of state.
Herman Van Rompuy studied philosophy and attained a master’s degree in economics. In September 2015 he became president of the European Policy Centre in Brussels, an important independent not-for-profit think tank committed to making European integration work.
His ideas about the presidency of the European Council are reflected in characteristic statements, such as: “There is only one profile for the president: that of dialogue, unity and action.” And: “I will listen carefully to everyone and I will make sure that our deliberations turn into results for everyone.” (Looking back, looking forward, speech at the Conference Dove va l’Europa, Rome 2014).
In his role as president, he commented on the euro crisis: “Never waste a good crisis.”To conclude that, because of the crisis, he was able to fulfill his position better “than some people had expected.” About the influence of power he ventilated: “Power makes a human being suspicious, but he who doubts makes the biggest mistake of all.” To conclude, Herman van Rompuy summarized his career concisely: “You will find what you have never been looking for.”
(Other quotations are taken from the Belgian newspaper De Morgen).
The retirement age has been postponed, but when older people become unemployed they are no longer an attractive option for employers. At the same time, it is very difficult for younger people to find a job, especially in the South European countries where unemployment rates among the young are sky-high. Does a lack of jobs put pressure on the solidarity between the generations?
I do not need old age politicians in order to recognize myself in politics (…) order to recognize myself in politics (…) That is what counts
Unemployment actually divides society. The only answer is to create more jobs, by being more competitive, innovative. It is no coincidence that in some countries unemployment rates are very low whereas in other countries they are unacceptably high. There are major differences within the EU. A strong economy is the basis for more jobs.
What is the best balance between paid and unpaid work? For example, in the care for older people: which services need to be paid for and what kind of tasks can be carried out by family, friends or volunteers? Can the North European countries learn something from their South European counterparts?
The taxpayer cannot pay for everything. A society without the voluntary assistance of parents, grandparents, family, and other people who are just willing to help is no longer a society. That is why, for a number of activities, a joint strategy or a set of regulations for unpaid carers is needed, the more so that they will not be ‘punished’ when they take on care tasks.
In 2010, when you were asked whether you ever considered your own retirement, you said that during your own life you were preoccupied with death and the end of life because it seemed more important. What did you mean by that? How do you reflect on growing old?
To grow old healthily and actively, as I do, is a privilege. But biology takes its course. I am aware of how finite we are. We need to be ‘prepared’ for death, in that we need to be aware of it. Those who are aware, accept more.
You started a new phase in your career last September when you became President of the European Policy Centre, a famous European think-tank. You have chosen for an active continuation of your career in a professional environment. Do you think it is necessary to abolish the statutory retirement age?
In Belgium there are no limits for ‘working ’ beyond the retirement age; this has no effect on the entitlement to pension benefits. Together with an increase in the retirement age I consider this a sensible policy. It is a win-win situation.
Politics is predominantly your domain, you showed initiative from an early age on. In the Netherlands (and Belgium?) active politicians seem to become younger and younger. There are hardly any pensioners in the House of Representatives in The Hague anymore. What are we about to lose when older people do not manifest themselves in politics any longer and what could be a new and inviting perspective for them?
Society will need the older generation more and more
I do not need old age politicians in order to recognize myself in politics. I do not have any ambitions in that direction myself. The country needs to be well governed. That is what counts.
What could or should the older generation contribute to the European political discourse?
Older people should declare that they have ‘enjoyed’ seventy years of peace in Europe. We may never forget that. Without the Union the chances of war are real!
The political stage is dominated by speeches and arguments. It is a world of many words. You are a practitioner of the Japanese Haiku, a classical verse consisting of three lines and 17 syllables (5-7-5). Would you end this interview with one of your own Haiku’s about ageing?
An old dog shuffles
Slowly next to his old boss
Growing old with him
Older people should declare that they have ‘enjoyed’ seventy years of peace in Europe
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Metagegevens
Titel
Immigration is inevitable if we want to maintain our population
Auteurs
Max de Coole
Jan willem van de Maat
Publicatiedatum
01-12-2015
Uitgeverij
Bohn Stafleu van Loghum
Gepubliceerd in
Geron / Uitgave bijlage 1/2015
Print ISSN: 1389-143X
Elektronisch ISSN: 2352-1880
DOI
https://doi.org/10.1007/s40718-015-0103-6