The 2011 European Open Days (*) covered a lot of very different topics, from local transportation to health, traffic, smart cities and education. Almost all these talks, however, starting from the plenary opening session had the same implicit basis, always given for granted without the smallest amount of doubt:

work is the center of life, economic growth is THE social and political framework in which human life happens, job creation is our goal

Everybody was talking only about growth, development, jobs and unemployment. The only room for discussion inside this perimeter was how each piece influences, or should influence, the other three. There were no other pieces to connect.

In the middle of all that, there was a whole session devoted to Ageing in Europe. Why? Because demographic ageing in Europe starts now, as baby boomers begin to retire. The Old Age Dependency Ratio (that is the ratio between retired and working citizens) will double in 50 years from its current 1:4 value.

This fact will increase needs for social spending, while reducing economic growth, therefore creating many conflicts of interests between workers and older people: what will happen to solidarity between generations? Where is the balance between adequate social protection and unsustainable taxes and contributions?

The proposed solution was “active ageing, as the basis for inter generation solidarity”.

Not surprisingly, this is something that is supposed to happen (only and again) through the same vision of the world summarized above: give people more opportunities to stay longer in the labour market and earn a living, so that they will have to rely on pensions, and assistance from others, as late as possible. Here are some quotes to prove the point:

  • we have to manage expectations about becoming elderly. If you expect to have an active life you probably will
  • companies who create old people jobs are more likely to also create young people jobs
  • expect a productivity shift: demand will turn to high qualification
  • invest heavily in skills development, bet on lifeling learning to shift productivity
  • an increased retirement age still leaves many healthy life years for active
  • the goal is to raise the employment rates of older workers, fight age discrimination and promote access of older people to education and ICT
  • Employers and trade unions should offer flexible transitions to retirement, promote mentoring schemes and adapt working conditions to the needs of older workers

In order to promote this vision, 2012 has been declared year of active ageing.

The point is that, said the speakers, even if all goes as planned, that is even if the EU will achieve the desired EU2020 employment rate of 75% for citizens in the 20-64 age range of (which means creating 20 million jobs, since the 2010 value is 68%: where? How?) after 2020 the European workforce will shrink anyway, because there will be less Europeans no matter what. Unless, of course, the employment rate is raised to even more than 75%, or the number of migrants isn’t further increased.

Inter-generational pacts for a stabler and happier Europe

The only deviation from the general mood was the intervention of Giuseppe Porcaro of the European Youth Forum, who proposed:

  • intergenerational pacts on employment, retirement and other economics and social issues
  • lowering the voting age as a practical way to implement and strenghten such pacts
  • face the “(not) living together” issue, that is the too many cases of young people living separate from elders and the dialogue between generations gets lost

Somebody replied to Porcaro’s proposals suggesting the launch of “inter-generational housing initiatives”. My immediate gut reaction when I heard that was “hey, weren’t such things called families once?”

What do *I** think?

Of course, none of the things I’ve written above is news. Still, it was impressive to hear them all together, right in the middle of what you may call a continent-wide Fair of Optimism and Bright Futures. I have no answers or solutions, just a few thoughts and further questions to share, on which your feedback is very welcome.

First off, be it wrong or right, I can’t help but notice that this mental framework I found in Bruxelles is exactly the same of the current Italian government. Same old, same old. Puns intended.

When it comes to the work and “let’s create more jobs” dogmas, I have no final answers myself. I can only tell that, while in Bruxelles, I kept remembering a participant to another congress telling the audience “if you ask the same question for 30 years and never get an answer, probably you’re simply asking the wrong question”.

Does it makes sense to still frame everything only, or mainly, in terms of jobs and jobs creation? Maybe it does, but is it enough?

I do see many people who want to be active and independent as long as possible, participate to society and make the world a better place: but that’s something which is very, very, very far and different from “I want a 20th century style job” or “A 20th century style job would help me achieve these goals”.

Besides, what if there simply will be not enough work to do? Higher education and ICT will (must!) greatly reduce the need just for paperwork/ white collars jobs. But these are exactly the ONLY traditional jobs that most soon-to-be-elders of today may be able to do, if they were forced to retire later. Hmm… what do YOU think?

(*) this and other articles on the 2011 Open Days are appearing late because, due to several hardware problems, I could not recover the corresponding files earlier