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EUROPEAN DEBATE ON THE DEMOGRAPHIC CHALLENGES AND THE LABOUR MARKET WITHIN THE EUROPE 2020 STRATEGY

The demographic challenges facing the labour markets will be sharpening and the EU needs urgent reforms and measures to stimulate employment. In this consisted one of the participants’ messages in the International Conference “Demographic Challenges and the Labour Market within the Europe 2020 Strategy”, which took place on 17 October 2011 in Sofia.

More than a hundred Bulgarian and foreign guests, including representatives from different state institutions and civil structures, members of the Economic and Social Council (ESC) and the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), representatives of the European Commission (EC), World Bank, the academic field and students participated in the event as well as in the beneficial discussion.

The conference was organised jointly by the ESC of Bulgaria, EESC and the Representation of the EC in Bulgaria and generated a wide media interest and response. The aim of the organisers was to encourage a broad discussion to identify the challenges and problems facing the labour markets and to suggest the necessary measures and policies for achieving the goals of the Europe 2020 Strategy.The President of the ESC Prof. Lalko Dulevski defined the conference as a sign that the problems of demographic development and labour market are essential for Bulgaria and the institutions, and that the country was seeking a mutual consensus to achieve between all stakeholders for finding a solution to the above mentioned issues.

The Minister of Labour and Social Policy of Bulgaria Totyu Mladenov opened the forum stating that “the demographic changes, together with the globalization and the advance of information technologies are the basis for shaping a new social reality, which the societies of Europe and the European Union are facing”. He voiced his expectations that the forum was to contribute for the positive reconsideration of the possibilities for changes and for improvement of the employment policy which was to be adequate to the demographic trends and challenges.

H.E. Leszek Hensel, the Ambassador of Poland to Bulgaria welcomed also the participants. He stressed the need of changes in order to increase the participation in the labour market, to foster the cooperation between generations and to introduce new, more flexible forms of employment. “Definitely through the implementation of Europe 2020 Strategy we will narrow the gap between the technological and civilizational processes that play an important role”, said Mr. Hensel. The report of the Polish presidency “Towards a European consensus on growth” states that the young people and those over age of 50 represent the highest growth potential and hence the EU activities should be directed towards them. “In the long run, the ability to make full use of the human resources will ultimately determine the competitive advantage of Europe”, added H.E. Leszek Hensel

. The participants were addressed also by Mr. Dragomir Stoynev, the Chairman of the Parliamentary Commission on Labour and Social Policy. He noted in his speech the sequence of the Bulgarian ESC on the problems discussed. One of its first opinions was namely related to the demographic development of Bulgaria, which was inspired by the debate on European level and appeared almost simultaneously with the Green paper on the demographic challenges for a new solidarity between generations. “There are no recipes, but exactly such forums have a high added value, mainly because of the joint efforts of the organised civil society in Bulgaria and the European Union”, concluded Mr. Stoynev.

According to the Head of the EC Representation in Bulgaria Zinaida Zlatanova “the crisis brought back the unemployment levels to those of the 90-ties”. Therefore, the EU could not remain inactive because as a result of the economic tumoil, a number of weaknesses in the structure of the European economies and the labour markets have emerged, namely the low potential of growth and productivity, ageing population and poverty, limited opportunities for fiscal maneuvers. Analyses showed that the policies that combine security and flexibility in the labour market to a great extent helped to overcome the crisis. “Exactly this allows us to take coordinated action on European level, by exchanging best practices and a strong common economic policy, given the interdependence of the European economies on the one hand and the desire of united Europe to strengthen its role on the world stage”, said Mrs. Zlatanova.

Leila Kurki, President of the EESC Section for Employment, Social Affairs and Citizenship, welcomed the participants in the forum and expressed her gratitude on behalf of the Committee to all organisers and participants of this initiative. She stressed that the event “is a very good example of cooperation between the European Committee and the national Committee’s. And an excellent example of our core activities we call “going local”, in order to create discussion in different Member States on important topics in the EU”. Mrs. Kurki expressed her satisfaction with the possibility that the Committee had to present the two very important opinions already known by the Bulgarian civil society.

Within the conference Plamen Dimitrov, member of the ESC and Chairman of the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions in Bulgaria, presented the main conclusions and recommendations of the analysis on “Challenges facing the labour markets within the Europe 2020 Strategy” adopted by the ESC in October. Wolfgang Greif and Vladimíra Drbalová, both EESC members, presented to the participants two very important recent Committee opinions. Opinion on “The future of the labour market in Europe - in search of an effective response to demographic trends“, asked by the Polish presidency of the Council of the European Union and the opinion on the EC Communication “An agenda for new skills and jobs: a European contribution towards full employment”, one of the seven flagship initiatives of the Europe 2020 Strategy. Mr. Dimitrov, Mr. Greif and Mrs. Drbalová participated very actively in the discussion.

Christos Polyzogopoulos, President of the ESC of Greece launched the debate and congratulated the organisers for the timely debate on “issues, crucial to the past and the future”. Mr. Polyzogopoulos stated that in Greece there was a need to address the demographic problems more as a financial problem than a social and public ones. He emphasized that “this situation is a financial burden on the fiscal policy of a country with compulsory state insurance”.

Former ministers of Labour and Social Policy of Bulgaria Ivan Neykov Hristoskov and Prof. Yordan Hristoskov, President of the EESC Labour Market Observatory Krzysztof Pater, Governor of the National Social Security Institute Biser Petkov, President of the National Statistical Institute Assoc. Prof. Mariana Kotzeva, Representative of the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy Elka Dimitrova and many other participated in the interesting and fruitful debate.

In his speech Mr. Pater gave prominence to employment of people with low education and skills and to the need to be identified, because some of these people were not meeting the requirements of the modern labour market. He pointed out that in various European documents different vulnerable groups were put in one basket - young people, people with disabilities, migrants and low-skilled workers, despite the fact that unskilled workers were in all these groups. In Mr. Pater’s opinion this is the challenge for the European bodies and the EESC should raise this issue - how to increase in real terms the employment of low-skilled workers who cannot improve their skills because of their personal qualities.

All participants assessed the forum as timely and important for Bulgaria and the European Union, and warned that the combination of worst demographic trends and the rising unemployment could lead to what they call “social explosion”.

“Europe needs better functioning labour markets, more skilled workforce, better job quality and working conditions, and stronger policies to promote job creation and demand for labour” stated Mrs. Kurki in her presented summary at the end of the discussion.

According to the ESC President Prof. Lalko Dulevski, the main conclusion of the conference was that Europe was facing increasingly big problems and challenges related to labour markets and that the consequences of the economic and financial crisis have never been so severe.

“We should continue this debates mutually, together, for the future of our children who have to live in Europe and live better than us”, concluded Prof. Dulevski.

MISSION

“THE CIVIL PARLIAMENT” OF BULGARIA

is the “bridge” between citizens and the national government. Its mission is to support such “bridging” so as to facilitate the communication between the society and the national government. It is the new and modern institution of the civil dialogue.

The ESC's mission is to promote civil society organisations access to and involvement in the process of decision-making on strategic economic and social issues.

The main goal of ESC's operation is to enable different representatives of organised civil society to feel free to state their views whereas unanimity on matters of common interest is encouraged. The Council expresses and protects civil society interests by communicating agreed statements and proposals submitted by its members to the executive and legislative authorities.

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