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Member states must better help combining work and life, EU says

dpa German Press Agency
Published: Monday October 30, 2006

Brussels- Under growing pressure to tackle the challenges of a shrinking workforce and an ageing population, the European Union on Monday urged member states to help their citizens to better unite paid work with family commitments. European governments must set up more flexible working patterns, said EU Employment Commissioner Vladimir Spidla. Such schemes should include cuts in working hours for young parents which would be made up for at a later stage in their lives.

Spidla also called for introducing compulsory paternity leave as this would enable women to combine home and work. "Staying at home and taking care of the kids should not mean that people are losing out in their careers," he added.

EU member states must draw up policies that would help people to balance work and family life so that they could have the number of children they wanted, Spidla told reporters at the first EU-level expert forum on Europe's ageing crisis.

The average number of children per woman across the EU is at 1.5, but 2.1 are needed to replace a previous generation.

"In the future, we will have to look at all policies through demographic glasses," said Spidla.

"Changes will be evident in the labour market, the health care and pension system, but demographic ageing will also be a challenge for our educational systems, our urban planning, housing facilities or infrastructure," he added.

Spidla welcomed German plans for setting up an 'European Alliance for Families' aimed at supporting member states in developing family- friendly conditions.

However, the EU would not plan any concrete legal proposals to tackle the lack of a good balance between work and family life but leave mapping out new policies to the bloc's member states. Germany takes over the rotating EU presidency from current holder Finland on January 1, 2007.

"Family-friendliness is also a major location factor for European enterprises engaged in global competition," said German Minister for Family Affairs Ursula von der Leyen, adding that a balance between work and family life would also increase productivity.

Von der Leyen also presented new German initiatives such as the introduction of a salary for parents which will amount to a maximum of 1,800 euros per month.

Finnish Minister for Social Affairs, Tuula Haatainen called for "universal childcare services" to help in particular women better unite career and family life.

The EU commission earlier this month presented a new strategy to address demographic change in the 25-member union.

The number of Europeans of working age (between 15 and 64 years old) is expected to shrink by 20 million by the year 2030, taking into account 1.8 million immigrants annually.

Falling birth rates rising life expectancy and the retirement of the baby-boomer generation mean that by 2050, two workers will be paying for one pensioner.

In almost all European countries, having a child pushed down the employment rate of women between 20-49 years by more than 14 per cent, while it drove up men's by almost 6 per cent, the commission said earlier.

The continuing struggle to balance work and home not only forces women to quit their job, but also lowers fertility rates, the EU executive said, adding that this had a negative impact on the bloc's already sluggish economy.

National action plans drawn up by member states so far "showed less visibility and a loss of momentum of gender issues," the commission said earlier.

© 2006 dpa German Press Agency