“Europe to postpone retirement until age 70,” announces the front page of Diario de Noticias. Reporting on the green paper with recommendations on the financing of member-state pension systems presented by the European Commission on 7 July, Le Figaro notes that proposals put forward by the Commission “advocate increasing the age at which one stops working and draws a pension so as to prevent the collapse of social welfare systems.” European Commissioner for Employment Laszlo Andor, who is quoted by the Paris daily, explains that his cabinet “is calling on member states to promote a longer working life. They will need to adjust current pension systems to take into account demographic change; and preparations for this must be undertaken well in advance.”

In 50 years time, the number of over-65s will be equivalent to 50% of the working-age population. As the co-director of El Periódico de Catalunya, Juancho Dumall, points out, this means that every two potentially active people will have to finance at least one pension. It is on this basis that Europe has to contend “with a structural dilemma that has compounded the current economic crisis.” In response, he argues that “social democracies will have to establish a more encouraging road-map,” because there is no denying the “lack of economic sense in the current situation in which workers are being forced to postpone their retirement while young people are struggling to find jobs.”

Commission is walking on eggs

With regard to difficulties faced by Spain, where the number of unemployed graduates has doubled over the last two years, Juancho Dumall warns that “the right to a decent retirement is one of the pillars of a welfare state that took years effort to establish. If the crisis forces us to accept the loss of social rights that were long in the making, the adjustment will be extremely painful.”

Le Figaro points out that in presenting its recommendations, the “European Commission is walking on eggs” because “pension policy is supposed to be regulated by national governments without interference from the European Union, although the latter does have a brief to intervene on behalf of the internal market and to oppose discrimination in the workplace.” Now Brussels appears to have found a means to take action on this issue in the form of the green paper and the questions that it poses: “Should automatic adjustment mechanisms related to demographic changes be introduced in pension systems in order to balance the time spent in work and in retirement? What role could the EU level play in this regard?”

You cannot depoliticise everything

“Raising the retirement age and cutting back pension entitlements are possibly the most unpopular measures that any modern European government can take for the purpose of stabilising the public finances... “ remarks Tony Barber in his Financial Times blog. “This explains why there is growing interest among European Union policymakers in the idea of “de-politicising” the pensions issue, by making certain changes to pension systems automatic and not subject to endless, acrimonious political struggles.”

However, the FT’s Brussels bureau chief warns that “in the end, there is no substitute for solutions reached through free political discussion and, at times, conflict. The solutions will probably be temporary, and more efforts required. But that is the price for living in an open society. You cannot depoliticise everything.”