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The aging Union: EU politicians and the dominance of the upper middle-aged (updated)

German newspaper Die ZEIT yesterday published an article titled “Demografie: Die schon wieder” (Demography: Them again) about how the generation of baby boomers, those born in the early second half of the 20th century, is dominating politics, economy, society.

The 35 years old author looks at how the babyboomer generation grow older and shape life of everyone around themselves because they are the majority. And they will be with us (younger people) for quite a while to come, shaping our lives more than we will be able to take over society. While focused on Germany, the article also took a look next door in Europe where an 87 year old man has just been re-elected Italian President. He’s not a babyboomer but a sign that the trend of aging societies also affect the age of their leaders (not to say that there weren’t old leaders in the past).

When you look at the EU level, the picture is similar: In 2008, the average EU leader was 55, and if my own calculations are correct the average European Council member is 53.9 years old – the youngest is 39. The average age for a European Commissioner, again according to my own calculation is 57.1 today – the youngest is 43. According to this article, the average age of Members of the European Parliament was 55 in 2012. [Update: According to this academic study, the average age of an MEP at the start of the legislative period was 51.2, with MEPs from countries that joined in 2004-2007 being in average about 2 years younger.]

Next year, there will be European Parliament elections – and my guess is that young(er) people will not get a great share on the candidate lists. My guess is also that member states will propose European Commission candidates that are mainly from the babyboomer generation, maybe with some exceptions from Central and Eastern Europe where the old elites had a bit of a hard time after the transition. And my guess is that the EU’s top jobs will go to people beyond the 55, even though the second youngest European Council member has been seen jockeying for one of those jobs.

And so we will continue to get policies made by the average 55 year old person for the average 55 year old person’s life. Eurostat finds that youth unemployment rates are double as high in Europe as the average unemployment rate, which may well be a sign of how existing jobs and job policies favour the upper-middle-aged.

More than that: Technology has evolved in the last 20 years at a speed that only a small part of that generation is and was able to understand. The fact that the oldest EU Commissioner (also older than any European Council member) is responsible for the EU’s Digitial Agenda is just an indicator of where we are standing. No offense, Neelie Kroes, you seem to be the exception to the rule in this regard… 😉

2 Responses to The aging Union: EU politicians and the dominance of the upper middle-aged (updated)

  1. avatar James Beckles says:

    An ageing EU does pose many questions not all of them problems. I share the authors thoughts that policies are still being written by the over – 55s but that is qualified by their age and experience having lived through the changes and challenges that has shaped Europe today. The under 35s will of course come into political prominence and will be the ones making the policies and legislation of tomorrow. The under 35s are already politicised and galvanised by such issues as unemployment and the Euro. The real test will be seeing this demographic stand for and be elected to office and represent the views, opinions and aspirations of their peers. Hopefully that will lead to more balanced policy making that represents the views of a cross section of society.

  2. avatar Ronny Patz says:

    The argument of the original article I based myself on was however that because the age cohort of the 45-65 is so large compared to those that came afterwards, standing for elected office for the younger is much harder because it is more difficult for them to get the necessary majorities (dominated by the older).

    The amount of young MEPs (see article I linked on the EP figures) is a sign that this is largely true, i.e. that the next generation is hardly represented politically.

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