European Union Extended Working Life Policies: On Pension Systems, Public Finances and Biopolitical Disciplining

Authors: Clary Krekula
Series: Issue: 13 2020
Themes: ,
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This paper takes three key European Union documents on extended working lives (EWL) and looks at them from the perspective that policies are not entirely shaped by problems: in fact, problems are often shaped, in narrative terms, around policies.

It concludes that the ‘problem’ which shapes much EU policy on EWL is questionable – the notion that we must react to ageing populations by finding ways to keep the population economically active for longer. These key papers are in fact addressing a different and unspoken problem, the paper argues – how to use a raised retirement age to strengthen weak national finances. The three papers examined are:

The EU White paper: An Agenda for Adequate, Safe and Sustainable Pensions, 2012

This report states in its first sentence that ‘Unless women and men, as they live longer, also stay longer in employment and save more for their retirement, the adequacy of pensions cannot be guaranteed.’ The report poses a solution: aligning women’s retirement age with that of men. The paper’s author argues that this rhetoric treats the most privileged older people and men as the norm to which women and the less well-off should aspire.

The Pension Adequacy Report, 2018

This report sheds light on gender differences in old age poverty and pension entitlements and provides an illustration of the conditions under which people in different types of employment and self-employment currently acquire pension rights. It takes population ageing as a starting point for its reflections, the paper’s author says, and thereby presents EWL as the means of reducing financial vulnerability among older people and to securing public finances.

The EU Ageing Report, 2018

The EU Ageing Report begins by stating that the population of the European Union will be ‘turning increasingly grey’ in the coming decades due to fertility trends, increased life expectancy and dynamic migration flows. Again, the author argues, pension reforms are seen as an economic strategy to meet the interests of public spending.

The author concludes that while the rhetoric surrounding EWL has changed over time, there has been no systematic analysis of the effect of temporal change on different groups of elderly people. There is no direct correlation between demographic change and retirement age, and political priorities are taking precedence. So these processes need to be examined further in order to deepen our knowledge of political initiatives to raise the retirement age.