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Other Issues (27-02-2007)

What is the social reality of Europe?

What is the social reality of Europe?
The European Commission launched a public consultation on February 26 to take stock of present social realities and trends in European societies.
The aim is to provide a snapshot of Europe’s changing social reality, examining social trends and their implications and drawing out key issues and challenges for Europe at all levels.
In taking up this challenge, the Commission aims to reach out to different constituencies to tap into their views on what constitutes Europe’s ‘social reality’. Views will be sought on social trends, the main factors driving Europe's social transformation, 'well-being' and the factors that contribute to it.
The exercise aims at generating a wide debate and reaching out to different constituencies and citizens.
Issues it covers include:
The rise of the citizen as consumer
  • Individuals define themselves by the choices they make over consumption. Consumption is so important to people that they are prepared to incur large consumer debts in order to sustain it: as a percentage of annual household disposable income, consumer debt stands at over 90%.
  • For the affluent, rising incomes have fuelled new sets of demands in an increasingly post-materialist society: as consumers, for new hobbies, organic food, gyms and personal trainers, and personal counselling; in business, for all kinds of consultancy; and in politics for environmental concerns.
  • The consumption race can be ultimately unsatisfying, and for those who cannot keep up, it seems a source of stress - accentuating problems of self esteem and feelings of failure. Parallel to the explosion of healthy eating fads and diets, gyms and jogging, psycho-social factors are thought to be big contributory factors to binge drinking, obesity, and mental illness.
Access to good health
  • There are wide variations in healthcare outcomes across the EU – for example, five year survival rates for bladder cancer range from 78% in Austria to 47% in Poland and Estonia.
  • Regions where income inequality is high tend to have a significantly lower life expectancy than regions where income inequality is comparatively low.
  • 7% of Europeans had taken prescription drugs in the previous 12 months due to psychological or emotional health problems and 3% had received psychotherapy in that period (7% in the Netherlands). 
  • As for obesity, the health risks can be as large as from smoking. Yet a Eurobarometer Survey showed that half of 15 -44 year olds had indulged in no vigorous physical activity in the previous seven days and 40% had not even taken part in moderate physical activity like walking for more than 30 minutes.
The consultation will be underpinned by a background document prepared by the Bureau of European Policy Advisors which examines the main drivers behind the social transformations in European societies.
This “Social Reality Stocktaking exercise” is one of the actions proposed by the European Commission in its communication of 10 May 2006 “An Agenda for European Citizens” and was endorsed by the European Council in June 2006.

More information can be found here: