HEADQUARTERS PRESS CONFERENCE BY EUROPEAN UNION
A publication entitled Implementing the Habitat Agenda –- The European Union Experience was launched this morning at a Headquarters press briefing. Presenting the report on behalf of the European Union was Sören Häggroth, Secretary of State, Ministry of Finance of Sweden, which holds the Presidency of the Union for the first half of this year.
Mr. Häggroth said the issue of adequate shelter for all was a highly important issue on the Union’s housing policy agenda. Housing policy in its strictest sense fell within the competence of the national policy of each member State of the European Union. Since 1989, however, Ministers responsible for housing in each of those States had met annually at informal meetings. The aim of those meetings was to debate problems concerning housing and to exchange views and experiences. Housing policies were complex and often related to other policy areas –- economic as well as social –- which came under the competence of the Union.
Mr. Häggroth said that in Union member States there were a number of challenges that had to be identified if the goal of adequate housing for all was to be achieved. The first issue, said Mr. Häggroth, concerned the problems created by a divided housing market. On the one hand there were areas that were in economic and demographic decline with a surplus of housing. On the other hand there were growth areas experiencing rapid expansion, with a subsequent lack of housing and great need for new construction. In those areas people with low incomes often encountered great difficulty in finding adequate housing at a reasonable cost. That was a threat to social welfare and equity.
The second issue was the problems created by an ageing population. In 1960, citizens more than 60 years of age accounted for 15 per cent of the population in the European Union countries. It was now estimated that that figure would rise to 25 per cent by the year 2020. The ageing population was therefore an important issue that must be addressed. It would have an impact on future demand for changes in the provision and use of housing and at the same time for local services to facilitate the everyday life of older people.
The third policy issue, continued Mr. Häggroth, was the problems created by homelessness. Of course if one compared the European situation to that of the developing world, it was much better. The problem of homelessness, nevertheless, was growing in several countries. "We estimate that there are nearly three million homeless and that 18 million people in Europe are living in inadequate housing conditions", he said. To come to terms with that, it was important that social and economic policy measures should be taken to tackle social urban exclusion and to reduce spatial segregation. That issue would be dealt with at the next European Union Housing Ministers meeting this year in Belgium, which would take over the Presidency of the Union on 1 July.
Mr. Häggroth said the development process in citizen towns was something that was never complete. On the last pages of the report some Habitat Agenda challenges for the Union were highlighted. The Union was very anxious on the political level to raise the awareness of the Agenda as a global policy tool.
Several of the Union's members were very active in the Housing Commission or were giving financial support to the Habitat Centre.
Mr. Häggroth said Europe also had a very long tradition of local self-government or local participation in decision-making. That was an important issue in the implementation of the Habitat Agenda, as was noted yesterday in Sweden's statement to the General Assembly.
Mr. Häggroth also underlined that there were a number of important links between the Habitat and Rio processes. The outcome of the current meeting in New York should feed into the Rio + 10 Conference, as well as other relevant United Nations Conferences.
A correspondent asked whether the Union was supporting the language in the Habitat Agenda, which stated that housing was a right. Mr. Häggroth said the Union had no problem with that phrase. Of course each member country had taken different stances. There were several countries which had given legal support to the right to housing. Belgium, Finland, Greece, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Sweden, for example, had all incorporated the right to adequate housing in their national constitutions. Austria, France, Germany and Luxembourg had also incorporated that right in national legislation.
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