STOCKHOLM — Europeans need to question their habits if they want to secure the future of their generous pension systems, Sweden's prime minister said Thursday as he opened a summit for leaders from Britain and the Nordic and Baltic countries.
The one-day Northern Future Forum is focused on how to increase the number of female leaders and entrepreneurs and enable senior citizens to stay in the labor force longer. But by default, the summit will expose the increasing disparities between northern and southern Europe, uniting countries with pro-market views and skeptical attitudes toward calls for more EU regulation from countries like Germany and France.
"We live longer, we are better educated and we are healthier than ever before. This is, of course, a fantastic development, but it is also true that our education, health and pension system have not adapted to this development, let alone our attitudes and social norms," Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said.
For British Prime Minister David Cameron, who last month isolated Britain from fellow European countries by rejecting the EU's new pact on closer fiscal unity, the Stockholm meeting is a chance to form new alliances within the 27-nation European Union.
"It's great to get together with like-minded countries," Cameron said. "It's different to European Councils — no long communiques, no long speeches by politicians, just actually listening to new ideas, and trying to make sure we make the most of it."
Reinfeldt acknowledged the meeting brought together some of the better performing economies in Europe.
"Looking at the nine countries that are represented here today, it is true that the economic forecasts are brighter for us than for many other countries in Europe. On average our nine economies will grow about 2 percent ... compared to a negative growth of half a percent for the eurozone," he said.
Still, he noted that the downturn in the rest of Europe will affect the north.
Reinfeldt said Europe's health and pension system have not adapted to residents' longer life spans and that negative attitudes about working longer need to change.
"We have to be open-minded, and you have to be prepared to reconsider what you once thought was true and you have to be able to change your mind," he added.