AGE members set their policy priorities for 2015 and call for the adoption of an EU strategy on demographic change
AGE Platform Europa held its General Assembly in Brussels on 2-3 December 2014, immediately followed by its Annual conference on 4th December. The events were the occasion for AGE members to share their views and experience at national level, and to debate on ongoing ageing related issues at EU level with a high-level panel of speakers.
General Assembly re-elects AGE President for a second mandate and approves final 2014 Declaration
The 2014 annual General Assembly of AGE Platform gathered 100 delegates from member organisations across the European Union. This year, elections were held for the presidency of AGE and members decided to re-elect Marjan Sedmak, from Slovenia, for a second mandate (from 2014 to 2017).
In addition to the statutory issues, the objective of our annual assemblies is to allow members to voice their concerns at EU level and to identify work priorities for the following years. It also gives them the opportunity to get updated on the latest EU development and to reflect on the great variety of issues related to ageing and foster exchange and networking among members.
The General Assembly 2014 enabled AGE members to examine how to progress further and more effectively in the promotion of older people’s rights at grassroots level using both national and European legal frameworks. Our debate built on the results from an internal survey, carried out among members earlier this year in view of identifying strategic orientations for the upcoming years. AGE members insisted on the need to take a rights-based approach in all our work, including when implementing the campaign on age-friendly environments, in order to ensure that the ‘older person’ remains central in all debates on ageing.
Thematic workshops were organised around the following four key work priorities:
- Improving accessibility and Design-for-All
- Supporting Europe 2020 social objectives on poverty reduction and employment creation
- Ensuring access to quality health and long-term care
- Enhancing the protection of older consumers
The two-day meeting ended with the endorsement of AGE’s General Assembly 2014 Declaration entitled ‘EU Strategy on Demographic Change – Embrace the potential of Europe’s ageing population’, calling for the adoption of a comprehensive EU Strategy on Demographic Change and identifying a number of EU policy priorities which should underpin this strategy.
Such a strategy, similar to those that already exist to tackle discrimination on other grounds – e.g. the European Disability Strategy and the EU Roma Framework – should eventually become the main vector for economic growth and seize the potential of Europe’s ageing population. It would allow the coordination and coherence of ageing related policies at all levels and in all relevant sectors, in order to support the creation of age-friendly environments, which has been identified by AGE members as the most appropriate response to ageing demography in Europe.
AGE annual conference investigates a variety of ageing issues
AGE General Assembly was followed by AGE Annual Conference which, in addition to AGE members, also welcomed external participants.
Together with external stakeholders from EU institutions, academics, social NGOs, industry representatives etc., we discussed and looked for practical solutions on how the European Union, Member States, regions and local actors can adapt to the needs of their rapidly ageing populations in ways that are sustainable and fair to all generations and ensure equality between men and women.
The conference gave AGE members an opportunity to exchange on the mid review of the Europe 2020 Strategy with the invited guests and express recommendations on how the strategy’s objectives should be reoriented in order to ensure inclusive and sustainable growth for European citizens at every stage of life..
The guest speakers enriched this debate by addressing various aspects of ageing and demographic change, namely:
- The role of local and regional actors was highlighted by the Secretary General the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR), Frédéric Vallier, who pointed out that “municipalities are the best level to support intergenerational projects and initiatives and to set up innovative policies”. Mr Vallier strongly supported the idea of a continuous cooperation between CEMR and AGE around the AFE INNOVNET project;
- Some philosophical and sociological reflections around ageing and education were developed by Prof Tadeusz Slawek from the University of Silesia, Poland in its presentation ‘An essay which a young man could not write‘ (text available here very soon);
- The importance of promoting older people’s rights in the European Union as a response to demographic change was featured by Johan ten Geuzendam, Advisor Directorate D – Equality, DG Justice European Commission. Mr ten Geuzendam presented the main findings from a study carried out by an external consultancy, which examined how discrimination on the ground of age in the European Union affects progress towards the achievement of main targets of the EU2020 Strategy in the field of employment, education, social exclusion and poverty. He also pointed out legislation as being the most powerful EU instrument to combat discrimination and help protect vulnerable citizens. At EU level older persons are already protected against discrimination in the area of employment (EU Directive 2000/78) and the new Commission wants to extend this protection to other areas, including social protection, education or access to goods and services, in pushing for the adoption of the 2008 proposal for an Equal Treatment Directive by the Council. Mr ten Geuzendam added that he counts on AGE Platform Europe and its member organisations to help convince the governments of the few reluctant Member States to adopt this important non-discrimination directive.
- The economic benefit of longer working lives was introduced by David Sinclair, Director of the UK International Longevity Center who explained the role of older workers in driving economic recovery and growth and the role of European policymakers and programmes (including the Europe 2020 agenda for skills and jobs) in fostering the participation of older people in the labour market. Among the main priorities which should be, according to Mr Sinclair, on the EU agenda in order to effectively support older workers are promoting gender equality, skilling up the older workforce, combating ageism, improving health and recognizing the diversity of the working experience.
- The challenges faced by long-term care services to provide adequate and efficient social protection at all stages of life were presented by Ralf Jacob, European Commission, DG EMPL, who pointed out the most relevant documents released by the European Commission on the situation of social protection across the EU;
- The frame set up by new European Commission’s President Juncker, who recognizes demographic change as one of the main societal challenge and is willing to set up the first “Digital” Commission, was referred to by Joost Van der Vleuten (DG CONNECT), on behalf of Paul Timmers, Director at DG CONNECT. In his presentation, Mr Van der Vleuten provided an overview of current upcoming EU initiatives in the field of age-friendly environments. The new President of the European Commission asks to put people at the centre of policies in order to include everyone and have an effective impact on the community. As part of the European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing (EIP AHA), Mr Van der Vleuten underlined the strength of age-friendly environments that is to bring together unusual subjects around the table. Age-friendly environments also present good potential synergies with the European Innovation Partnership on Smart Cities and Communities.
- The role of EU-funded project, e.g. the ProFouND Thematic Network, whose objective to prevent fall among older people, even old frail people, and to enhance active and healthy ageing. Bex Townley, Lead Tutor, Cascade Training, ProFouND Thematic Network presented the core idea of the project which is to train trainers about a method that is evidence-based by reinforcing strength and balance. Although the strong impact of falls among older people is recognised, raising awareness of older people, healthcare professionals and policy makers remains a challenge. AGE members were invited to spread the word and become ambassadors of ProFouND in their countries.
- Ways of engaging older people in innovation in ageing were presented by Helen Campbell, AGE Vice-President, AGE & Opportunities (Ireland), who focused on four concrete examples including “Hello Brain”, a health promotion campaign developed thanks to an EU funded project, and the campaign for the European Elections of May 2014 which was the occasion to convey a common message to MEP candidates all over the European Union and to establish contact with them.
- The role of standardization to make our environment age-friendly, was highlighted by Monica Ibido, Programme Manager at CEN-CENELEC, focusing on the potential offered by standards to support accessibility through design for all, as well as by the development of products and services responding to the need of an ageing population. Through various examples, Mrs Ibido demonstrated how active European standardisation bodies are in the field of ageing and mentioned new topics to be on the agenda such as the Silver Economy, which was the core topic of the June Conference of CEN CENELEC opened by AGE Vice-President Ebbe Johansen.
- The role of the industry to respond to the needs of Europe’s ageing population was demonstrated by Nicole Huige, from the Swedish Hygiene Products company SCA. After reminding the core activities of the company, Mrs Huigge presented the projects supported by SCA for dignified incontinence care in partnership with Alzheimer Europe and with the involvement of various stakeholders, which led to guidelines and recommendations being developed around dementia and incontinence care. A new project is now in the pipeline to work with AGE in relation to our campaign on age-friendly environments and how to better support active and healthy ageing despite incontinence.
- The importance of involving the young generations in the ageing debate, including on the pension issue, was raised by the youngest Member of Parliament (MEP) of the Italian delegation, Brando Benifei. Mr Benifei’s message focused on intergenerational solidarity and the need to avoid strengthening the gap between old and young people, notably by implementing fair reforms for all generations. Mr Benifei strongly supported the messages of AGE Platform Europe and used AGE’s Manifesto during his campaign. He underlined his continuous willingness to support and implement policies that enable older people to stay independent and used the example of the investment in public transport.
Similarly to the previous year, the annual conference provided an opportunity for external actors, including industry, to present their work in relation to ageing, in particular their projects or initiatives to promote age-friendly environments, goods and services. The following examples were presented:
- The WeLoveEating campaign, presented by P.A.U. Education, member of the project’s consortium;
- The “Textile for an Ageing Society (TAGS)” Project, coordinated by the Research Institute of Textile Chemistry and Textile Physics from the Leopald-Frazens University of Innsbruck and carried out by a consortium of European institutes;
- The International Longevity Centre-UK, a leading think tank on longevity and demographic change;
- The “SeNS – Seniors Network Support” project, presented by the ‘Openbaar Centrum voor Maatschappelijk Welzijn‘ (OCMW) Genk (Belgium);
- The Ambient Assisted Living Joint Programme, an EU funding activity which support ‘ageing well’ through the use of new technologies (ICT)
- Svenska Cellulosa Aktiebolaget (SCA) Hygiene Products AB, a leading global hygiene and forest products company;
- Marguerite’s project, a French holistic project to improve adherence to treatment by older people, presented by TEVA Laboratories;
- Turismo senza Età of the Senior International Tourism (SIT), an Italian Tour Operator specialized in travel for Senior citizens.