Living longer is one of the greatest achievements of the past decades. Yet, the new longevity and the generational mix of our European societies require a better coordination of policies on ageing and the mainstreaming of ageing issues across policy making from the local to the European level. The Green Paper on Ageing, recently published by the European Commission in 22 languages, opens a wide debate on the impact of an ageing population for all of us as a society.
What are the roots of the Green Paper on Ageing?
Back in July 2019, AGE sent a letter to the recently elected Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, calling for “an EU strategy on demographic change and solidarity between generations with a dedicated Commissioner’s portfolio to coordinate all EU related actions (…)”. Since then, a Vice-President of the European Commission in charge of Demography and Democracy, Dubravka Šuica, has been nominated, notably with the mission to present a Green Paper on Ageing. This paper is now out and invites all relevant parties to participate in a wide consultation process.
How is the Green Paper enshrined in a wider political momentum?
From our perspective, it is important to take a look at the wider political context to strengthen the synergies between the different governance levels, notably the national, European and international ones.
First of all, the COVID-19 pandemic is a strong game changer. When the crisis broke out, key declarations were made at international and European levels underlying how critical it is to tackle ageism and protect the human rights of every person, regardless of age.
“Efforts to protect older persons should not overlook the many variations within this category, their incredible resilience and positivity, and the multiple roles they have in society, including as caregivers, volunteers and community leaders. We must see the full diversity of people within the older persons category”.
UN Secretary General Policy Brief – supported by 146 Member States, May 2020
“The European Commission is committed to ensure that the rights of all, including older Europeans, are respected throughout this crisis and that no one is left behind”.
European Commissioner Helena Dalli, April 2020
Secondly, the current Trio Presidency of the Council of the European Union, composed of Germany, Portugal and Slovenia, has also committed to advancing the debate on ageing:
- Germany made possible the adoption of European Council Conclusions on the rights and participation of older people in the digital era (October 2020) and coordinated a joint Declaration on ageing by the Trio Presidency;
- Portugal is expected to coordinate Conclusions on mainstreaming of ageing in public policy;
- Slovenia will focus on the life-course perspective.
Thirdly, in December 2020, the United Nations endorsed the Decade of Healthy Ageing (2021-2030) aiming at improving the lives of older people, their families, and the communities in which they live across the world.
The Green Paper: strengths and weaknesses
The Green Paper on Ageing is based on the findings of the report on the impact of demographic change published by the European Commission in June 2020 (read our July Special Briefing). It highlights the challenges and opportunities of demographic ageing, taking intergenerational solidarity as a key basis.
The Commission’s Green Paper subscribes to a life course approach, showing how much socio-economic inequalities accumulated across one’s life have a strong impact in older age. The 24-page document covers a wide range of issues starting with health and education, life-long learning, employment to finally address old-age poverty, pensions and long-term care. However, the porosity between the different life phases could have been strengthened. To better reflect the multifaceted complexity of human lives, it will be important to avoid associating old age only with decline and needs and other life stages only with growth, opportunity and participation.
Another key focus is the gender dimension of demographic ageing which is mainstreamed throughout the document. The intersectionality between old age and disability is also considered. On the contrary, systematic references to other EU equality strategies are missing.
The territorial dimension is considered across the document, taking into account the specific challenges faced in particular in rural areas, including in terms of digitalisation, access to services, and mobility. Still, it would be important to recognize that there are not only inequalities between different type of geographical areas, but also within these areas.
Interestingly topics which are usually overlooked in debates related to demographic ageing, like mobility accessibility and housing, are brought to the picture, although links are missing such as the potential continuum between housing policies and long-term care.
One of the main loopholes is the lack of a consistent human rights-based approach across the Green Paper. Although it is mentioned, the superficial coverage of discrimination – even in the employment field despite the existence of an EU Directive – is also reflected by several blindsports of the document. Yet, understanding and addressing ageism is core if we wish to comprehend the wide societal implications of ageing demographics and a new generational mix. Such a rights-based approach starts with the active involvement of older persons in all decision-making processes affecting their lives.
When it comes to long-term care, particularly visible and debated since the pandemic outbreak, we would like to better understand how the outcomes of the consultation related to the Green Paper will be articulated with the forthcoming Action Plan on the European Pillar of Social Rights. With the latter, we hope to see concrete proposals for change in the sector.
What do we expect next?
The Green Paper and its consultation must gather the intelligence of all generations and of relevant actors notably to build on the lessons of the pandemic. This will be indispensable to propose a forward-looking agenda on ageing which lays the foundations to ensure the dignity and wellbeing of everyone as we live and get older.
The European Commission is already giving concrete examples of existing or forthcoming EU initiatives and policies where the ageing dimension is highly relevant. What will be important to us is to make sure that these initiatives reflect as well on demographic ageing. To make the best of these different hooks, a strong and long-lasting coordinated approach will be critical. We hope the European Commission will consider the drafting of a White Paper that will concretely shape and articulate this much needed coordinated approach.
For more information, please contact Julia Wadoux, Julia.firstname.lastname@example.org
photo by Richard Hewat on Unsplash (cropped)