Present and future EU policy for older persons: AGE participation in Spanish Presidency event

A comprehensive European strategy to ensure the full inclusion and participation of older people in society was the topic of a half-day  conference organised last November in the framework of the Spanish Presidency of the EU. AGE was present in a large delegation to share its vision of an EU for all ages.

The conference Present and future policy for older persons held by the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) in Madrid on 29 November was instigated by Miguel Angel Cabra de Luna, rapporteur of the EESC opinion on… and representative of PMP within AGE. The event focused on the economic and demographic potential of active ageing, as well as on the social and human rights aspects. It assessed the progress made so far, discussed current and future challenges and made recommendations for a European Strategy for older people.

Time for a shift

The event followed an opinion adopted by the EESC in July 2023, which calls upon the European Commission to draw up a European Strategy for Older Persons. This strategy would support the full inclusion and participation of older people in society and help combat ageist perceptions.

In its opinion, the EESC advocates for a paradigm shift on how we perceive and empower the older population in the EU: we need to move from a care-based approach to an approach that actively empowers and integrates older people in all areas of society. The EESC stresses, among other things, the key role of health prevention and education and the need for investment in accessible technology.

In his opening speech, Oliver Röpke, EESC president, highlighted inclusiveness as the best policy response in the current context of rapid demographic change.

"Older People should not be a burden. They are an integral part of our society and if they are adequately supported with the right conditions in place they offer important contributions to our society."

While acknowledging that the rights of older people have been addressed by a number of EU measures, EESC president called for a more comprehensive policy on the matter is needed to allow for a fundamental change.

“In the EESC, we believe that such an instrument will help securing the inclusion of older people in society and tap into their social, economic and intellectual potential, which is often neglected.”

A change in our perception of ageing was also supported by Dubravka Šuica, Commission Vice-President for Democracy and Demography, who called for a shift in our narrative from an ageing society to a longevity economy and society.

“My main message to you today is the urgent need to make our population and our democratic institutions longevity-literate. This is not just a message for older people – life plans, education and lifelong learning, retirement and pensions are all affected by this longer life expectancy.”

According to the Commission Vice-President, investing in healthy longevity with a focus on prevention, will unlock the potential of active and healthy ageing, while underpinning EU social and human rights values. Vice-President Suica also recalled some recent initiatives of the European Commission, including the EU Care Strategy and the EU Demographic Toolbox.

AGE proposal for an EU Strategy on age equality

The opinion of the EESC mentioned above echoes AGE’s concept of empowerment in care and is very much aligned with AGE proposal for an EU Age Equality Strategy.

AGE President Heidrun Mollenkopf highlighted some common points, namely:

  • Older people should not be seen as a burden or cost factor but as people entitled to a fulfilling life, free of discrimination, like people of all ages. And this in all areas of life.
  • Need for a comprehensive socio-political framework, such as a European Strategy for older people or a European Age Equality Strategy. To shape demographic change sustainably in the long term and ensure both current and future older generations are valued as equals as people of all ages and as individuals with their own specific abilities and needs.
  • Need for effective implementation, monitoring and review of the measures proposed. This includes the adoption of a guarantee for older people, like the Youth Guarantee and the Child Guarantee, to serve as a tool to put the new strategy into practice.
    This also includes a strong commitment from the EU and the member states to enforce older people’s rights at international level. Heidrun refers here to the determinant work of the UN OEWG in the coming years.

For AGE Secretary-General, Maciej Kucharczyk, the EU is in a unique position to set a high level of ambition and a positive tone on ageing and older people, in order to inspire and support the initiatives that Member States are carrying out on ageing.

"Once adopted by the EU, the strategy for older persons will change the narrative around ageing, based on equality and human rights; it will create consistency between the EU and its Member States".

Disappointing Council conclusions

In December 2023, the Council of the EU published its conclusions on Managing demographic change in Europe. We were disappointed to see that the EESC call on the Commission was not included in the text.

However, the Council Conclusions leave open doors to keep working towards an integrated policy on age, as they:

  • welcome the Commission’s commitment to take further steps to support Member States in managing demographic change through a set of policy tools available at EU level,
  • underlines the need for further action to manage demographic change in Europe and its impact on competitiveness, human capital and equality.

We hope that the fruitful discussions at the EESC event will – better sooner than later – act as a game-changer in the policy making on older people and contribute to the drafting and the adoption of a much-needed EU strategy for older people.

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