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Neelie Kroes

Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda

European Innovation for Ageing Well

Towards the European Year for Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations (2012) Conference

Brussels, 29 April 2011

Ministers, Members of the European Parliament, Ladies and Gentlemen,

You may wonder why the Commissioner for the Digital Agenda is addressing a Conference on ageing and solidarity between generations. For me it is the opposite: I am so involved with the subject that I sometimes forget that for many people it is not that obvious.

Firstly, I have a personal interest. At my age it's impossible not to wonder what life will be like after full-time work is over. So I can assure you I've given a lot of thought to these issues, and have a personal stake in them!

For me, it's important that I have options and that I remain independent.  My contribution to society and to my family does not end when I no longer have to go to the office every day. So like millions of other Europeans, I am looking for ways to keep active and carry on making these contributions.

Secondly, I am convinced – and I am not alone – that the effective deployment of ICT will be an essential component not only of healthy ageing and independent living but also of the sustainability of our healthcare system.

The ageing society is both a major opportunity and a challenge for Europe: how can we increase the ability of people to remain active as they age, to contribute to society and to continue playing a meaningful role in their communities? At the same time we need to ensure the sustainability of our healthcare systems in a time of austerity, growing demands for care, and a growing shortage in care workers.

So this is not just about providing better services for our citizens, but also giving fair and equal access to care that everyone deserves in these tough economic times.

Information and communication technologies, or ICTs, have a very important role here. Digital technologies can unlock the doors to social progress, provided we use them in a smart and well-considered way.

There are amazing innovations in health and care now. Whether directly linked like smart health monitoring systems, balance training devices, or more commonly used tools and services like Skype, social networking sites or online shopping allowing people to connect, communicate and live independent lives.

We have plenty of ways to help connect older Europeans, to make their lives easier and more affordable – which is so important at a time when many feel the threat of poverty, isolation and loneliness. ICT, if used in a smart way, also helps carers to improve their job prospects, skills and job satisfaction.

All this is available, but we need to speed up progress and deployment of innovation, to make sure that as many people as possible can have access to these wonderful digital opportunities.  Above all I will insist that life-saving technologies should be accessible for the people that need them. We are still witnessing today how vested interests, legacy systems, and other barriers prevent this from happening

So my goal is to invest in this process so that ICT can support the daily life of every older European, but of course only if they choose to use it.

So it is therefore with a real personal commitment that I, as Digital Agenda Commissioner, together with my colleague, Health and Consumer Affairs Commissioner John Dalli, have launched a pilot European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing.

We want to connect research and innovation, from the lab to real-life. The partnership aims to speed up and scale up the uptake of innovation, including ICT based solutions. Our goal is threefold: improving the quality of life of older people and their carers, increasing sustainability of care systems and creating new growth and market opportunities for Europe.

Next week is the first meeting of the partnership’s high level steering group. This brings together user representatives, NGOs, industry, care providers, researchers, and policy makers at European, national and regional level. The steering group will work with stakeholders all over Europe to deliver a strategic implementation plan. This plan provides priorities for action to overcome barriers to innovation for active and healthy ageing. It will mobilise European, national and regional public and private resources supported by the highest possible political commitment.

The partnership is a new way of collaboration in innovation, for removing barriers, pooling resources, targeting public procurement and crossing boundaries between work, care, cure and social support.

The partnership is not just something that looks nice on paper. It is a real partnership at many levels, rooted in the active cooperation between public and private stakeholders. It is all about working together. We at the European Commission want to be an example and we have shown our support. John Dalli and I are co-leaders of the partnership and we will work closely with Maire Geoghegan-Quinn, Commissioner for Research and Innovation, and with other colleagues such as László Andor, Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion. We are fully committed to make this cooperation a success.

The active and healthy ageing partnership is not a panacea, but it is our best effort to make sure that European innovation can turn the ageing challenge into an opportunity. Innovation-friendly policies are at the heart of the Europe 2020 vision and can only be implemented when we work together in partnership.

There is a great potential for synergies between this European Innovation Partnership and next year's European Year for Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations. The European Year 2012 can ensure greater visibility to the innovation partnership because we need to interact with stakeholders and citizens, and spread the experience and good practice we gain.

The Active and Healthy Ageing innovation partnership, which will run until 2020, can help realise the commitments and promises made by stakeholders during the 2012 European Year on Active Ageing.

So let me invite everyone here today to play an active role in making both initiatives, the European Year on Active Ageing and the European Innovation Partnership a success.

I look forward to working with you on both these exciting and innovative projects.

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