European Commissioner responsible for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion
Older people's contribution to society
Closing Seminar of EY 2012 for active ageing and solidarity between generations
Braga, 3 December 2012
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a pleasure to be with you here in Braga today for the closing of the 2012 European Year in Portugal.
I must say I don't like talking about closing the Year.
Of course, this Year will soon be over. But we are only just starting to tackle the obstacles to active ageing and making it a reality.
This conference is a good opportunity to take stock of what we have learned, and to draw conclusions for the future.
Achievements of the 2012 European Year
The impact of the European Year on policy developments in the Member States will be assessed and the results will be presented next year. But I would like to give you my preliminary assessment of what we have achieved.
Most importantly, the subject we chose was the right one.
The Year has given us a fresh perspective on the ageing of the population.
Once we saw the growing numbers of older people as a problem.
Today we have started to recognise them as part of the solution — if they can achieve their potential and we can take advantage of it.
Measuring the impact of a European Year on the way people think is by definition difficult.
But by highlighting the contribution that older people make to society, I believe this European Year has brought about a positive change in the way people view ageing.
It has popularised the concept of active ageing in many countries.
It has mobilised a wide range of stakeholders across Europe and galvanised them into taking action.
It has given rise to thousands of new initiatives and events at European, national, regional and local level.
Let me give you some examples:
• Austria has adopted a new Federal Plan for Senior Citizens.
Ireland has decided that every county should have its own programme for becoming age-friendly by the end of 2012.
Poland has adopted a government programme to promote social activities among older people.
And only last week, Belgium appointed the members of the federal advisory council for the elderly, the Conseil consultatif fédéral des aînés.
Some Member States are focusing on promoting employment among older people, while others are concentrating on older people’s participation in society and living independently.
They have set their priorities in line with the challenges facing them and their political agendas.
Situation in Portugal and wider crisis
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am pleased to say that Portugal was among the most active countries during the Year, with many debates, seminars, conferences and events.
What is worth saying is that Portugal’s contribution to the success of the European Year is all the more remarkable as it took place against a very difficult background.
The Commission is very well aware of the impact that the crisis is having here in Portugal. These are very hard times for many people.
This crisis is not only financial and economic, but also social.
Increasing inequality, poverty and social exclusion are affecting people today, as well as undermining social cohesion and the prosperity of future generations.
Member States across Europe are engaged in reducing excessive budget deficits and debt, and they are making progress.
High debt carries a heavy burden of interest, and the more we pay in interest, the less we can invest in social development.
So, no one can question the need to get public spending under control.
But fiscal consolidation must also be smart and growth-friendly.
We must not neglect the longer-term view and the need to continue investing in our human capital — our greatest asset.
I intend looking at these issues in an ambitious social policy initiative we are calling the social investment package, to be presented early next year.
The idea is that social policy — implemented via well-designed, activating, flexible systems — can and should be a social investment that can yield a high economic and social return.
There is a need for innovation, not only to address emerging social needs, but also to develop more cost-effective ways of dealing with social challenges, such as population ageing.
During this European Year, many excellent examples of social innovation have emerged, and I hope the Year has helped to disseminate these ideas.
Follow-up to the European Year
Ladies and gentlemen,
As far the follow up to the European Year is concerned, it is very important that we build on the political momentum generated, here in Portugal and throughout Europe.
This week the EU Social Affairs Ministers will endorse guiding principles on active ageing and solidarity between generations.
Once the Year is over, these principles will serve as a checklist for national authorities and other stakeholders on what needs to be done to promote active ageing.
They will not dictate what action needs to be taken or who should take it, because countries’ needs are so diverse, as are the arrangements for responding to them.
So national governments, regions, cities, firms, trade unions, civil society organisations and others will be able to apply them to their own situations and challenges.
The European Year has shown us that promoting active ageing calls for integrated policy-making.
The Commission plans to offer financial support for the development of comprehensive strategies for active ageing through a call for proposals.
Setting goals for integrated strategies and monitoring their success calls for good indicators.
Among the lasting legacies of the European Year will be a composite active ageing index.
We are working on this with the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe and the European Centre for Social Welfare Policy and Research in Vienna.
The goal is to measure the untapped active-ageing potential of men and women in each country.
And indicators that measure how age-friendly the environment is constitute an important part of that index.
It will be presented in December at the closing conference in Cyprus.
I want to wind up by thanking Minister Mota Soares, your Ministry and all the Portuguese organisations that have organised activities during the European Year.
And I want to say a special thank-you to Ms Joaquina Madeira, who has acted as voluntary national coordinator.
In October the Commission held a Senior Force Day to promote senior volunteering. But Ms Madeira has accomplished a Senior Force Year.
I want to encourage you all to keep up your efforts once the European Year is over.
So I hope this conference will not look back to the past, but forward to what needs to be done in the future.
I wish you a very successful conference!