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European Commissioner responsible for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion
Increasing older people's opportunities
Cyprus Presidency conference closing the 2012 European Year on Active Ageing and Solidarity Between Generations /
Nicosia, 10 December 2012
Ladies and gentlemen,
I extend my warm greetings to you all and my grateful thanks to the Cypriot Presidency for hosting today's conference.
It marks not only the closing of the 2012 European Year, but also — I hope — the beginning of active follow-up.
While the European Year will soon be over, we have only just started dealing with the challenges of active ageing.
That is why today's conference is a time to look to the future — not just back to what we have learned from this Year about promoting active ageing and strengthening solidarity between generations.
Achievements of the 2012 European Year
For a detailed assessment of what the Year has taught us, we will have to wait for the independent evaluation report in 2013.
But as Commissioner responsible for the European Year, I want to give you my own assessment.
First, I believe the topic we chose for the Year was the right one.
Population ageing is a concern in all Member States, and that is why so many ministers, prime ministers and presidents have got involved at national level.
Second, the Year has succeeded in changing our perception of older people and their contribution to the economy and society.
Where we once saw the rise in the number of older people as a problem, today we can see them as part of the solution.
Third, the European Year has changed the way people talk about ageing and it has popularised the concept of active ageing in many countries.
It has galvanised a wide range of stakeholders and individuals, old and young, into taking action.
It has given rise to thousands of new initiatives and events at European, national, regional and local level.
It has given political momentum to certain policy initiatives. Let me quote some examples.
Austria has adopted a new Federal Plan for Senior Citizens.
Ireland has decided that every county will have its own programme for becoming age-friendly by the end of 2012.
And Poland has adopted a government programme to promote social activities involving older people.
The Member States have set their priorities in line with the challenges facing them and their political agendas.
Some have focused on promoting employment among older people, while others have concentrated on social participation and living independently.
Of course, in those countries that are suffering most from the crisis, it is difficult to get people to accept the idea that we need to promote employment among older people when unemployment is so high among young people.
However, it would be wrong to assume that they are competitors. In the long run, jobs for older workers go hand in hand with jobs for the young.
There is no fixed number of jobs, but over the coming decades, our economic growth depends on more people of all ages offering good skills to employers.
And the statistics clearly show that those Member States with the highest employment rates for older people also have higher employment rates for young people
Overall, I am convinced that this European Year has been a great success.
It has been a shared effort. The European Union set up the EU website and introduced the generations@school project, the Seniorforce Action Day and the award scheme.
But we needed the contributions of others to give those initiatives substance.
So I want to thank all those at EU, national, regional and local level who have helped make the European Year a success.
Our key partners have been the ministries and the 50-plus EU networks in the Stakeholder Coalition coordinated by AGE Platform Europe.
I should also mention the national coordinators, who met frequently in Brussels and always had exciting new activities to report.
Follow-up to European Year
Let me now share a few thoughts on the future. We need to build on the political momentum generated here in Cyprus and throughout Europe, and ensure there is proper follow-up.
Last Thursday, the EU Social Affairs Ministers endorsed a Council declaration on the 2012 European Year and the guiding principles on active ageing and solidarity between generations.
These principles should serve as a checklist for national authorities and other stakeholders on what needs doing to promote active ageing.
The guiding principles are not prescriptive. They don’t tell the Member States and stakeholders what they should do.
That makes sense, because their needs are so diverse, as are the arrangements for responding to them.
So it will be for the national governments, regions, cities, companies, trade unions and civil society organisations to apply the guiding principles to their own situations and challenges.
Later today we will hear how the guiding principles can be implemented on the ground.
The European Year has taught us that promoting active ageing calls for integrated policy-making, involving government at many levels, departments and agencies.
The Commission plans to offer financial support for the development of comprehensive active-ageing strategies through a call for proposals.
Setting goals for integrated strategies and monitoring their success require good indicators.
Another legacy of the European Year will be the active ageing index we have developed with the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe and the European Centre for Social Welfare Policy and Research in Vienna.
In the next session you will hear more about the index, which seeks to measure the untapped active-ageing potential of men and women in each country.
The Commission is also planning a joint project with the World Health Organisation to set up a European Network of Age-Friendly Cities.
It should feed into the European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing, which includes a horizontal action on age-friendly environments.
Active ageing is good for us as individuals as we grow older, and for the economy and society.
It is also crucial to the success of the Europe 2020 Strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.
Europe 2020 sets a number of targets, including achieving a 75% employment rate for people aged 20 to 64, and lifting 20 million people out of poverty and social exclusion by 2020.
Active ageing policy is critical for the sustainability of our pension systems, and thus to meeting those targets.
Pensions, as we know, are a thorny issue. Many people see the reforms being implemented across Europe as depriving them of hard-earned rights.
But we have to come to terms with the fact that rising life expectancy and a shrinking working-age population demand some adjustment.
Only by maintaining a good balance between the years we spend working and the years we spend in retirement can we ensure that we will have decent pensions at a reasonable cost.
The Commission presented its thinking on pension reform in a White Paper in February this year. The general thrust has been translated into specific recommendations addressed to many Member States.
Extending people’s working lives is crucial to meeting the Europe 2020 employment rate target and balancing budgets in the long run.
But it means encouraging people to stay on the labour market longer and — most of all — enabling them to do so by improving their employability.
That was a point made at a recent high-level conference held in Brussels on adult education. The conference memorandum presents key ideas on how to improve learning for active ageing and solidarity between generations.
Of course, we also need to combat unemployment among young people and make it easier for them to get into the labour market. The European Social Fund can be very useful for promoting employment among young and older workers.
Tackling challenges like population ageing calls for innovative policy and practice. Many excellent examples of social innovation emerged during the 2012 European Year, which I hope has helped disseminate new ideas.
Many social innovations promoting active ageing are already being tried and tested across the EU. The challenge is to scale them up.
The Commission can help by identifying good practice and bringing it to the attention of policy-makers and stakeholders across Europe, so that they can improve their policies and systems.
The European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing is a good illustration.
It seeks to replicate and scale up social innovation, in particular through 'reference sites' which will enable multiplication and transferability of good practices.
Social innovation is also closely linked with social investment. The social investment approach recognises that social policy is a productive factor, and that it is necessary for economic development and employment growth.
Social investment is based on the idea that social policy — implemented via well-designed, activating, flexible systems — can yield a high economic and social return.
I intend looking at this in an ambitious social policy initiative early next year, when we publish our social investment package.
Europe's workforce is one of our major sources of growth. Europe needs to invest in its human capital and people's skills because our present economic difficulties, but also given the longer-term structural trends, notably the demographic change. Due to the ageing society, the emerging sector of health care will require a massive reallocation of human resources.
We need to rethink our skills strategies to focus on the skills needed in this sector, and move away from the purely quantitative notion of human capital, measured in years of formal education and qualifications obtained.
Occupational safety and health strategy
The European Year helped raise attention to the fact that the working conditions must be adapted to the needs of older workers in order to ensure that they can stay longer on the labour market. In the beginning of 2013, I will launch a public consultation on the assessment of the health and safety strategy 2007-2012 and on the future priorities in this area. This consultation will also build on the achievements of the European Year and will contain concrete ideas how active ageing could be taken into account in a possible future health and safety at work strategy.
Ladies and gentlemen,
This European Year has been a milestone in efforts to support the development of active ageing policy and initiatives.
I am impressed by the commitment and innovative ideas of organisations, companies and individuals across Europe, who have increased older people's opportunities to keep working and participate in the economy and society.
It makes me confident that we can succeed in tackling the challenges of population ageing.
I encourage you to keep up your efforts after the Year is over.
Next year is European Year of Citizens. And since citizenship is about participating in society and the life of our communities, I believe it should offer a good framework for your endeavours.
I wish you a very successful conference!