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European Commission


European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science

EU Summit on Active and Healthy Ageing: An Action Agenda for European Cities and Communities

EU Summit on Active and Healthy Ageing / Dublin

13 June 2013

First of all I would like to thank the Ageing Well Network, the Global Coalition on Aging, and the AGE Platform Europe, as well as the Irish Presidency of the Council for organising this European Summit on Active and Healthy Ageing.

In the last 20 years, people all over the world have, on average, gained six years of life expectancy.

By 2020, a quarter of Europeans will be over 60 years of age.

Children born after 2011 have a one in three chance of reaching their 100th birthday.

These are all reasons for celebration. But these demographic successes also pose a number of unprecedented challenges.

  1. The challenge for employment: In 2008 there were four people of working age for every person aged 65 and over. By 2050 there will be only two.

  2. The challenge for sustainable health services: Currently, 70% of health costs are related to older people. With the ageing population and the advent of chronic diseases, this figure is bound to increase.

  3. The challenge for carers: Family structures are changing, and while older people could count on family members in the past, this source of support is shrinking,

And of course,

  1. The challenge of the world around us: most cities, modes of transport and buildings are not adapted to a population with reduced mobility.

One of the main achievements of the 2012 'European Year for Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations', is that these challenges have been pushed higher up the political agenda, as shown by the European Council Declaration of December last.

In this Declaration, the EU recognises the positive contribution of older people to society, and commits to transforming the initiatives launched during the Year into concrete solutions for our older population and wider society.

The Declaration also clearly identifies the areas we need to address in order to tackle the ageing challenge overall: employment, participation in society, and independent living.

This tallies very well with the goals of the Ageing Well Network, the Global Coalition on Aging and the AGE Platform Europe.

Your impressive mobilisation, before, during and after the EU Year, is good news for older people everywhere. And what I particularly like is that you don't just focus on the challenges – you also see the opportunities presented by our demographic changes.

I would like to focus now on how the European Union has mobilised research and innovation to help meet the challenges and opportunities of an ageing population. In fact, how policies in these areas are aiming not just to tackle the challenges but capitalise on them, and turn them to our advantage.

We need excellent research to better understand the problems and find the right answers. And we need top notch innovation in Europe to deliver solutions to the people that need them most, whether in terms of medicines, technologies or services.

The crisis of climate change was initially seen as an environmental and economic disaster, but has gradually been recognised as an economic opportunity, as high standards agreed at national and international level have stimulated innovation and created dynamic new industries. Eco-industries are now part of a well-established and growing sector.

The concepts of 'age-friendly' and 'environmentally-friendly' have a great deal in common, as both are rooted in sustainability. If properly planned for, the potential of the “silver agenda” could certainly match that of the flourishing “green agenda”.

Research on ageing is already a vital part of the EU's 7th Framework Programme for research, FP7.

Indeed, the European Union has invested over 340 million euro in health-related ageing research.

In the Health theme of FP7, 27 research projects with an overall value of 133 million euro cover important ageing-related issues such as comorbidity of diseases, poly-medication, technology and devices, frailty and falls.

A further 400 million euro has been invested in research on neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer's.

The challenge-based approach of Horizon 2020 – the EU's new programme for research and innovation – fits perfectly with the pressing need to address issues resulting from demographic change and ageing.

We have proposed that of the six societal challenges tackled by Horizon 2020, the largest budget should be allocated to the 'Health, demographic change and wellbeing' challenge.

We need excellence in research to improve our understanding of health, disease, development and ageing, and to translate this knowledge into innovative and effective products, strategies, interventions and services for the benefit of patients, indeed for all citizens.

And of course developing these new products and technologies will mean opportunities for competitive European industries, and public service innovation will save money in hard-pressed national and regional health services.

Ultimately, we want to contribute to the delivery of personalised healthcare for safer and more effective interventions.

This includes effective health promotion, which, supported by a robust evidence base and effective surveillance and screening programmes, prevents disease, improves wellbeing and is cost effective. Done properly, it means integrated, sustainable and citizen-oriented care.

Unlike the Framework Programmes that precede it, Horizon 2020 will support innovation actions as well as collaborative research. This means that we can support actions from basic and clinical research right through to market deployment.

We also need to support, through research and innovation pilots, a broader uptake of technological, organisational and social innovations, that can empower older people and people with disabilities to remain active and independent.

The responses and solutions cannot just be technological – this is an area where social innovation is paramount - we need to remember that we are dealing with real people and their needs, their responses to innovation and new treatments - their responses to new ways of working and to new ways of living.

This is why research in the social sciences and humanities are so important in this field. Good research can observe, interpret and discuss what ageing and demographic changes mean for society. And of course we must, and will, involve our older people themselves. Policy makers need this data and analysis, and so do other stakeholders, including civil society.

Society, family models and the structure of the labour market are all changing. This is why the EU has invested a great deal in socio-economic research related to ageing.

For instance, researchers have analysed reproduction choices to uncover the reasons behind Europe's low birth rates. They have investigated the conditions that enable older people to remain active in the workforce where they can and wish to, and researchers have also developed models to provide insights into the economic consequences of ageing in the years to come.

In the last year of FP7, there have been further opportunities to investigate the impact of ageing societies on public finances in Europe - a crucial question in the current climate.

But the major research and innovation investments under the 7th Framework Programme and Horizon 2020 are only part of the story.

The complex and important challenges and opportunities of ageing and demographic change have sent decision-makers at European level back to the drawing board - to think about how to be more innovative in designing policies and initiatives.

Indeed, this policy area has produced a series of remarkable 'firsts'.

In 2011, the European Commission launched the very first European Innovation Partnership or EIP - focusing on Active and Healthy Ageing. It aims to add two additional healthy life years to the average lifespan by 2020.

I think that everyone here is agreed that active and healthy ageing is too big a challenge to be tackled alone. It needs the involvement and commitment of all stakeholders: Member States, the regional and local authorities, civil society and the private sector.

The Partnership is piloting a new approach to cooperation between stakeholders on research and innovation, and is now moving at full speed to turn the strategy for active and healthy ageing into reality.

It entails close cooperation across the research and innovation cycle, from the supply and demand sides, and across sectors and policies, from public health, to digital, to industrial and innovation policies.

The EIP seeks to translate innovative ideas into tangible products and services that respond to the concrete needs of the ageing and elderly.

In November 2011, the pilot delivered a Strategic Implementation Plan identifying three pillars on which we are building our actions: Prevention, Care and Cure, and Independent Living.

Actions being pursued by the Partnership include helping older people to adhere to medication; building and fitting out age-friendly buildings, cities and environments, and developing innovative solutions to prevent falls.

The response from stakeholders has been excellent. Almost 600 consortia - bringing together public authorities, technology experts, health providers, industry, NGOs and researchers - have committed to carrying out concrete projects on the ground.

In addition, 54 regions and municipalities have expressed interest in becoming 'reference sites' for the Partnership, serving as examples best practice, with innovative approaches that can be scaled up or replicated by others.

The response from stakeholders shows a real drive in Europe to ensure better lifestyles and higher quality of care, as well as an awareness of the business opportunities in fulfilling the needs of our ageing society.

Public policies at national, regional and local level, on health, employment, research and innovation, are directly relevant to the challenge of active and healthy ageing.

So I would like to encourage Member States, regions and local authorities to ensure that they mobilise all the instruments at their disposal – including public procurement, pilot initiatives, demonstration projects, standards and regulation, in support of this Partnership.

Another 'first' is the Innovative Medicines Initiative, which pioneered a new scale of public-private partnership between the European Commission and the pharmaceutical industry.

Our 1 billion euro investment in the Innovative Medicines Initiative – or IMI - has helped galvanise Europe's large pharmaceutical companies around important health issues.

To cite just one example of what is being done, the IMI-funded PharmaCog project is working to develop and validate new tools to test candidate drugs for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease and its symptoms, in a faster and more sensitive way than is currently possible.

The third of these 'firsts' that I want to highlight is the Joint Programming Initiative on Neurodegenerative disease.

The Joint Programming Initiatives - JPIs - have been created to align the national research agendas of Member States around societal challenges that are beyond the scope and resources of any single country.

This approach can make greater impacts more quickly, and reduce wasteful duplication at a time when it has never been more important to spend public money wisely.

The area of Neurodegenerative Diseases was selected as the subject of the first Joint Programming Initiative.

This JPI brings together 27 countries, and is pioneering a new approach to pulling together and pooling our efforts - and other Initiatives are following its example.

They include 'More Years, Better Lives' which is addressing demographic changes, 'Ambient Assisted Living' which will improve the quality of life of senior citizens through smart ICT-based solutions, and ‘Urban Europe', which will help create attractive, sustainable and economically viable urban areas.

I strongly encourage Member States to continue developing these initiatives.

However, we need to raise our ambition. We need to scale these efforts up and deploy and translate scientific achievements into the everyday lives of people in Europe.

How can this be achieved? By coordinating more EU research agendas and fully exploiting the power of innovation, Europe can stride ahead. Here, social innovation, with the aim of achieving social impact, will play a crucial role in many sectors - like employment, health, transport and social security.

The Digital Agenda will also play an essential role in ensuring, for example, interoperability between IT systems, standardisation of data systems, and a high level of broadband within Europe. These are all prerequisites if we are to facilitate widespread independent living.

ICT solutions can also address cognitive impairment. My colleague Vice President Neelie Kroes recently announced the Human Brain Project, one of the Future and Emerging Technologies Flagships. This project is emphasising ICT as a means of deeper understanding of the brain. This will help us develop new treatments for brain diseases and build revolutionary new computing technologies.

Ladies and gentlemen,

My goal today was to show that the ageing challenge is at the top of Europe's research and innovation agenda.

I’ve spoken a lot about the health and medical issues related to ageing, and some of the threats posed by demographic change.

But that’s a very reductive view of ageing.

Ageing in itself is not an illness to be fixed. It’s a period of life with the potential to be as rich, rewarding and productive as any other.

We're all ageing – and we all, quite rightly, hope and expect to live longer than previous generations, with better quality of life.

Europe's silver society can offer golden opportunities, and today's research and innovation challenges can open up a gold mine for our economy.

I wish you all an excellent Summit and I look forward to hearing the conclusions.

Thank you.

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