Demographic change requires 'sustainable solutions' from EU leaders

Written by Anne-Sophie Parent on 18 July 2014 in News
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Anne-Sophie Parent says commission president-elect Jean-Claude Juncker has 'rightly underlined' the need to address the ageing of EU's population and urges him to make it a 'priority for investment'.

First of all let me congratulate you for your election as president-elect of the European commission. I was pleased to hear you mention population ageing among the challenges facing Europe in the presentation of your agenda for jobs, growth, fairness and democratic change to the European parliament on 15 July.

You rightly underlined the lack of preparation of the EU to global challenges ahead, including the ageing of the population, and highlighted the fact that due to the on-going crisis "several member states are still far away from sustainable growth and adequate levels of investment".

I was thus happy to hear that you want "to mobilise up to €300bn in additional public and private investment in the real economy over the next three years". That's great news indeed after several years of austerity. But are you aware of the urgency to invest in age-friendly environments to empower the 190 million citizens aged 50 and over to ensure that they will live healthier, more productive and independent lives in the future?

You and I belong to that baby-boomer generation who constitutes already 37 per cent of the population. In a few decades, when we will reach the age of 80, the very old will represent 12 per cent of the population.

Although the EU has done a lot in the past years, more has to be done in a coherent and coordinated way to ensure that our society adapts to the needs of its ageing population, our social protection systems remain efficient, sustainable and fair to all generations and our communities get ready to demographic ageing. Yet those are areas where investment is currently reduced due to the pressure put on member states to reduce their public deficit.

"Despite the on-going crisis we encourage you to adopt a long-term perspective and promote investment in sectors that will support longer, more productive lives"

Despite the on-going crisis we encourage you to adopt a long-term perspective and promote investment in sectors that will support longer, more productive lives. This will require more flexibility and creativity in the way the EU is run to bring citizens' concerns back on the EU political agenda and offer socially sustainable answers.

You promised also to appoint a commissioner with specific responsibility for the charter of fundamental rights and the rule of law. The charter includes article 25 on the rights of older people.

We hope that you will ask this commissioner to do her/his utmost to ensure that EU internal and external action in the field of fundamental rights will help protect EU citizens from age discrimination and move forward the current discussions at the UN on the application of human rights for older persons. You promised to maintain and to push for the currently blocked anti-discrimination directive. Civil society organisations will strongly support you here.

You announced as well ex-ante social assessments of reforms programmes. These are key instruments to ensure that vulnerable citizens are not hurt by the reform. As you recognised, many pensioners can no longer support themselves due to cuts introduced to limit the public deficit.

All these are positive steps. We now need action.

Further strong political commitments are needed to tackle population ageing in a way that reconciles the needs of all age groups. Demographic change, if addressed adequately by EU leaders, is a key opportunity to implement innovative solutions that will make Europe a better place to work and live for all generations, help the EU create new quality jobs and find suitable and sustainable solutions for our ageing population.

"What the EU needs today is a coherent strategy on demographic change which would guide and coordinate EU action across policy areas in the coming decades"

What the EU needs today is a coherent strategy on demographic change which would guide and coordinate EU action across policy areas in the coming decades.

Such EU strategy would help coordinate and build synergies between all EU policies on which demographic change has an impact: employment, pensions, health and long-term care, mobility, housing, the protection of fundamental rights, the realisation of an internal market for services, the implementation of the structural funds, etc.

It would become an important political vector for economic growth and investment that would support EU member states and regions in their efforts to adapt to the needs of their rapidly ageing populations and so create an age-friendly EU.

The coming five years are a unique opportunity to take strong political action to ensure a sustainable and fair future for today's and tomorrow's generations. The EU cannot afford to miss this opportunity.

About the author

Anne-Sophie Parent is secretary general of AGE platform Europe

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