Stop ageism: EESC urges EU and Member States to create new strategy for older persons

In a plenary debate with Commission Vice President Dubravka Šuica, the EESC asked the Commission to present a new strategy for older persons before the end of the current mandate

On 12 July, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) called on the European Commission and the Member States to develop a new European Strategy for Older Persons, which would move away from the current perception of older people as a burden and cost to society. Instead, the strategy would tap into their social, economic and intellectual potential, which is often neglected.

In the absence of a comprehensive policy on older persons and ageing, this would be the first EU strategy to protect the rights of older people and ensure their full participation in society and the economy.

The strategy would also help eradicate ageist views that add to discrimination against older people, which, together with gender discrimination, continues to top the list of the most common forms of discrimination in the EU, despite the fact that Europe is rapidly ageing. Eurostat estimates that by 2050, the number of people in the EU aged 75-84 will grow by 56.1%, while the number of people aged 65-74 will increase by 16.6%.

The EESC's calls for a new strategy were presented in the opinion adopted at its July plenary session, which hosted a debate with the Commission's Vice-President for Democracy and Demography, Dubravka Šuica, and the president of the AGE Platform Europe, Dr Heidrun Mollenkopf.

The opinion was requested by the Spanish presidency of the Council of the EU, which has put addressing demographic change high on its political agenda.

The EESC is making a clear and unequivocal call to the Commission to draw up a European Strategy for Older People before the end of the current mandate. I believe this represents a starting point that will be far-reaching for European social and demographic policy, rapporteur of the opinion and member of the EESC Civil Society Organisatins' Group, Miguel Angel Cabra de Luna said.

The strategy should be supported by a guarantee for older people – similar to the Youth Guarantee and the Child Guarantee – which would serve as the tool for implementing the strategy at the EU and national level. It would also allow EU funding to be used to finance programmes that support older people.

The new strategy should furthermore address the employment, education and training of older people. It should be based on respect and solidarity between generations. It should have a life-cycle approach to prevent and reduce age-related challenges, correcting the current focus on ageing as a cost, Mr Cabra de Luna said.

Vice-President Šuica said that a new strategy and a Guarantee for Older Persons would be the next logical step, which the Commission would carefully examine.

Older people are neither an expense nor a burden. They are an asset. We cannot look at demographic change in isolation. We need to observe how it interacts with megatrends like the green and digital transitions, she said, adding that creating the space for the potential of all generations and promoting their active participation in the labour market and society is crucial.

Higher employment rates among older workers would help overcome labour market shortages and skills gaps across the EU and thus make the economy grow. In this respect, people should have a choice to work longer if they so wish, Ms Šuica said. The employment rate for older workers in the EU remains below average, with the near-retirement age group (55-64) experiencing higher rates of poverty and social exclusion.

Dr Mollenkopf stated that her organisation AGE Platform Europe, which with its more than 100 member organisations represents indirectly around 200 million older persons in Europe, fully supports the EESC's call for the new strategy, as to date there has been no such framework plan at European level.

Older people should not be viewed as welfare recipients, but as citizens with the same rights to a full, discrimination-free life as people of all ages. These rights must be guaranteed in all areas of life, Dr Mollenkopf said. With this strategy, the Member States would have a trend-setting document at hand to use the great potential of older persons to shape demographic change in the long term.

During the debate, EESC members supported the calls for the new strategy. Gonçalo Lobo Xavier, member of the Employers' Group, said that teaching society to respect older people is crucial. Education about respect for older people is often not there; we respect youth, but we often do not respect older people and this cannot continue.

Member of the Workers Group Marcin Zieleniecki pointed to the need to change the way older people are treated. We see older persons as people that only require care. We should start thinking and treating them as people that constitute an opportunity.

The average retirement age in the EU is around 65, with an average life expectancy of 84, pointing to the pressing need to promote both longevity and good health.

Furthermore, older people possess a significant share of the wealth in many countries, with notable purchasing power. The silver economy, driven by older consumers, is projected to experience substantial growth, estimated to reach EUR 5.7 trillion by 2025. To address this potential, the EU needs effective strategies that take into consideration regional dynamics and the opportunities of the silver economy.

Among other suggestions, the EESC called for the creation of a European Agency for Older People, Ageing and Demographic Change to promote the exchange of best practices, technical capacity-building, and specific measures in the strategy's fields of action.

The EESC also requested that the European Commission organise a European Year of Older People. It called for the adoption of a UN Convention on the Rights of Older Persons to ensure that human rights are enjoyed equally by older people.