It is a great pleasure to welcome you today at the EESC together with Renate Heinisch and Xavier Verboven (Co-Presidents of the EESC Coordination Group for the European Year of active ageing) to share some conclusions drawn by the EESC on a number of topics related to the Year.
The EESC activities related to the European Year 2012
Over the last 10 years, the EESC has proposed an important number of opinions on the ageing of the European population and issued opinions on issues such as: the needs of older citizens, funding health and pension systems, employing older workers, intergenerational solidarity, technological solutions to improve the quality of life of older persons, long-term care, etc.
The EESC has been particularly active during the European Year 2012. It created a group to coordinate activities related to the Year. This group has organised 5 public events on different themes.
This conference closes the works of our Coordination Group. I am sure the EESC Members who have worked on this Year's topics will have great pleasure to share their conclusions with all of you.
The state of play
The European Union is at a demographic turning-point. As you know, from this year on, the European working population will start to shrink. Over the next 30 years, the EU working-age population will shrink by 1 to 1.5 million each year, while the number of people who are 60 years old and older will increase annually by about 2 million. This increase of older people will in particular alter the balance between pension contributors and pensioners.
Considering the importance of the issues at stake, the EU has taken important initiatives, such as launching the Europe 2020 Strategy the European Year for Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations 2012.
Let me say ask a question: what are the main challenges ahead?
- Firstly, to respect retirement rights and also enable voluntary flexibility on retirement age by promoting active ageing in employment – through better time management and working conditions.
- Secondly, to encourage people to participate in their communities and to engage in citizenship initiatives. How to do it? By creating conditions that enable them to participate in volunteer activities and get actively involved in public life.
- Thirdly, to enhance cooperation and solidarity between generations. How to manage this? By promoting inter-generational projects in the areas of employment, learning and social life.
- Fourthly, to prevent dependency when people become very old. How to achieve this? By helping people to age healthily and create conditions that enable them to keep living as independently as possible.
Please allow me to comment on the few topics that our Coordination Group for the Year has chosen to develop on.
First of all: There is no "active ageing" without "healthy ageing"
Active ageing is not just about prolonging active life, but about ensuring that people live well for as long as possible.
The EESC has welcomed the Commission's proposal to increase the average number of years people stay healthy by 2. But healthy ageing is obviously a lifelong process, depending partly on genetics, but mainly on environment and life-style. Living and working conditions play a decisive role, as do nutrition and prevention of chronic diseases.
My second comment is the following: If older people are to be useful, their image needs to be improved
Definitions of 'old' and 'young' differ across countries, but prejudices about older people must be challenged.
Here, I would recommend taking a "life-course" approach and not see younger people and adults as "productive" and older people as "burdens". People of all ages can make positive contributions to society, although their character may change over time.
Linked to this is the need to recognise and increase older citizens' participation in society and employment.
27% of Europeans aged 55 and over engage in activities and voluntary work in a variety of organisations. These levels of participation should be recognised and further increased!
Active ageing at work - a few comments
The European Social Fund has definitively a role to play in promoting active ageing in employment.
And those who say "increasing the employment rate of older people" should also say "increasing their learning opportunities"!
Indeed in a smart, sustainable and inclusive society, the right to education must be extended to lifelong learning. Lifelong learning contributes to both employability and personal development. It has the potential to empower people to exercise their civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.
Moreover, lifelong learning and work related training for workers of all ages can provide opportunities for creating more age friendly workplaces, where older and younger workers can benefit from each other.
Finally I fully believe in the contribution of technologies to active and independent ageing.
Older people can benefit a lot from adapted information and communication technologies to stay longer in employment, but also to remain connected, healthy and independent.
Allow me to say a final word on what might be the most controversial topic of the European Year: How to reform pension systems to achieve adequate, safe and sustainable pensions?
We will all agree that any measures to increase the actual retirement age should not create obstacles for young people to enter the labour market. Instead, flexible, part-time retirement for older workers combined with part-time job and part-time training for younger workers might help achieve age diversity in the workplace and enable a productive exchange between the older workers' experience and skills and the younger workers' knowledge of new technologies. This is the real expression of solidarity between generations.
I've come to the end of my intervention and shall pass the floor to our representatives from the Cypriot and Irish EU Presidencies, whom I thank very much for their presence.
I wish you all a very active and fruitful exchange of ideas!