Feature - Active ageing: Optimising opportunities
06.12.2012, 11:20 (CET)
The European population is growing older. In 2010, there were more than 87 million people aged 65 and over in the EU, some 17.4 per cent of the total population, compared to less than 13 per cent in January 1985. Allowing people to stay active as they grow older and to continue contributing to society is key to tackling the challenge that the process of demographic ageing poses. For this reason, 2012 was designated as the European Year for Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations. A number of special events, conferences and initiatives have taken place across the EU, aimed at increasing awareness and providing encouragement to policymakers in order to facilitate active ageing. A conference to mark the closing of the Year will be held in Lefkosia (Nicosia) on Monday, December 10.

In the last fifty years, life expectancy in the EU has risen by eight years, while demographic projections forecast a further five year increase by 2050. Coupled with falling fertility rates since the 1970s, it is expected that this process of demographic ageing will become even more entrenched in the next few decades.

The fact that Europe’s population is growing older constitutes a challenge to the working-age population, as it represents significant pressure to welfare, pension and health care systems.

Far from being negative

However, this demographic shift in itself is certainly not bad, nor should it be painted in a negative light. This is testament to medical advances that seriously halt or treat diseases as well as an improvement in quality of life. A growing number of older people are in good health, have valuable skills and experience and are willing to make a significant contribution to society, a contribution from which young people can strongly benefit.

In order to promote this, the European Year for Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations has intended to: raise awareness of the contribution that older people make to society and encourage action at all levels with the aim of creating better opportunities for active ageing and strengthening solidarity between generations.

“The key to tackling the challenges of an increasing proportion of older people in our societies is ‘active ageing’: encouraging older people to remain active by working longer and retiring later, by engaging in volunteer work after retirement, and by leading healthy and autonomous lives,” says Mr. László Andor, EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion.

A society for everyone

Active ageing is defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as “the process of optimising opportunities for health, participation and security in order to enhance quality of life as people age”.

It allows people to realise their potential for wellbeing throughout their lives and to participate in society according to their needs, desires and capabilities, while providing them with adequate protection, security and care when they need assistance.

As Cyprus’ Minister of Labour and Social Insurance, Ms Sotiroula Charalambous explains, active ageing encompasses more than just the notion of continuing activity in the labour force.

“Active ageing does not only mean keeping people of a greater age in employment, but also the active and continuing participation of older people in all aspects of society, as well as supporting solidarity between generations. We need a society which is for everyone, a society where each generation can fully take advantage of its potential and at the same time a society where successive generations will learn from one another,” Ms. Charalambous says. 

A global effort for active ageing

The European Year for Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations comes ten years after the adoption of the United Nations Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing, which constitutes a key global policy document concerned with the implications of population ageing and with the well-being and active participation of older persons at all levels of society.   

The Treaty of Lisbon mentions for the first time solidarity between generations as one of the objectives of the European Union.

Within the EU, most policy instruments to implement active ageing strategies are in the hands of the Member States. According to Commissioner Andor however, the European Union can encourage Member States to tackle the problems and get them to work effectively together on the issue.

“What we have done and are doing to foster active ageing has been to offer better opportunities for it through various policies and funding programmes,” he says.

European Year: Spurring Member States to step up their efforts

In his speech to the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Ministerial Conference on Ageing in Vienna in September of this year, the Commissioner remarked that the European Year has “spurred the EU Member States to step up their efforts to promote active ageing and they have come up with actions and entered into commitments”.

This process in relation to the European Year had already begun in 2011, when the European Commission invited national, regional and local governments, civil society, employer and employee organisations to commit to specific actions and goals so that tangible achievements can be presented during 2012.

To mark the year, special events, conferences and initiatives have taken place across the EU in order to raise awareness, spread good practices and encourage policymakers and stakeholders at all levels to facilitate active ageing. An awards ceremony honouring the best initiatives that promote active ageing and solidarity between generations took place in Brussels in November.

The way forward

On a political level, today, on Thursday December 6, the EU’s Employment and Social Policy Ministers will be requested to adopt a Council Declaration on the ‘European Year for Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations (2012): The Way Forward’.

The Closing Conference of the European Year will take place on Monday, December 10, in Lefkosia (Nicosia) and will be attended by Commissioner Andor, representatives from the European Commission, officials of EU Member States, and representatives from NGOs, local authorities and social partners. During the final session of the Conference, the achievements of the year and ways to build on them will be discussed.

The press conference, chaired by Ms Charalambous, to mark the closing of the Conference is estimated to start at 16.25 (CET) and will be streamed live on the Cyprus Presidency website. Video coverage from the Conference, including a video interview with Commissioner Andor, will be made available throughout the day.

Communications Officer
Maria Lantidou

Ministry of Labour & Social Insurance

Telephone: +357 22401676
Michaela Papadopoulou

Ministry of Labour & Social Insurance
European Affairs Unit
Telephone: +357 22401865