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Ageing Policy

I. 1. Introduction

The citizens of the European Union are increasingly older citizens. By the year 2020 people aged 60 and over will comprise on in five of the EU´s population and those aged 65 and over would have made up just one in fourteen of the Union´s population. This silent revolution in Europe´s age structure has been taking place largely unnoticed by the general public and, until relatively recently, by policy makers as well.

2. The Changing Nature of Old Age

Alongside of the ageing of the population we are witnessing profound transformation in the experience and meaning of old age in late twentieth century society. Retirement is no longer the straightforward entry-point to old age that it once was and, therefore, it is increasingly anachronistic as a definition of older people. With increased longevity, older people are living longer and healthier old ages and, as a result, the threshold of frailty is being pushed back. These changes in age structure, health and patterns of employment are transforming the nature of old age.

3. The need for action - The Demographic Revolution

Today, there are more than 70 million people aged 60 and over in the EU, representing just under one in five of the population. Nearly one-third of the Union´s population and one-fifth of the labour force are over the age of 50. Within the older category, the part occupied by the very old, the over-eighties, who are more likely to be ill and become dependant, ist growing even more rapidly: by 2020, about 20 million people will be aged 80 and over in the present territory of the European Union - representing an increase of som 300 percent in this age category since 1960.

The two main factors explaining this demographic revolution are declining fertility and mortality rates: fewer children and more older people. While on average around 2.1 children per woman of child bearing age are required to replace the population, actually, the EU average is 1.59.

The health services of Member States can claim considerable credit for the decline in mortality over the last thirty years. In some countries life expectancy has increased significantly as a result - by 10 years for women in France, Italy and Spain.

4. Policy issues

However this success, particularly the fall in mortality rates among older people themselves, has increased the demand for health and social care. Population ageing is posing a challenge to policy makers in Member States because retirement or old age pensions are already the largest item in their social security budgets. This is particularly the case for those countries that have previously instituted major reforms to public pensions are now facing the twin financial implications of population ageing and pension system maturation. Moreover at a time of economic recession concerns about the financial stability of pensions and wider social security systems inevitably become more urgent. The main issue is the extent to which the rapid changes in the age structure of populations can be managed in ways that maintain the relatively high levels of intergenerational solidarity in EU countries and which also ensure the continuance of social integration among older people and their families.


II. Historical overview of european interest in ageing

a) Up to 1990

The situation of older people was first addressed specifically in a number of Resolutions by the European Parliament during the 1980s, beginning with its Resolution of 18 February 1982 on the situation and problems of older people in the European Community.

The Charter on the Fundamental Social Rights of Workers, adopted by 11 Member States in 1989, refers, in paragraphs 24 and 25, to older and retired people and brings this group within its ambit.

In addition, a number of established legal instruments and policy initiatives, while not specifically aimed at older people, have nevertheless been of relatively greater concern to the older generation. These include initiatives in the fields of disability, such as the HELIOS programme, European anti-poverty programmes and equal treatment between women and men in the matter of social security.

b) Decisions 1990-1992

The Commission´s Communication on the Elderly" of 24 April 1990 (COM (90) 80 final) set out a basis for action at Community level in the interest of older people, while recognizing the clear application of the principle of subsidiarity in this field.

The two Council Decisions, on Community action for older people (91/49/EEC; OJ L 28 of 2.2.91, p.29) and on the 1993 European Year (92/440/EEC; OJ L 245 of 26.8.92, p.43), respectively, confirmed the Community´s role as an important but subsidiarity actor in the process underway in all Member States to meet the long-term challenges of an ageing population.

By its Decision of 17 October 1991 (91/544/EEC; OJ L 286 of 26.10.91, p.42), the Commission established a Liaison Group to promote dialogue with organizations representing older people at European leve and, thus, to strenghten the voice of the older citizen at this level.

c) Solidarity between Generations

The two Council Decisions also established the promotion of solidarity between generations as a central element in the Community´s approach to meeting the challenge of an ageing population. The principle of inter-generational solidarity as the essential basis for policy development by Member States was confirmed in the Declaration of Principles of the Council of the European Union and the Ministers for Social Affairs, meeting within the Council of 6 December 1993 to mark the end of the European Year of Older People and Solidarity between Generations (93/C 343/01; OJ C 343 of 21.12.93, p.1).

d) The European Year

1993, European Year of Older People and Solidarity between Generations, with its thousands of activitiees ranging form the totally European to the very local, was an exercice in building and managing partnerships across different levels, cultures, disciplines and generations. The objectives of the European Year were

  • to highlight the Community´s social dimension; to raise
  • to raise the awareness of societies about ageing issues
  • to promote debate
  • to promote intergenerational solidarity
  • to involve older people in the process of Community integration.

The measures taken by the Commission were partly stimulation measures with no financial implications, and partly measures either fully financed or co-funded by the Commission. The latter covered both Pan European and national activities.

The effort has been declared a success which is, in fact, largely due to the massive contribution of the non-governmental sector in bringing the issues to the attention of those most directly concerned.

e) White Paper on Social Policy

The White Paper "European Social Policy - A Way Forward for the Union", adopted in July 1994, announced that the Commission would propose "a Decision for further Union-wide actions to help meet the challenges of an ageing population covering, in particular, the role and contribution of the active retired population".


III. The role of the European Union


In the field of ageing, legislative competence rests almost exclusively with Member States. Indeed, in some cases, important competences are to be found at the regional and local as well as the national level. However, the EU can play a role in support of those policies and actions as established and implemented at the appropriate level, through stimulation of new thinking and exchange of experience. This role, while limited in scope and cost, can be of significant value both for the EU as a whole and for the authorities concerned with the issue of ageing.

Commission Role

The Commisssion considers that its essential role is as catalyst, facilitator and communicator in promoting exchange of knowledge and experience in the field of ageing. Rather than leading, the Commission essentially responds to and supports initiatives from partners at all levels throughout the EU. This support can be in terms of information, derived from studies, contact identification for potential partners in other Member States, and financial assistance for activities which meet established criteria.

Commission´s Proposal for a Council Decision on Community Support for Actions in favour of Older People (COM (95) 53 final)

In this proposal for a Council Decision the Commission proposes to support a range of actions in relation to older people over the period 1 September 1995 to 31 December 1999. The Commission itself also should be responsible for the implementation of this Decision. This proposal builded on the foundations laid by the European Year of Older People and Solidarity between Generations (1993) and was intended to have, over the period involved, a positive influence on policies affecting older citizens in Member States.

The proposed actions should have the following objectives:

  1. to identify ways to develop the role and potential of the active retired population;
  2. to promote best practice in relation to:
    a) improving the situation of older women;
    b) management of an ageing workforce;
    c) transition from work to retirement;
    d) care and access to care for dependent older people;
  3. to strenghten solidarity between generations and the integration of older people in danger of isolation.
    In this context, the Commission proposes the following measures:
    a) specific projects
    b) comparative studies and transnational initiatives in relation to the priority themes of the action
    c) the drawing up of regular comparative reports on the socio-economic situation of older people throughout the European Union.

Since now (July 1998), the proposal has not been adopted by the Council.


IV. Documents on ageing policies

Age and attitudes. Main results from a Eurobarometer Survey, Commission of the European Communities 1993.

European network of innovative projects concerning older people, Commission of the European Communities 1993.

Older people in Europe: social and economic policies. The 1993 Report of the European Community Observatory, Commission of the European Communities 1993.

Older people in Europe - social and economic policies. Recent developments, Commission of the European Communities 1994.

Social Europe. The outlook on supplementary pensions in the context of demographic, economic and social change (a report by the EU network of experts on supplementary pension provision - 1996), Supplement 7/96, European Commission 1996.

Proposal for a Council Decision on Community Support for Actions in favour of Older People / Community actions for older people 1991-1993 including the European Year of Older People and Solidarity between Generations / EVALUATION REPORT (presented by the Commission), COM (95) 53 final, Commission of the European Communities 1995.