Ladies and Gentlemen,
at the outset I would like to thank Judith
Merkies MEP and the Dutch Federation of University Medical Centres for inviting
me here this morning to give the opening address at this conference.
I can assure you that as the European
Commissioner with responsibility for Research, Innovation and Science that I do
support the implementation of policies at an EU level which support healthy
ageing in our society. Ageing research is an area of great social, political
and economic importance for the European Union.
But you will all agree with me that the
European Union faces a crucial moment of change. The recent economic crisis has
eroded years of growth and social progress and structural weaknesses in our
economy have become visible. At the same time, the world is moving at a rapid
pace and the challenges that we are facing in our society are both increasing
and intensifying all the time.
We are facing a real
choice. Either we foster recovery and confront societal challenges or we stick
to slow and uncoordinated responses and end up with deeper economic and social
The way forward.
I want to re-focus research and innovation
policies very clearly on developing a coherent strategic research agenda which
will tackle the grand societal challenges, which include both the promotion of
healthy living and healthy ageing.
Ladies and Gentleman, an ageing population is
one of the highest achievements of humankind. But an ageing population also
poses major economic, budgetary and societal challenges.
The number of people aged over 60 is increasing
by about two million every year. For the first time in our history, the vast
majority of Europe's citizens are able to lead active, healthy and
participative lives well into old age. At the same time, ageing societies bring
new opportunities to innovative companies through the demand for new or adapted
goods and services.
By 2060 we will move from the situation today,
with four people of working age for every person aged over 65 to a ratio of 2
to 1. Ageing will start affecting most EU economies in the coming decade. The
over 65s are set to increase to 30% of the population in 2060 from a figure of
17% in 2008. The biggest rise is expected during the period 2015-35 as the
It is not the ageing of the population per se
that is the challenge but rather the challenge to keep older people healthy.
Age-related diseases or disabilities represent major challenges for individuals
and for societies. These challenges can only be confronted if innovative and
multi-disciplinary approaches are taken.
For example, the 'Futurage' initiative is an
FP7 European project which aims to produce a definitive roadmap which will
guide European research on ageing and health for the next ten years to come.
This 'Futurage' programme is undertaking the most extensive consultation ever
conducted in this field and it is mobilising stakeholders, including medical
practitioners, policy makers, industry and representatives of older people to
work out the terms of this roadmap.
Building on a series of national consultations
undertaken in the 13 countries that form the ERA – AGE Research area, the
'Futurage' initiative has planned extensive workshops for scientists and
stakeholders focusing on four scientific areas:-
The 'WhyWeAge' programme seeks to establish a
roadmap for European research on the molecular aspects of healthy human ageing.
An up to date assessment of molecular gerontology will help the European Union
identify our key research priorities in the coming years.
Understanding the Ageing Process.
Understanding the ageing process, from in-utero
development to the oldest of our citizens, and the underlying causes of disease
– the whole life cycle – will be crucial to the prevention and the treatment of
age-related diseases and allow for a healthy, dignified and active ageing.
The demographic changes related to an ageing
Europe offers great opportunities for our people and for our society.
The role of the Flagship Initiative
"Innovation Union" will be a crucial element in this policy framework
as it is an integral component of the EUROPE 2020 strategy.
Today's conference is very important because
the European Parliament is a key driving force in making the EUROPE 2020
strategy a success.
Your initiative today marks an important
starting point in the process. It is a clear example of how we need to work
together so that we can achieve our commonly defined goals.
It is our duty and also my personal challenge
to create a critical mass of research and innovation at an EU level developing
new and key enabling technologies which will support healthy ageing. Market
opportunities for high technology companies are already enormous and are
growing fast. But for the moment they are only exploited by a very small group
of specialized companies in niche sectors, as for example in the areas of smart
homes and tele-health services.
I want to create a favourable environment for
the participation of small and medium-sized enterprises in more projects which
support healthy ageing. SMEs are key drivers of innovation and job creation, in
particular in the field of medical technologies.
This population shift will bring significant
growth in business opportunities, with successful products promoting
independent living and enhancing the quality of life of our people. New
e-health services will play a key role in developing these new business
ventures into the future.
The European Union funds over 7 million Euro
towards the GEHA programme which stands for the Genetics of Healthy Living
Initiative. The Genetics of Healthy Ageing aims to identify genes involved in
healthy ageing and longevity, allowing individuals to survive to advanced old
age in good cognitive and physical function and in the absence of major
While we talk about opportunities, let me say
that the pharmaceutical industry is already investing heavily in new therapies
aimed at alleviating neurodegenerative diseases, osteoporosis, and other
Early intervention in degenerative conditions
are more likely to be successful than trying to intervene when the damage has
already reached an advanced state. For example the Seventh Framework Programme
project "TOLERAGE" can be viewed as a model - it aims at studying
immune responses in older age by focussing on rheumatoid arthritis, a disease
that can start earlier in life but can clinically manifest with increasing age
and which can represent major medical and socio-economic problems.
We must address the issues before us with a
sense of determination and we must work in partnership with the private sector
and with all the key stakeholders involved.
As Abraham Lincoln once said … in the end, it's
not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years.