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Address by Commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn to Conference on Healthy Ageing, Brussels, 15 April 2010
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Address by Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation,

to a Conference on

"Healthy Ageing – A European Priority: The Dutch Perspective"

European Parliament, Brussels, 15th April 2010

left to right: Eduard Klasen (Member Executive Board LUMC, Chair Committee International Affairs NFU), Frans Jaspers (Member Executive Board UMCG, Member Committee International Affairs NFU), Ms Geoghegan- Quinn, Ms Judith Merkies, MEP, Lamber van Nistelrooij, MEP

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 problems.

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 baby-boomers retire.

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:-

  • Bio gerontology.

  • Social and Economic resources.

  • Environments of ageing.

  • And healthy ageing and well being.

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 age-related diseases.

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 ageing-related conditions.

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.

Last update: 30/10/2010  |Top