As our Report on the Impact of Demographic Change shows, people are living longer and healthier lives. Our ageing population is therefore one of the main demographic drivers in Europe. An increasingly older population presents both diverse challenges and opportunities not only at the individual, societal and economic level as well as between generations.
We all witnessed how the COVID19 crisis affected and indeed continues to affect our older citizens. I have been profoundly touched by the images capturing the loneliness of elderly, often isolated in care homes.
On the International Day of Older Persons, the first of October, I would like to highlight the importance of recognising the contribution of older persons to our societies. I want to raise the importance of protecting their rights, including their access to equal and affordable healthcare and digitalisation services. Over the last months of this pandemic, the rights of the elderly and the very special place they have in our society, across the European Union have come to the fore. I cannot forget the stories of families losing their loved ones in care-homes for the elderly, not knowing whether their family member was alone, frightened or at peace. And we should also remember the care workers struggling to ensure the protection and the dignity of the persons placed in their care.
Older people’s right to a life of dignity and independence is enshrined in Article 25 of the EU Charter on Fundamental Rights. The pandemic hit the elderly particularly hard and stretched these rights to their limit. The elderly were more exposed to infection, often with fatal consequences while protective measures often intensified their feelings of isolation and loneliness.
Let us also look at the untapped potential of ageing and the opportunities it provides . Many contribute to our society through volunteering activities and some continue to exercise their profession way past retirement age. As grandparents, they are indispensable in the lives of their grandchildren, often also stepping in for their own children when the youngest need to be looked after and childcare is not available.
Our Report on the Impact of Demographic Change shows that over the last fifty years, life expectancy at birth has increased by 10 years for both men and women. Living longer in better health is one of the highest expectations of European citizens. This is good news and a significant achievement.
For these reasons, I am very excited about our work on a Green Paper on Ageing, planned for adoption in 2021. With the Green Paper, we will launch the debate around the long-term impacts of ageing, care and pensions, active ageing and the capacity of social protection systems to deal with an ageing population. We will look at intergenerational solidarity and fairness, impacts on the labour market, the economy and health and care systems. It is clear to me that ageing concerns all generations, not just the elderly. And it is not only a challenge, but also provides many opportunities.
Active ageing means being able to fully participate in society. Today we inhabit a more digitalised world. Digitalisation and technology helps older people in their autonomy and ability to connect with others. It also raises issues on the right to privacy. This calls for action in increasing digital literacy for older people. Digital tools must be accessible and easy to use, for all ages. Those who are unable to use them should be provided with alternative ways of accessing essential services. We need to better harness the opportunities that come with ageing. This includes the positive role older people play in society, the silver economy, voluntary work and other areas.
Therefore, the Green Paper will not only be about older persons but also about how all of this plays out for the younger generation. It will be about ageing and not only about the aged.
Active ageing also means participating in our democracy. As Vice-President with responsibility for Democracy and the Conference on the Future of Europe in particular, I look forward to hearing the voices of the most experienced members of our society in our deliberations, benefiting from their wealth of experiences and knowledge.
COVID19 has left many of us without our grandparents, our elderly neighbours, without our living wisdom. The oldest and most vulnerable in society have been disproportionately affected and unfairly so. The need for solidarity should be the one lesson we learn from the pandemic. This includes intergenerational solidarity and fairness. It is about longer working lives and adequate and sustainable pensions. It is about transfer of much-needed experience and knowledge. It is about mutual support. It is about volunteering too. Our healthcare and welfare systems have been tested and we must make sure they are resilient and ready to face future challenges. It is up to each of us to ensure it is possible to maintain a safe and nurturing environment for both the young and the old to build their future and lead lives as full as they possibly can. Our work on democracy and demography contributes to this.
As I always say - my responsibilities as Vice-President involve the entire life cycle, from children to older persons. With this in mind, the objective and motivation for my work is to ensure inter-generational solidarity for the Europe of today and tomorrow – together with you. Until next time, keep well and stay healthy!
- Publication date
- 1 October 2020
- Directorate-General for Communication