‘Old continent growing older’: EP sketches out an ambitious agenda for coherent ageing policies

The European Parliament has recently adopted a major resolution, ‘Old continent growing older’, which addresses a number of important issues in relation to ageing. Adopted by a large majority, the resolution aims to contribute to shaping coherent ageing policies, following the release of the Commission’s Green Paper on Ageing and its consultation process.

Resolutions are non-binding texts adopted by the European Parliament. While they have no legal effect, they indicate that majorities exist for certain policies, for which the European Commission has the right to initiative. As a follow-up is expected to the consultation on the Green Paper on Ageing and the Council has called several times for rights-based ageing policies, the EP resolution is a strong call for action.

Despite the – finally large – majority of the EP adopting the resolution, the text was quite contested as its rapporteur, Beata Sydlo of the ECR party, called for replacing the draft negotiated in the Employment and Social Affairs Committee by her own, reduced version. In the proposed version many references to gender equality are removed, but also many other achievements that AGE and other civil society organisations had suggested. Adopting the more consensual version of the report, the EP has underlined that the debate on demographic change should focus on how to allow all generations to live to their full enjoyment of their rights – to health, social inclusion, non-discrimination etc. – on the principle of solidarity.

Taking a rights-based and solidarity-based approach to ageing

In the resolution…

  • The rights-based approach is underlined several times
  • Longevity is celebrated as a civilisational achievement and the heavy toll paid by older persons in the pandemic is valued.
  • age discrimination is seen by Europeans as the most widespread form of discrimination

The resolution calls…

  • on EU member States to take actively part in the discussion on the human rights debate on international level
  • on the EU to close the gap in its anti-discrimination framework by revising the directive on age discrimination in employment (‘Employment Directive’) and adopting the text of the horizontal non-discrimination directive (focussing on goods and services), blocked in the Council since 2008.
  • for violence against older persons and especially older women to be combated by creating effective programmes.
  • for a separate EU Charter of the Rights of Older Persons on the basis of the Charter of Fundamental Rights.
  • for a consultation of older persons on the model of the EU Youth Parliament.

The European Parliament also calls…

  • for a European Year of Intergenerational Solidairty and Active Ageing to underline and enhance solidarity and exchange between generations. Numerous references exist to mentoring and intergenerational exchange programmes, including intergenerational housing.
  • on the EU to fully engage with the UN Decade of Healthy Ageing and pay better attention to the situation of older persons in implementing the Sustainable Development Goals.
  • For the full implementation of the Work-Life Balance Directive, including remunerated maternity and paternity leaves and to recognise the value of informal carers, most of which are women.

Gender equality is a strong part of the resolution, noting the high gender employment and gender pension gaps, as well as the high gap old-age poverty rates between women and men. It reminds the important contribution women pay as informal and formal carers, the differential impact of various diseases on women and men and the feminisation of poverty.

EP calls for specific programmes for carers and to improve health and long-term care services

In this respect, the European Parliament calls for a ‘European Care Strategy’, including investment into care services which in turn will promote work-life balance for women and improving the living conditions of older persons in need for care and support. The Care Strategy should also prevent social isolation and improve mental health of carers, as well as violence in care settings. Carers should be provided with financial support, appropriate leaves and services such as day-care and respite care, as well as peer counselling and training. As a way forward, the Parliament wants a set of indicators for the access to and sustainability of care systems as well as a quality framework for care services. Care services should create conditions to maintain autonomy and independence and should be a right for older persons. The Parliament underlines that all persons should be provided with care according to their preferences, rather than only what is available.

To combat social exclusion and isolation, the Parliament calls for minimum pensions and incomes which allow decent living conditions, also for those who were unable to contribute to a full pension. It calls for persons to be able to chose when to retire, also after statutory pension age if they so wish, and for more flexible pathways into retirement.

To support healthy ageing, the Parliament underlines the role of preventive health and health promotion. It notes problems in accessing health services, especially during the COVID-19 related lockdowns, and a Health in All Policies approach. The Parliament wants better solutions for reintegration and rehabilitation of persons who had health issues into the labour market. Noting the ethical issues linked to the use of new technologies, the EP still underlines the potential of telehealth and telemedicine, particularly in rural areas and for older persons with mobility issues. A strong call is also made for the development of age-friendly environments, promoting mobility, independent living and autonomy in housing and urban policies.

Safeguard minimum pensions and build more inclusive labour markets

The Parliament notes that adequate pensions depend on adequate employment also for older workers. Therefore it calls for:

  • a better exchange of practices in the EU Network of Public Employment Services on integration of older workers into the labour market and spending from the European funds (ESF+, ERDF, Just Transition Fund, …) into training and reskilling of older workers
  • the EU Platform of Diversity Charters to better integrate work against discrimination based on age or disability in workplaces.
  • integrating psycho-social risks into the next Strategy for Occupational Health and Safety on EU level to make work more sustainable.

A point is made on the invisibility of older persons in statistics and calls on the European Commission to revise the framework for data collection, to allow for a more granular representation of different (older) age groups in EU statistics and the full inclusion of older persons in care facilities.

For digitalisation to provide the maximum of its potential benefits, the EP underlines that the Commission and Member States must pay special attention to developing the digital skills of older persons, also beyond retirement age, and to invest into connectivity and affordable equipment. It calls specifically for investment in formal, nonformal and informal education.

The intersectoral dimension is underlined as the EP mentions the fears of older persons belonging to minorities (ethnic, racial, or in sexual orientation) to express their issues.

Finally, a number of points focus specifically on agriculture, generational renewal in farming, social protection for farmers and their spouses.

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