The Government of Spain, to which I belong, is undertaking a very strong socially oriented policy whose priority goal is to achieve social protection for all citizens and, particularly, for the most disadvantaged population groups.
The Presidency of the European Union, which Spain holds during the first half of 2010, offers my country a unique opportunity for progress on social policies. Our country is also making a considerable effort to implement policies on equality between men and women, which we intend to promote during our Presidency.
Within the framework of the Renewed Social Agenda, we are working with the European Commission to create a new European Social Agenda. The Year 2010 celebrates the European Year for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion. The events being held include the Opening Conference for the European Year at the Highest-Level, the 2nd European Roma Summit, and the 9th Meeting of Persons Experiencing Poverty and Social Exclusion.
Another key objective of the Spanish Presidency is to set in motion policies that achieve active inclusion of persons excluded from the labor market by 2020. We aim to achieve the goal of long-term sustainability, full employment, equal opportunities, and social cohesion through a three-dimensional approach combining the following elements: education and training; research, development and innovation; and environmental and social actions. This strategy will specifically target persons who have difficulty entering the labor market, particularly persons with disabilities.
We also share the concerns of the Social Protection Committee of the European Commission on pensions, social inclusion and long-term care. As a significant example, the Spanish Government has adopted measures to safeguard our pension system by increasing benefits for those with the lowest pensions, strengthening laws that defend and protect new rights, such as the Equality Act, and protecting personal autonomy and persons experiencing dependency problems.
Our country has recently created a “social-health space” by merging coordination of the government’s health and social policy work into a single Ministry of Health and Social Policy.
Actions for Older Persons
The European Commission has encouraged Member States to develop and maximize the potential of older persons, as well as to improve their active participation in society.
Spain is currently one of the ground-breaking countries in responding to the challenges of an aging population. Our country collaborated actively with the United Nations on the organization of the Second World Assembly on Ageing, held in Madrid in 2002, as well as organizing the Ministerial Conference on Ageing of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), held in León in 2007. The governments of the UNECE member countries adopted the León Ministerial Declaration, which includes several commitments to increase progress on aging issues.
The passing of the Spanish Law on the Promotion of Personal Autonomy and Dependent Care during the preceding term of office has given rise to the creation of a new protection regime for those most in need of care. Furthermore, we intend to promote policies that support active aging as well as the prevention of disease and disability.
We live longer and in better living conditions thanks to the development of social policies and scientific advances. This means older persons are expected to play an increasingly important role in our society.
Aging is a social challenge. Addressing such a challenge requires implementing new policies, developing new opportunities, and creating new social roles. Moreover, positive aging shall enable personal fulfilment and social participation, contributing to the creation of a fairer society.
The World Health Organization defines active aging as the process that “allows people to realize their potential for physical, social, and mental well-being throughout the life-course and to participate in society, while providing them with adequate protection, security and care when they need.”
Our society currently provides us with significant tools to respond to the needs of an aging population, such as volunteering opportunities, cutting-edge technologies, and the latest technical assistance for the removal of all barriers. These modern developments provide seniors with new, more satisfying activities to enjoy during their years of retirement and, in turn, promote a more positive view of older persons as vibrant, engaged, active members of society.
We should also take into account that different environments will have greater difficulties in addressing challenges, such as rural areas which lack the variety of opportunities urban areas provide.
In his closing remarks at the Third State Congress on Older Persons held in Madrid in May 2009, the Prime Minister of Spain José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, voiced support for greater involvement and participation by older persons in society and encouraged them to seek richer, more satisfying lives as they age, with the support of social cooperation.
Along the same lines, and as a prelude to the development and adoption of a National Plan on the Promotion of Active Ageing, we are working in Spain to create a White Paper on older persons and aging, which will study and evaluate the situation of older persons from a technical and a scientific perspective, and explore their needs and the opportunities that modern society presents to this key population group.
This project will benefit from the collaboration of researchers, scientists, experts and social organizations, especially the State Council for Older Persons, acting as the participating body of this group in the Ministry of Health and Social Policy. It will be a document rich in contributions that may serve as a guide to all private and public stakeholders as well as to citizens interested in the provision of a better quality of life for older persons, which allows them to take the reins of their own lives.
Former Presidencies of the European Union have organized several conferences on aging. Spain will continue with this initiative, stressing those issues which best represent their priorities in this field through the organization of a European Conference on Active and Healthy Ageing.
The priority goals are to:
- emphasize the importance of health as a basis for developing active aging;
- identify the critical components to ensuring that older persons enjoy active aging and independent living;
- introduce good practices on active aging within the European Union;
- develop action proposals to strengthen active and healthy aging in the European Union countries.
We are aware of the importance of aging. For this reason the Spanish Presidency supports the European Commission’s proposal to declare 2012 the European Year for Active Ageing and Intergenerational Solidarity.
In summary, we believe our action framework and our priorities for our Presidency of the European Union will significantly contribute to the integration, solidarity, innovation, and training of older persons, relying on their participation and responding to their aspirations for generations to come, with new challenges and new commitments.
Trinidad Jiménez García-Herrera, the former Secretary of State for Iberoamerica, was appointed Minister of Health and Social Policy in April 2009.