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The EU Covenant

"By helping local and regional authorities in particular to meet their demographic challenges in innovative and sustainable ways, the covenant is expected to play an important role in reducing geographical inequalities and in contributing to increased healthy life expectancy in Europe."

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Anne-Sophie Parent
Secretary General, AGE Platform Europe

In Europe, as in other parts of the world, significant changes are expected in the population age structure: in the coming decades, the total number of people ages 50 and over will increase sharply. As life expectancy at birth is expected to continue to increase—thanks to better living conditions, hygiene, and health care—so is, unfortunately, the number of years at the end of life expected to be spent in poor health or with functional limitations. In the European Union (EU), average healthy life expectancy has actually started to decrease in recent years: from 2010 to 2013, on average, women saw a decrease of 1.1 years and men a decrease of 0.4 years. Therefore, we need to act to support active and healthy aging, and we need to bring the EU’s health and long-term care infrastructure into alignment with the projected increase of aging and elderly citizens.

Since 2008 and inspired by the World Health Organization’s (WHO) holistic approach to active aging, AGE Platform Europe (AGE) has been promoting age-friendly environments as the best way to help Europe overcome this unprecedented demographic challenge, through empowering older people to remain actively engaged in the labor market and in their communities for as long as possible. Our multifaceted actions include combating age discrimination and promoting the concept of “age-friendly environments” in all realms of life: employment, transport, the built environment, urban planning, health and long-term care services, mainstream goods and services, and many others. This concept is sometimes called “design for all.” It means taking concrete action at all levels of government to:
  
(1) remove barriers that prevent people—of any age—who experience functional limitations  from participating on an equal basis with other citizens; and 

(2) enable everyone to age in better health and live independently for longer. AGE members  strongly believe that age-friendly environments will not only improve quality of life for our aging  populations but also will help lower the pressure on public health and care budgets, create new  jobs, and boost the “silver economy”— thus enabling our societies to better cope with aging in ways that are sustainable and fair to all generations.

AGE has used both the European Year 2012 on Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations (EY2012) and the European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing (EIP-AHA) to raise awareness of the need to adopt and promote the concept of age-friendly environments across the EU, right down to the local level. While the EY2012 helped convince policy makers and leaders to take action in the field, the EIP-AHA provided a unique opportunity to mobilize a wide range of stakeholders — namely, local and regional authorities, research centers, civil society organizations, and industry — to commit to working together to develop innovative age-friendly solutions to support longer, healthier lives.

Until now, many pilot solutions to support active and healthy aging have been developed in various areas of the EU, but they have remained isolated and not scaled up, not even in their own countries. This means that their impact in addressing the European demographic challenge has been limited. Apart from a very few countries that have a national program on aging (often limited to health and/or long-term care), the various governance levels that need to work together to support age-friendly environments have not coordinated their actions. There has been no structure at the EU level to synchronize local, regional, and national actors willing to support age-friendly environments. Local or even national authorities do not have the capacity to link up with a wide range of actors in other countries; only an EU organization or authority can do that.

This is why — in 2013, with a large consortium of 29 partners and in response to a call for proposals launched by the European Commission — AGE submitted a funding application to set up a thematic network of age-friendly environments and launched a Covenant on Demographic Change. Together, we wanted to create the necessary political and technical framework to bring together local and regional authorities — and other stakeholders — willing to develop smart and innovative age-friendly environments. Our project, called AFE-INNOVNET thematic network for age-friendly environments, was selected for funding, and over the past two years we have expanded the network to some 350 stakeholders, developing guidelines and tools to help public authorities build their capacity to promote and implement age-friendly environments and sharing examples of good practice that can inspire others. We have also worked very closely with the WHO, in particular its Regional Office for Europe, which has developed some practical guidance for adapting the WHO Age-Friendly Cities and Communities Guide to the European context.

Launched officially on December 7, 2015, the EU Covenant on Demographic Change was established as an international nonprofit association under Belgian law. It is open to all interested parties —that is, local, regional, and national authorities, as well as civil society organizations, industries, research centers, and universities — based in an EU country or in a country associated with the EU HORIZON 2020 program that voluntarily commit to making age-friendly environments a reality in their communities and to sharing their experiences with other covenant members. Its vision is based on the 2013 Dublin Declaration on age-friendly cities and communities; its purpose is to support longer healthy and active life years by pooling and sharing the knowledge and expertise of the WHO on age-friendly environments and by enabling interested parties to learn from each other’s experience.

By helping local and regional authorities in particular to meet their demographic challenges in innovative and sustainable ways, the covenant is expected to play an important role in reducing geographical inequalities and in contributing to increased healthy life expectancy in Europe. Given the huge potential of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) and social innovation in supporting age-friendly environments — and by helping to mobilize local and regional actors who can pick up such solutions and deploy them across the EU — the covenant will also support healthy competition among Europe’s silver economy actors.

The covenant will largely work virtually and will seize all relevant opportunities at EU and national levels—such as the Committee of the Regions’ annual open days, EU presidency events, peer reviews, and so forth—to organize meetings and foster exchanges between its members. It will seek to become the EU affiliate program of the WHO Global Network of Age-Friendly Cities and Communities and feed into the WHO’s Age-Friendly World online  platform.

 


 

AGE Platform Europe (AGE) is a European network composed of 150 organizations directly representing more than 40 million seniors in the European Union (EU). AGE aims to voice and promote the interests of the 190 million citizens ages 50+ living in the EU and to raise awareness of the issues that concern them most. AGE was established in 2001 to give a voice to older people in relevant EU policy debates through the active participation of their representative organizations in the platform’s governing bodies and expert groups. Since its creation, AGE’s work has been funded by grants from EU programs and membership fees paid by its member organizations.

AGE’s vision is that of a society “for all ages” based on solidarity and cooperation between generations, a society where everyone is empowered to play an active part in society and enjoys equal rights and opportunities in all stages of life regardless of age, sex, race or ethnic origin, religion or belief, social or economic status, sexual orientation, physical or mental condition, or need for care.

For more information, visit www.age-platform.eu

About the author

Anne-Sophie Parent is Secretary General of AGE Platform Europe, a EU network representing directly 40 million people aged 50+ across the EU-28 which she has been leading since 2002. AGE aims to voice and promote the interests of the 190 million inhabitants aged 50+ in the European Union. Ms. Parent sits on various advisory committees set up by the European Commission: European Pensions Forum, European Health Policy Forum, member of the Advisory Board of Assisted Ambient Living Joint Programme, of the More Years Better Lives Joint programme, Financial Services Users’ Group, Steering Group of the European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing.


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