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Europe's response to world ageing

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Europe's response to world ageing

The European Union contributes to the work of preparing a new international plan of action on ageing. It underlines the need to adopt a global policy to respond to the challenge which population ageing presents at world level.


Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament of 18 March 2002, entitled "Europe's response to World Ageing. Promoting economic and social progress in an ageing world. A contribution of the European Commission to the Second World Assembly on Ageing" [COM(2002) 143 final - Not published in the Official Journal]


The European Union considers that the adoption of a new international plan of action on ageing provides an opportunity to improve international cooperation and to prepare a long-term global strategy for a society for all ages.

Ageing of the world population

Various factors explain the ageing of the world population, such as increased life expectancy and falling fertility rates, chiefly linked to progress in birth control, the baby boom and migration movements.

While today ageing seems to be a universal trend, its intensity varies, notably depending on the regions. Hence the developed countries already have a large number of older people and the trend is constantly growing. The developing countries are still at the first stage of the process, but the rate of population ageing is likely to accelerate quite rapidly.

Ageing affects the economic and social foundations of societies. Consequently, new challenges must be addressed to provide a framework which is adapted to persons of all ages, men and women.

The Community approach

A European dimension was given to the debate on population ageing by the Communication " Towards a Europe for all ages " of 1999. The Union now proposes sharing its experience with the other countries, notably the developing countries.

The Union has insisted on the need for a global policy approach, combining the aspects of ageing linked to the economy, employment and social questions. The challenges calling for particular attention have been identified:

  • managing the economic implications of ageing in order to maintain growth and sound public finances;
  • adjusting well to an ageing and shrinking workforce, notably by encouraging active ageing and by changing existing practices of age management in workplaces and labour markets;
  • ensuring adequate and financially sustainable pensions which are adaptable to variable conditions, so that older people are not threatened by poverty;
  • securing access of all to high quality health care while ensuring the financial sustainability of health services, with a view to ensuring healthy ageing and wellbeing over the life course.

The Union's suggestions for an international plan on ageing

The Union does not call for the transposition of its policy to other countries, since the context of ageing varies from one region to another as a function of the socio-economic and cultural background. This leads to a genuine diversity of challenges. However, the Union is convinced of the usefulness of international cooperation so that countries can learn and profit from each other's experience. Hence it supports the preparation of a long-term strategy at global level but proposes distinguishing between objectives applicable to all countries and those that are suited to particular regions of the world. The development of an information base would help reinforce this international cooperation.

It seems essential to secure a sufficient labour force to provide for a growing population of retired people, to manage the cost implications for public sector finances and the economy at large and to prevent poverty in old age.

Besides, the Union draws attention to the need for greater global awareness as regards ageing. In order to successfully adapt to population ageing, a holistic view of ageing is called for because it is a phenomenon which concerns the entire life cycle, society as a whole and all aspects of economic and social life. It is also important to ensure the good health and wellbeing of older people. Notably, this means encouraging a learning process on healthy lifestyles, preventing dependency and invalidity of older people, assisting families with elderly dependents via formal care arrangements, and addressing considerations about the end of life.


The United Nations has been drawing attention to the ageing of the world population since 1982, when it organised the first conference on this subject and adopted on this occasion an international plan of action on ageing. Subsequently, 1999 was declared the International Year of Older Persons and a Second World Assembly on Ageing was organised in April 2002 with a view to adopting a new international plan of action on ageing.

Initially only the most developed countries considered ageing to be a problem. But the ageing process now affects an increasing number of developing regions and hence has assumed a global dimension. It is thus essential to ensure better global awareness of the challenge which ageing presents today.


Result of the Second World Assembly on Ageing (2002 - Madrid)

In their political declaration the governments undertook to take both national and international measures concerning older persons and development, the advancement of health and wellbeing into old age, and the creation of enabling and supportive environments.

The International Plan of Action on Ageing 2002 analyses these three priorities and lays down the objectives and recommendations. The plan of action focuses on the promotion of health and wellbeing of older persons (health promotion and wellbeing throughout life, universal and equal access to health care, possibilities in the field of geriatrics and gerontology, neglect, abuse and violence, etc.). The United Nations will assist countries in implementing and following up the plan of action.

Report from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions - Report requested by Stockholm European Council: "Increasing labour force participation and promoting active ageing" [COM(2002) 9 final - Not published in the Official Journal]

Last updated: 18.03.2004