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Towards a Europe for All Ages


Raising awareness and prompting a more active response at all levels with regard to the implications of the ageing of the population. Proposing a strategy for effective policy responses, based on strengthening cooperation amongst all actors and solidarity and equity between generations.


Commission Communication of 21 May 1999: Towards a Europe for All Ages - Promoting prosperity and Intergenerational Solidarity.


This communication constitutes the contribution of the European Commission to the UN International Year of Older Persons (1999). It aims to stimulate debate between and with Member States.

Besides adopting this communication, the Commission is supporting a series of studies and conferences on the various aspects of active ageing in order to help the Member States in their search for sound strategies, as part of the International Year of Older Persons 1999.

Between 1960 and 1995, the average life expectancy of EU citizens increased by 8 years for men and 7 years for women. This longer lifespan, coupled with the drop in fertility, makes the phenomenon of demographic ageing particularly dramatic in the 21st century.

The communication describes the challenges with which the ageing of the population will confront our societies.

- Relative decline of the working age population and ageing of the workforce

The next 20 years will see considerable changes in this field. Between 1995 and 2015, the 20-29 age group will fall in number by 11 million (-20 percent), while the 50-64 age group will increase by 16.5 million (+ 25 percent).

In the light of these forecasts, a strong focus on the age aspects of human resources management, a factor that has until now been neglected, is called for. It also implies reviewing policies which encourage an early exit from the labour market, instead of lifelong learning and new opportunities.

- Pressure on pension systems and public finances stemming from the growing number of retired people and a decline in the working age population

Over the next 20 years, the population above the standard retirement age (65 years) will increase by 17 million. Within this group the very old (those over 80) will increase by 5.5 million.

Intergenerational equity requires that greater importance be given to the long-term sustainability of public finances. A broader base for social protection systems must be secured through a higher employment rate for people of working age. In particular, pension systems must be made less sensitive to demographic changes.

- A growing need for health care for older persons

The sharp growth in the number of very old people in need of care will lead to a growing demand on formal care systems. These systems will have to gear up to the new situations. At the same time, policies must be developed with the aim of curtailing the growth in dependency through the promotion of healthy ageing, accident prevention and post-illness rehabilitation.

- Growing diversity among older people in terms of resources and needs

Differences in family and housing situations, educational and health status and income and wealth crucially determine the quality of life of older people. Nowadays, the majority of older people enjoy good living conditions. Nonetheless, the fact that conditions are better than in the past for most people should not blind us to the continued risk of social exclusion and poverty tied to age.

It is therefore essential to have policies which more accurately reflect the diversity of social situations of older people, better mobilise resources for more of them, and more effectively combat the risks of social exclusion late in life.

- Gender-related aspects

The gender issue is also of particular importance, especially as regards social protection. Today women account for almost two-thirds of the over-65s. The historically weak labour market participation of women, social protection systems based on the model of the male breadwinner, and gender differences in longevity have resulted in many older women receiving drastically insufficient pensions.

Faced with the wide-ranging impact of the problems caused by the ageing of the population of the Member States, the Commission has come to a series of policy conclusions.

European Employment Strategy

In the European Employment Strategy, the European Union has set out to combat unemployment and significantly increase the employment rate of Europe on a lasting basis. The low employment rate of older workers is considered an important factor and, due to this, Member States have been invited to develop measures aimed at:

  • keeping workers in the labour market longer;
  • promoting life-long learning;
  • increasing work flexibility (through part-time work);
  • adjusting the tax and benefit systems;
  • providing better incentives for employment and training.

The Strategy stresses the particular role of the social partners in this regard. The Commission will invite the social partners to reflect on how to integrate the problem of population ageing into human resource management.

Policies on social protection

In its work programme for 1999, the Commission has undertook to develop policies to modernise and improve social protection.

To fulfil this undertaking, the Commission could adopt a communication on social protection, proposing a new process of cooperation with Member States in this field. The issues that it seems particularly important to address are finding ways to reverse the trend towards early retirement, exploring new forms of gradual retirement and making pension schemes better and more flexible.

Health and medical research policies

The Commission will pay special attention to medical and social research related to ageing in the fifth framework programme for Community research. This action aims to cover a wide range of research activity, including basic, medical, technological and social research.

The health aspects of ageing are also a central concern in preparations for the development of new public health instruments at Community level.

Furthermore, the Commission will support the Member States in their efforts to develop adequate responses to the effect of ageing on health and care through studies of how different national systems work.

Combating discrimination and social exclusion

In its Social Action Programme 1998 - 2000, the Commission undertook to put forward proposals based on article 13 of the Treaty (amended by the Treaty of Amsterdam) in which workplace-based discrimination on grounds of age or other factors would be dealt with.

The programme also sets out the Commission's intention to explore the possibilities of developing new Community action programmes based on articles 13, 129 and 137 of the Treaty, which would allow protection of older persons affected by discrimination, unemployment and social exclusion.

The magnitude of the demographic changes set to take place as we enter the 21st century will force the European Union to rethink and change outmoded practices and institutions.

An active society for all ages requires a strategy which both enables and motivates older people to stay involved in working and in social life. The growing number of retired people constitutes a wealth of under-utilised experience and talent. They also create new needs to be met by enterprises, governments and NGOs.

4) deadline for implementation of the legislation in the member states

Not applicable

5) date of entry into force (if different from the above)

Not applicable

6) commission implementing measures

7) references

Commission Communication COM(99) 221 finalNot published in the Official Journal

8) follow-up work

Last updated: 28.06.2005