BRUSSELS / The Parliament / Latest News / April 27, 2011
By Martin Banks
Member states have been accused of "under-estimating" the scale of the demographic crisis facing Europe.
“At present the mantra of active ageing is more words than action” - - Jean-Louis De BrouwerSpeaking in Brussels on Wednesday, senior European commission official Jean-Louis De Brouwer said that demographic changes were taking place "here and now."
"We are confronted by something - demographic change – that is not science fiction but is happening here and now."
"This is something that, perhaps, member states have under-estimated in the past," said De Brouwer, a director in the commission's employment directorate.
The debate, organised by the European Policy Centre, the Brussels-based think-tank, was told that by 2050 nearly one in three EU citizens will be 65 or older.
The number of people aged 60 and over is rising faster than at any period since 2007.
Low fertility and higher life expectancy will, said De Brouwer, result in a continuous rise of the average age of Europe's population.
He said one of the possible reasons why member states had under-estimated the problem was because the impact of demographic change falls outside the normal "life cycle" of most member states governments.
"Normally, the consequences are not felt for 10 to 15 years which, given that most governments are elected for up to five years, is well outside the political cycle."
He said that, subsequently, tackling the challenge of demographic change was "not something that is easy for national governments."
He said this is where the EU has a role in helping to "steer" policies aimed at addressing the issue.
De Brouwer said that older people were increasingly seeking to extend their involvement in social, economic and cultural activities.
"They do not want to be sidelined as they get older," he said.
He said that 2012 had been designated as the year of active ageing with one of the aims being to discourage early retirement.
"However, the year is not just about labour market participation but about helping older people to remain as independent for as long as possible."
Lifelong learning will have a crucial role to play in achieving this, he said.
Currently, he said that less than five per cent of older people, that is, those aged between 55 to 64, participate in training.
"This shows that at present the mantra of active ageing is more words than actions."
"This is something that is well understood and agreed by each and every member state," he said. "That is why promoting active ageing is one of the key issues."
An EPC policy paper said that policymakers can make a "significant difference by steering labour market in the direction of increased participation."
© 2011 Dod's Parliamentary Communications Ltd