Active ageing is defined by the European Commission as ‘helping people stay in charge of their own lives for as long as possible as they age and, where possible, to contribute to the economy and society’. In their March 2017 framework agreement, the EU-level cross-sector social partners define the concept as follows:
Active ageing is about optimising opportunities for workers of all ages to work in good quality, productive and healthy conditions until legal retirement age, based on mutual commitment and motivation of employers and workers.
Demographic changes in Europe mean that active ageing is a policy focus for the European Union. Low birth rates and rising life expectancy mean that the proportion of older people in Europe is increasing. The European Commission estimates that the number of people over 65 years will grow from 17.4% to 29.5% of the total population between 2010 and 2060, and that the number of people over 80 years will nearly triple to 12% over the same period. The working age population in the EU is, however, expected to decline by 14.2% over that time and this will have a severe impact on welfare provision. In particular, pensions, healthcare and long-term care systems risk becoming unsustainable, with a shrinking labour force no longer able to provide for the needs of the growing number of older people.
Given these concerns, in 2012 the EU made the promotion of active ageing a focus with its European Year for Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations. This aimed to highlight the useful contributions that older people make to society and economy, enhancing their independence as well as strengthening solidarity between generations. A report from the European Commission (PDF) judged European Year 2012 to have been a success, stating that it had helped to ‘establish active ageing firmly on the European and many national policy agendas’. The report also noted that:
This momentum needs to be maintained for many years to come. The strong solidarity between generations that characterise Europe’s societies and welfare systems can only be sustained in the context of ageing populations and tight budgets by promoting active ageing in all its forms.
An extensive formal evaluation of European Year 2012 was also carried out for the Commission.
In December 2012, the Guiding Principles for Active Ageing were drawn up jointly by the Social Protection Committee and the Employment Committee. The principles contain a series of recommendations for action in three areas: employment, participation in society, and independent living.
The European Commission also developed an Active Ageing Index to assess the untapped potential of older people. Launched in 2013 by the European Commission and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, the Index is a statistical tool that measures the extent to which older people can realise their full potential in terms of employment, participation in social and cultural life, and independent living.
The European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing is another initiative launched by the European Commission in 2011 to foster innovation and digital transformation in the field of active and healthy ageing. It brings together relevant actors at EU, national and regional levels across different policy areas to handle the challenges around ageing and involve all the innovation chain levels.
The EU-level cross-sector social partners’ autonomous framework agreement on active ageing was signed in March 2017 after nine months of negotiations. The agreement’s overall aim is to ensure a healthy, safe and productive working environment and work organisation to enable workers of all ages to remain in work until legal retirement age. It also aims to facilitate the transfer of knowledge and experience between generations at the workplace. The agreement sets out a range of tools, measures and initiatives for the social partners in the following areas:
- strategic assessments of workforce demography;
- health and safety at the workplace;
- skills and competence management;
- work organisation;
- an intergenerational approach.
This agreement was negotiated within the framework of the EU social partners’ multiannual work programme for 2015–2017 and will be implemented at national, sectoral and/or company levels in accordance with the procedures and practices specific to management and labour in the EU Member States.