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Intergenerational Solidarity in an Era of Demographic Change

A European Perspective

By: Anne-Sophie Parent, Director, AGE, The European Older People's Platform

Publish Date: July  15,  2009


All countries around the world - especially those in the European Union - are facing rapid demographic change. This is a source of potential tensions between the generations that policy makers need to address if our societies are to function well in the future. Until now, the political debate has focused predominantly on the long-term financial sustainability of Europe's welfare systems. How to continue to pay relatively generous pensions to a growing number of retirees with a shrinking workforce? How to maintain quality health and long-term care for all? Is the responsibility of caring for dependent generations - children and older dependent people - going to fall back on the shoulders of families because care services will be perceived as too costly by tax payers? While they may vary in their approach, the economic, fiscal and social systems of the EU Member States are all based on solidarity between the generations and between all citizens.

These are difficult questions to answer - not only in the context of demographic change but also given the budgetary constraints EU Member States are facing in today's recession. But one thing is certain: reforms are needed to ensure that our social protection systems will be able to continue to fulfil their mission - to protect and support those in need.

This forces us to fundamentally re-think our economic, fiscal and social policies and to re-consider the links between and within the different generations so that all can find a place where they can flourish and contribute to the general well-being as best as they can. AGE members feel that solidarity between the young, the active middle generations, and the older population must be approached from a wider perspective, encompassing the promotion of mutual cooperation and exchange between the generations, encouraging a better shared understanding of the needs and expectations of all age groups, and exploring new forms of coexistence.

Confronted with scepticism from some quarters, we would be well advised to remember the basic principles that have allowed European society to become what it is today: a region of peace, prosperity and solidarity supported by an efficient market economy and sustained by strong social rules. Such achievements are now proving themselves to be valuable assets which allow Europe to hold its own relatively well in the context of the world crisis. Our social model, still regarded by some as a brake on innovation and growth in Europe, is now praised by venerable institutions such as the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) for its steadying influence and as a long-term investment justified by the common interest. While they may vary in their approach, the economic, fiscal and social systems of the EU Member States are all based on solidarity between the generations and between all citizens. This solidarity is an integral part of our shared heritage and must remain at the heart of any reform as to how our societies function and citizens interact.

Debate is needed at all levels: among local and national authorities, town planners, public transport operators, public health organisations, social service providers, architecture schools, social housing organisations, citizens, local, national and European representatives, the media, schools, universities, and civil society organizations.

The promotion of such debate was the aim of the diverse initiatives launched across Europe as part of the first European Day of Intergenerational Solidarity and Cooperation that AGE and a group of European NGOs launched on April 29, 2009.

For several years, AGE and the European Youth Forum (YFJ) have been reflecting together on how best to respond to the challenge of Europe's aging society. In 2006, the two organizations asked the European Commission to organize a conference on intergenerational solidarity with a view to launching a wide-ranging public debate on this subject and initiating new approaches as to how our society is organized. The conference, which examined ways of re-forging social bonds between the generations and to initiate political changes strengthening intergenerational solidarity, was held under the Slovenian Presidency of the EU in Brdo (Slovenia) April 28-29, 2008.

It was during this conference that the Slovenian Presidency proposed that April 29 become the European Day of Intergenerational Solidarity and Cooperation, a suggestion that had first been made by AGE and the YFJ. This idea gained force quickly and many initiatives have been implemented throughout the EU. For NGOs, this European Day is an opportunity to bring together their work and to draw attention to a particular issue and the solutions which could be implemented in response. It is a unifying event which allows us to explain the initiatives in progress on the ground and to move public discourse forward on a major social theme.

AGE sees this initiative as an ongoing process and we will continue to promote the further exchange of ideas and experiences throughout the EU and beyond. We hope that others around the world will join our initiative and will help us promote a new vision of aging, drawing on the experience and richness of each generation and the positive change that they engender together if they cooperate and support each other.

For more information on AGE activities, visit our website at www.age-platform.org

To access the AGR brochure on the European Day of Intergenerational Solidarity: www.age-platform.org/EN/spip.php?article755

Note: The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views or policies of AARP.