Key Policy Messages and Conclusions

In this final section we summarise key policy messages emerging from the INTERREG IVC capitalisation exercise on demographic change. These messages primarily come from the completed projects that have been able to experience the effects of their good practice transfer or the improvement or implementation of policies, but which have also sometimes experienced a lack of success in doing so; failures sometimes provide clearer lessons than successes. Projects that are still running or have just started are often follow-up projects with partners that already have experience of participating in an INTERREG IVC project. Sometimes, previous experiences and lessons learnt are implemented in the new project and taken a little further or used as ‘mentor’ projects for regions less far in their development of a certain strategy or policy. These lessons or innovative approaches sometimes result in valuable policy recommendations, as will be shown in the paragraphs below.

The first section starts with more general recommendations for the EU level, followed by generic policy recommendations for regional strategies on demographic change – the level of the INTERREG IVC project partners. In the last sections, the focus is on specific recommendations to help policymakers deal with the consequences of demographic change, these are presented per theme, as identified in the analysis in Chapter 3. Of course these messages are not exhaustive (demographic change impacts many policy fields), but they are regarded as some of the most important ones from the nine studied INTERREG IVC demographic change projects.

1. Recommendations on demographic change at EU Level

In all EU policies and actions of the EU Commission, demographic change developments should be the starting point. The European Demography Report, which is generated every two years, and current EU policy initiatives concerned with demographic change and active ageing might offer a useful starting point for policies addressing the challenges related to population decline and ageing.

Linked to this the main messages are:

  • Awareness of demographic change should be raised through long-term awareness-raising programmes and measures (DART);
  • More attention should be given to declining and rapidly ageing regions within the EU;
  • EU programmes and policies should increase their focus on reorganising and eliminating existing services and facilitate the provision of new ones;
  • Policies should be developed to enhance green and silver economies;
  • It is recommended to have more financial instruments specifically dedicated to active ageing: it is important to invest in the skills of the older population as a source of specific competitiveness for the EU (CREATOR);
  • With increasing globalisation, more research at EU level is needed to conceptualise the correlations between labour migration and demographic change and its effects on sending and receiving countries (ESF6 CIA);
  • Population decline requires a public debate about minimum standards of (social) services and infrastructure, taking financial viability and sustainability into account;
  • Enhance creativity and innovation, including entrepreneurship, at all levels of education and training (DART);
  • Increase efforts and measures for lifelong learning, especially by utilising ICT and e-learning;
  • Enhance innovations in technology, ICT, housing and public-private partnerships in the area of senior care to create major potential for Europe's competitiveness (DAA);
  • Motivate governments to use social media tools in their communications and policies and enhance the participatory processes to let citizens be part of local decisions (PEOPLE);
  • Give more power to regional stakeholders in order to create a sustainable economic future;
  • And last, but not least, in order to increase good practice and solutions in relation to demographic change, networking between regions in Europe should be encouraged and processes for exchange should be improved.

2. Recommendations for Regional Strategies for Demographic Change

In the case of demographic change, it is important to be aware of its cross-cutting character; it impacts social policies, spatial planning, healthcare, child care and elderly care but it also relates to legal issues and economic development. It is important for educational policies and even place marketing. Strategies should therefore always integrate demographic change. At the same time, strategies have to be specific and tailored according to the unique situation of each region. Some more generic recommendations in this respect are:

  • Involve all stakeholders and stimulate cooperation between different levels of governance;
  • A multidisciplinary approach with a long-term perspective is crucial and all stakeholders (government, social partners, community organisations, etc.) need to share responsibilities;
  • Policies must seek to support diversification from traditional activities and must seek to encourage entrepreneurship development and the creation of new types of businesses;
  • Improve relationships and build partnerships between businesses, schools, training centres and universities;
  • Foster the use of ICT and promote Internet connectivity to enhance social inclusion and access to the labour market, lifelong learning and new types of services;
  • Local and regional government should facilitate and support the development of innovative services by adapting the legal framework and implementing well-defined regional strategies;
  • Implement a regional innovation strategy. The regional smart specialisation strategies may offer good starting points;
  • One model does not fit all, the transfer of knowledge should be tailored to each regional scenario, taking into consideration the failures and successes of other regions (INN.O.V.Age);
  • Encourage the elderly to participate as experts in projects (CREATOR);
  • Raise awareness of social participation and the value of people over 50 (PEOPLE);
  • Develop and maintain good demographic databases (DART).

3. Recommendations in Relation to Education, Lifelong Learning and the Labour Market

The European Union is facing unprecedented demographic changes. In the light of these challenges, it is important, both at EU and national levels, to review and adapt existing policies and practices. One way to tackle these demographic challenges is to try to boost employment through more jobs and longer working lives of better quality.

The nature of local, regional and national labour markets is fundamental. Policymakers need to create the right incentives, practices and legislation.

  • Foster the use of ICT and promote Internet connectivity to enhance social inclusion and access to the labour market, with special focus on elderly people with reduced mobility;
  • Establishing business and industry clusters is increasingly important;
  • Keep promoting programmes to develop skills and employment;
  • Adapt working environments and working conditions for all employees, not just the elderly, to ensure that everyone will be able to work longer;
  • Patience is needed, since sensitising actions/awareness-raising cannot result in an immediate change of people’s ideas on longer careers. Nevertheless, these actions are necessary to create a new mind-set (ESF6 CIA);
  • Create the right conditions for a better work-life balance, more flexible working opportunities (ESF6 CIA, PEOPLE);
  • In line with the European 2020 Strategy on smart, sustainable and inclusive growth, it is essential to allow the full exploitation of regions dealing with population decline or ageing through maintaining high-level qualitative education and knowledge creation and innovation in the pursuit of smart growth (PADIMA);
  • Regions with high levels of unemployment need to step up active labour market measures, such as training for the unemployed and individualised job-search advice;
  • Provide incentives to encourage the employment of older people (CREATOR);
  • Introduce age-management principles in the strategies of public and private sectors (PEOPLE);
  • Monitor the working conditions of workers approaching retirement age to determine the factors that may contribute to their early exit from the labour market (ESF6 CIA);
  • A more individualised approach – combining flexible working hours, mentoring activities, entrepreneurship and other innovative employment models – should prioritise the individual preconditions, needs and wishes of people in the prime of their lives. In addition, the employment of older people must be encouraged in companies. In many European countries, relevant government initiatives are still urgently needed in this regard. (28)

4. Recommendations in Relation to Economic Diversification

We propose the following recommendations for dealing with demographic change through economic diversification:

  • More efforts and resources should be allocated to investigate the undiscovered potential of the silver economy (DART);
  • Access to broadband has proved essential to many of the good practices developed and it is important especially for peripheral and rural areas since ICT has the strongest distance-shortening effect. Existing and potential entrepreneurs have better access to a range services that are useful for developing and improving their businesses  (remote working, the creation of new companies, business use of the Internet, can all be significantly developed) (PADIMA);
  • With regard to the food industry, BIOLIFE (sub-project in CREATOR) recommends that SMEs could innovate their products by focusing on the needs of the elderly and by taking into account the clarification and readability of the information on labels, the nutritional needs of the elderly and the overall design for the development of new products;
  • More emphasis should be given to innovation hubs or labs where companies, research institutes and the governments can build on new entrepreneurial opportunities (DART and INN.O.V.Age);
  • It is not sufficient to rely on policymakers to stimulate change. Other stakeholders, such as industry, care professionals and end users must be involved in the design of policy and new types of services (INN.O.V.Age);
  • Policies must seek to support diversification from traditional activities towards the creation of new products, supply chains or new activities and different marketing strategies. The European Innovation Partnerships offers a good platform.

5. Recommendations in Relation to Social Services and (Health) Care

With regard to social and healthcare services, we strongly recommend developing healthcare towards a more comprehensive, integrated system, whereby all important stakeholders cooperate to deliver services of high quality; to support cost-efficient models in healthcare and to support dynamic health systems and new technologies, including e-health solutions.

With its strong economic incentives, the business sector is a proper place for the evaluation, adjustment and designing of profitable and efficient e-health models and systems, including telemedicine. But local and regional governments should facilitate and support the development of innovative services by adapting legal frameworks and through policy action (RTF).

In relation to the above, it is recommended to:

  • Provide customer-oriented, flexibly responsive and economically sustainable social services throughout declining and ageing regions (DART);
  • Build up partnerships and networking to support citizen’s participation and community action (DART);
  • Plan facilities and services accordingly to people’s needs and choices (DART);
  • The development of both assisted living and smart homes requires progress on a number of technical, financial and organisational fronts at the same time. This requires policymakers in health, social care and housing to work together with a shared objective and a common goal (INN.O.V.Age);
  • Involve the stakeholders, including the service designers and the users, at an early stage. In this way the political, economic, social, technological, legal and environmental key areas with their traditions, practices and cultures that are difficult to change can be analysed and necessary steps can be taken. The process should be bottom up and not top down (DAA);
  • Narrow the gap on the operational level between health and social services (CASA);
  • Improve the role of technology in the field of elderly care and effectively integrate it in the planning and delivery of care and assistance services (CASA).

6. Recommendations in Relation to Lifelong Learning

ICT helps older people to live independently longer, by making use of telecare services and social media opportunities. Therefore, an important recommendation is to foster the use of ICT and promote Internet connectivity to enhance social inclusion, with special focus on elderly people with reduced mobility (CREATOR). Some recommendations in this respect are:

  • To make independent living more economically sustainable, monitoring and prevention should also be parameters in the financial system of the healthcare sector (CASA);
  • Improve patients’ independence by training the patient and caregivers in how to use telemedicine services, and make sure to also communicate these benefits to informal caregivers (RTF);
  • Shorten the decision-making process and procurement rules that hinder innovation;
  • Apply an end-user needs approach;
  • Foster better synergy between SMEs working on telemedicine projects and local and regional economic development policies (RTF);
  • When developing home and assisted living equipment, software and services, explore new domains, as it is necessary to consider techniques but also potential beneficiaries’ behaviour, organisational problems, and social and cultural aspects (RTF).

7. Conclusions

The two developments affecting regions in Europe the most are ageing and population decline. While ageing and population decline are often closely interlinked, regional population decline as such is not just a demographically driven development but can only be understood in view of a number of global developments in the position and role of regions in the world economy. Local and regional impacts increasingly depend on external events taking place in other parts of the world. Each region being unique, solutions have to be specific and tailored according to the situation. Exchange of good practice or policies within INTERREG IVC is therefore not a copy-paste exercise, but benefits are primarily to be found in reflection, inspiration and adaptation.

International cooperation such as that within INTERREG IVC projects creates a possibility to exchange ideas, best practices and new policies and strategies on topics that are relevant in shrinking regions in Europe. Within INTERREG IVC, regions may experiment, find creative solutions and new strategies. Involving politicians in the exchange activity has a positive effect on the success of transferring the solutions and strategies. It creates a higher degree of political commitment. Similarly, more advanced regions can act as consultants in the transfer process, which has proven effective.

All nine INTERREG IVC projects on demographic change had and have the potential to influence regional policies and their implementation. The real effect relies on the ability to transform new knowledge into new or improved practices, to remove administrative constraints and to mobilise the right form of funding.

Because demographic change is important for social policies, spatial planning, healthcare, child care and elderly care, legal issues, economic development, education and even for place marketing policies, solutions to deal with the consequences of demographic change should always take an integrated approach. At the same time, strategies have to be specific and tailored according to the unique situation of each region.

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