Policy Context

This chapter elaborates on the policy context in which demographic developments take place and shows the EU policy framework in this context. The last paragraph describes some examples of other EU programmes and initiatives that could be interesting for INTERREG IVC projects to learn or seek inspiration from.

To start with, demographic change, in addition to climate change and globalisation, is now recognised as one of the most significant challenges facing Europe and its regions. Europe’s demography is similar to that of the world’s other developed regions, such as Japan. Countries that are ageing fast and shrinking fast are being confronted with the biggest challenges.

The Territorial Agenda 2020 (4) highlights that Europe is facing challenges with regard to ageing and depopulation in several regions, including rural and peripheral ones. The EU population is ageing at a varying speed. Populations that are currently the oldest, such as Germany’s and Italy’s, will age rapidly for the next 20 years, then stabilise. Some of the populations that are currently younger, mainly in the eastern part of the EU, will age at an increasing speed and will have the oldest populations in the EU by 2060 (Demography Report 2010, EU Commission, 2011).

As the population ages, the contribution of people over 50 to economies and communities has to be reassessed. The impact of this trend differs from city to city and from region to region, but it will influence nearly every sphere of life: the labour market, housing, social security systems, infrastructure, urban/spatial planning, education, budgets and finances (Active Age Final report 2012).

Due to ageing, public expenditure on pensions is projected to rise, exerting a heavy strain on public finances. In most EU countries, government policy priorities are focused on reforms to the pension system, to improve its financial viability, to raise the employment rates of, especially, women and older workers, and to further reduce the public debt. According to the EU Commission (Ageing Report 2012), the key challenge for policymakers in the EU will be to transform the European social models in such a way that the implications arising from an ageing population will become manageable.

The recession in the last couple of years has not diminished the commitment of Member States to respond to demographic change. The commitment even appears to have been reinforced. Despite the bleak outlook for public finances, the European Commission is convinced that the demographic dimension deserves to be taken fully into account by Member States when they are formulating their exit strategies from the current recession. (Demography Report 2010: Older, more numerous and diverse Europeans, 2011.)

1. EU Policy Framework

  • 1.1 Lisbon Strategy

    • The Lisbon Strategy for growth and jobs was launched in 2000 as a response to globalisation. The idea is for the EU and its Member States to cooperate on reforms aimed at generating growth and more and better jobs by investing in people's skills, the greening of the economy and innovation. The Lisbon Strategy included labour market strategies to increase the quota of elderly people working and lifelong learning objectives to help people adapt to a changing job market. It also took the first steps towards an increased focus on small and medium-sized businesses. One of the results was a decreasing unemployment rate throughout the EU, but the economic and financial crisis reversed the situation and the focus came to lie on more structural reforms.

  • 1.2 Europe 2020 Strategy

    • The objective of the Europe 2020 Strategy is smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. It highlights that Europe is facing challenges concerning ageing and depopulation in several regions, including rural and peripheral ones.

      Demographic change is tackled through the Employment Guidelines of the Europe 2020 Strategy (follow-up of the Lisbon Strategy), which aims to increase the employment rate of the population segment aged 20 to 64 to at least 75 per cent, for instance by increasing the involvement of older workers. As one of the flagships of Europe 2020, the ‘agenda for new skills and jobs’ aims to modernise labour markets and empower people by developing their skills and improving flexibility and security in the working environment. This includes lifelong learning and e-skills.

      The Europe 2020 strategy also promotes the active inclusion in society and the labour market of the most vulnerable groups, and the provision of decent housing for everyone in the flagship ‘European Platform against poverty and social exclusion’.

      With an ageing population and strong competitive pressures from globalisation, Europe’s future economic growth and jobs will increasingly be dependent on innovation in products, services and business models. This is why innovation has been placed at the heart of the Europe 2020 strategy for growth and jobs. In relation to ageing, a prominent focus of the flagship ‘Innovation Union’ is on ‘Active and healthy ageing’ to mobilise players across the innovation sector in order to speed up innovative solutions to societal challenges. This is necessary, since the need for healthcare is growing, while the labour force is shrinking. The role of healthcare and long-term care and ensuring access to high-quality social services is therefore a main challenge. The European Commission put forward the concept of European Innovation Partnerships (EIP) to promote breakthroughs to address societal challenges and gain competitive advantages. One of them is the European Innovation Partnership on Active Healthy Ageing (EIP- AHA).

      Another flagship in Europe 2020 is the Digital Agenda. In the Digital Agenda for Europe, the European Commission acknowledges the widespread usage of telemedicine services as an opportunity for citizens and a driver of great economic impact. The ‘I4MS’ initiative (ICT for Manufacturing SMEs) has been recently launched, which aims to help 200 SMEs across Europe ‘who are either attempting to reduce the risks involved in using advanced technology which is still in its infancy, or are trying to cross the so-called ‘valley of death’ that separates the development of an innovative prototype from a successful product in the market. It targets suppliers and users of ICT solutions and covers innovation in four areas: advanced robot solutions, high performance cloud-based simulation services, intelligent sensor-based equipment and innovative laser applications. SMEs across Europe will benefit in three ways: direct financial support to improve their products or manufacturing processes; acquisition of new technologies and knowledge; access to new markets and partners outside their local ecosystem.’

      Horizon 2020 is the financial instrument implementing the Innovation Union and is the follow-up programme of the 7th Framework Programme (also see 2.3). Horizon 2020’s objective is to tackle societal challenges “by helping to bridge the gap between research and the market by, for example, helping innovative enterprise to develop their technological breakthroughs into viable products with real commercial potential.” One of the proposals is to provide funds to help address major concerns shared by all Europeans, such as climate change, developing sustainable transport and mobility, making renewable energy more affordable, ensuring food safety and security, and coping with the challenge of an ageing population.

      Although many of the initiatives tackle demographic change, it might be questioned if this strategy focusing on growth and competitiveness is realistic for strongly declining regions and cities in Europe. Growth is still regarded as progress, while shrinkage has a negative association. National and regional programmes in line with European policy support urban development, and it is difficult to reward decline strategies. In addition, tax systems are still based on rewarding growth rather than a more coherent system whereby quality is maintained through solidarity between regions.

      Europe 2020 is the EU’s growth strategy for the coming decade. In a changing world, we want the EU to become a smart, sustainable and inclusive economy. These three mutually reinforcing priorities should help the EU and the Member States deliver high levels of employment, productivity and social cohesion. Concretely, the Union has set five ambitious objectives – on employment, innovation, education, social inclusion and climate/energy – to be reached by 2020. Each Member State has adopted its own national targets in each of these areas. Concrete actions at EU and national levels underpin the strategy.
      José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission
  • 1.3 The 2012 Ageing Report

    • Already in 2001, the Stockholm European Council emphasised the need for the Council to “regularly review the long-term sustainability of public finances, including the expected strains caused by the demographic changes ahead”. The European Commission (Directorate General for Economic and Financial Affairs – DG ECFIN) together with an appointed Ageing Working Group (AWG) prepared a joint report on economic and budgetary projections for the 27 EU Member States (2010-2060) on the basis of a new population projection by Eurostat (EUROPOP2010), feeding into the Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth and the analysis on the impact of ageing populations on the labour market and potential economic growth (EU Commission 2012).

  • 1.4 Demography Reports

    • Every two years since 2006, a European Demography Forum has taken place to enable policymakers, stakeholders and experts to share knowledge and to discuss how to address demographic change. To feed into these debates, the Commission publishes a European Demography Report setting out the main facts and figures on demographic change and discusses policy responses. The third European Demography Forum in 2010 tackled the Demographic Dimension of the Europe 2020 Strategy. The European Demography Report 2010 deals with a population that is larger, older and more diverse than ever. One of the outcomes of the Demography Forum 2010 was the launch of the European Year for Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations in 2012. The goal was to raise awareness of the contribution that older people make to society. It was strongly focused on getting policymakers and relevant stakeholders to take action and create opportunities for active ageing.

  • 1.5 Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations

    • The objectives of the European Year of Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations in 2012 were to highlight the useful contributions that older people make to society and economy, focussing on three main areas:

      * Creating better job opportunities and working conditions for older people;
      * Helping older people play an active role in society;
      * Encouraging healthy ageing and independent living.

      The political momentum was acknowledged and followed by a Council Declaration to sustain a positive life course approach that focuses on the potential of all generations and particularly of older age groups. The Declaration is a step towards a political legacy built upon the achievements of the European Year 2012. It addresses the necessity to create conditions that “permit older people to achieve more independence that will allow them to take better charge of their own lives and to contribute to society, enabling them to live in dignity as full members of society” (p. 3).

      The Active Ageing Index (AAI) presented at the European Year 2012 closing conference in Cyprus (and now available online) offers national and European policymakers “a tool to measure the untapped potential of older people for active and healthy ageing across countries. It measures the level to which older people live independent lives, participate in paid employment and social activities as well as their capacity to actively age.” The website includes a special introductory policy brief, information on the AAI conceptual framework, methodology and results. It also provides potential users with access to an Excel file that contains detailed data sets on the AAI for the EU Member States. The AAI is a product of a joint project undertaken in 2012 by the European Commission Directorate General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion together with the Population Unit of the UNECE and the European Centre for Social Welfare Policy and Research in Vienna.

  • 1.6 Strategy for Equality between Women and Men 2010-2015

    • In the light of ageing and a shrinking working-age population, it is important to get older people to work longer. Similarly, increasing the number of women on the labour market helps to increase the labour force and reduce the strain on public finances and social protection systems, contributing to the Europe 2020 objective of a 75 per cent employment rate for women and men. Another objective of this strategy is the promotion of female entrepreneurship and self-employment, necessary for economic sustainability.

  • 1.7 Cohesion Policy

    • In the conclusions to the Fifth Cohesion Report the Commission, stressed the importance of demographic change. Member States and regions are encouraged to draw on the structural funds to develop tailor-made strategies. Projects on dealing with the consequences of demographic change are co-financed under the European structural policy. In their operational programmes for the 2007-2013 programming period, the Member States allocated some €30 billion to measures in this field.

      Regional policy is therefore a key instrument in tackling demographic change. For the 2014-2020 programming period the effects of demographic change can be tackled through a number of thematic objectives, for example:

      - Research and innovation;
      - Information and communication technologies (ICT);
      - Competitiveness of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs);
      - Sustainable transport and removing bottlenecks in key network infrastructures;
      - Employment and supporting labour mobility;
      - Social inclusion and combating poverty;
      - Education, skills and lifelong learning;
      - Institutional capacity building and efficient public administrations.

      Particular attention will be paid to areas with specific natural or demographic features, with a specific additional allocation for the outermost and sparsely populated regions.

      In the European Parliament resolution of 15 November 2011 on demographic change and its consequences for the future cohesion policy of the EU (2010/2157(INI)), the EU Parliament calls on the Commission to produce a compilation of best practices, analyse them and share them with Member States and the regions so that they can be used as an example in devising policy to meet demographic challenges. It also calls on Member States and regions to exchange experience, best practices and new approaches to preventing the negative consequences of demographic change. It stresses that the ERDF and ESF can contribute to the task of addressing the challenges, namely the increase in the number of older people and the decline in the young population.

2. Other EU Initiatives

There are other EU initiatives and programmes dealing with the consequences of demographic change. Several, but not all, of the initiatives are listed below, including information on their objectives and results. (See chapter 2.6 for possible synergies between these projects and INTERREG IVC projects)

  • 2.1 INTERREG IVB programmes

    • INTERREG IVB North Sea Region

      The North Sea Region includes regions in Sweden, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, England and Scotland. The INTERREG programme sets strategies, priorities and socioeconomic analyses for the North Sea Region (NSR) for 2007-2013. The aim of the programme is to make the North Sea Region a better place to live, work and invest in.

      DC NOISE: Demographic Change: New Opportunities in Shrinking Europe was implemented by nine European partners in the North Sea Region working together to deal with the issue of demographic change. The partnership focused on the themes of innovative housing, service provision, monitoring and the labour market with the aim to raise awareness concerning population decline in the North Sea Region. DC NOISE developed several tools to monitor population change, to secure knowledge and experiences of older workers in organisations, to share strategies to maintain levels of qualitative social services and housing and organised several meetings and conferences to facilitate discussions and raise awareness.

      Another interesting project in the INTERREG IVB NSR Programme worth mentioning here is the project iAge: e-inclusion in ageing Europe. iAge is a project conducted by ten partners in six countries around the North Sea and will run until the end of 2014. Its objectives are to:

      * Increase active participation and productivity of the elderly in relation to the labour market;
      * Increase and promote the use and accessibility of ICT in relation to lifelong learning;
      * Implement transnational strategies, demonstration pilots and concrete actions to increase the economic and social e-inclusion of the ageing population;
      * Communicate the iAge project and its outcomes to other ageing regions in and beyond the NSR.

      Now halfway, the first results are showing, for example in the field of Lifelong Living, iAge partners have started to joint test the user-friendliness of ICT apps and display techniques for the elderly end users being investigated by the University of Abertay, Dundee, in terms of visualisation and understanding the use of current technology. The Wirtschaftsakademie Schleswig-Holstein (WAK) analysed existing online portals for elderly employees and entrepreneurs in the region of Northern Germany and implemented an online recruiting platform for retired professionals. The platform will be developed further within the iAge project to increase and improve employment opportunities for older people. More information can be found on the iAge website.

      INTERREG IVB North West Europe

      This programme co-finances projects that strengthen the NWE region in an economic, environmental and social sense. In relation to demographic change two projects are given as examples: in the project Cities in Balance, the focus lies on services that improve the quality of life of seniors and help to enable them to live independently. For example, the partner in Edinburgh, Scotland, tested how the provision of actual and virtual incubation for people over the age of 50 can assist them to develop businesses, particularly around crafts and encouraging co-operatives and social enterprises. Please have a look at their website for more interesting results.

      Similarly, the project Senior Enterprise encourages a greater involvement with enterprise by those over the age of 50. Senior Enterprise was cited in the EU 2020 Entrepreneurship Action Plan published by the European Commission on 9 January 2013. The Initiative was recognised as an example ‘which Europe could take inspiration from’.

      INTERREG IVB Baltic Sea Region

      The INTERREG IVB Baltic Sea Region Programme has two projects that are particularly interesting for some of the INTERREG IVC projects. The first project worth mentioning in this respect is Best Agers, which tried to find creative ways of disclosing and utilising the hidden potential of people in the prime of their lives – the so called ‘Best Agers’ (defined in the project as people of 55 and older) as a reaction to demographic change and the economic crisis. Best Agers produced a final report with policy recommendations and shows that keeping older workers can be economically beneficial for employers. Best Agers has now been followed up by the ‘Best Agers Lighthouses’ project, which focuses on age management interventions in selected small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) and public organisations.

      Another project in the Baltic Sea Programme is ICT for Health, which is about strengthening social capacities for the utilisation of e-Health technologies in the framework of an ageing population. During the project period the participating regions compared and exchanged their national, regional and local strategies for improving the ability of the public and medical professionals to utilise e-Health technologies for better prevention and treatment in the context of an ageing population. The project ended in December 2012 and published a final report, which can be downloaded. The Region of Southern Denmark, lead partner of the INTERREG IVC project RTF, was also involved as a partner, which created good possibilities to exchange knowledge and good practices between the two projects, whereby RTF’s objective is to initiate new initiatives in relation to telemedicine at regional level that can improve health service delivery as well as the involvement of regional SMEs.

      INTERREG IVB Central Europe

      The INTERREG IVB Central Europe programme encourages cooperation among regions of nine central European countries: Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia and Ukraine. One of the themes in this programme is ‘demographic change and knowledge development’. One of the outstanding projects in this regard is the Q-Ageing project, which has produced a Toolbox of Tested Solutions that promote active ageing at a local level. The Senior Capital project originates from the Q-Ageing Central Europe project, initiated by the Municipality of Újbuda, Hungary. In line with Q-Ageing’s final recommendations, Senior Capital has shifted from promoting active ageing to establishing a stronger economic role for senior citizens. It looks at the economic potential of an ageing population while creating opportunities for businesses. The HELPS project promotes innovative housing and homecare solutions by, for example, improving the access to information on available services that support active and independent living for the elderly but also through best practices on adopting ICT solutions to strengthen self-sufficiency and sustainable and efficient care systems.

  • 2.2 AAL Programme

    • The objective of the Ambient Assisted Living (Joint) Programme is to create a better quality of life for the elderly and to strengthen the economic opportunities in Europe through the use of information and communication technology (ICT). Like the INTERREG IVB Programmes, it co-finances projects in which at least three countries are involved. Another criterion for funding is the involvement of small and medium enterprises (SME), research bodies and user’s organisations (representing the elderly). One of the aims is to support the development of innovative ICT-based products, services and systems for ageing well. Besides creating a favourable environment for the participation of SMEs, the programme is working on a coherent European framework for developing common approaches.

      Each year, an Ambient Assisted Living Forum is organised with a full programme and exhibitions to show practices and insights on Ambient Assisted Living from all over Europe. The programme itself has funded almost 130 projects since 2008, and several of them are now beginning to show results and demonstrate real market potential. For a description of the projects, please check the AAL website.

  • 2.3 7th Framework Programme

    • The 7th Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development has been the EU’s main instrument for funding research in Europe between 2007 and 2013 (in the period 2014-2020 the research programme will be called Horizon 2020). The programme includes topics related to health and SMEs. Specific ICT research is conducted in the fields of sustainable high-quality healthcare, demographic ageing, social and economic inclusion, and governance. It also supports cooperative activities targeting developing and emerging countries, focusing on their particular needs in various fields, including health. One example is the JADE project, including partners from INN.O.V.Age, PEOPLE, DAA and CASA. The JADE project focuses on independent living services and telecare.

  • 2.4 URBACT

    • URBACT is part of Europe’s social cohesion policy and is financed by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). Its main aim is to ‘enable CITIES to work together to develop solutions to major urban challenges, reaffirming the key role they play in facing increasingly complex societal changes’. This programme also initiated capitalisation as the production of new knowledge, building on existing experience and knowledge. One of the capitalisation work streams is ‘Shrinking cities: challenges and opportunities’, which focuses on the development of sustainable strategy options for shrinking cities. A final report was published in June 2013. One of the most important conclusions of the report is that “shrinking cities should not rely on national or European institutions to arrest the shrinkage process. Developing a realistic forward strategy must come from within the shrinking city because meaningful and deep collaboration between public agencies, businesses and citizens has been found to make all the difference between the success and failure of strategies designed to change a city’s fortunes.” Explaining this, it says: “. . . policies appear to be pursuing interests which do not reflect the challenges and opportunities shrinking cities encounter, for instance the Europe 2020 strategy framework which emphasises growth and economic competitiveness.” The report points to the OP-ACT Thematic Network as a good practice. This network developed ideas on how to tackle shrinkage in a holistic and integrated way. The two objectives in this project are: providing attractive social and living conditions to attract new inhabitants and satisfy the needs of the current inhabitants; and building a sustainable city image through “cooperation within the city between culture and tourism or education facilities and local enterprises”.

      Conclusions and recommendations have been published in the final report, which can be downloaded.

      Summing up it can be said that population decline and a shrinking city do not only have negative implications, such as vacant houses and shops, a decrease in service quality, closing down schools, kindergartens, etc. Yet, this development can also be seen as an opportunity to solve environmental problems and to build a new quality of life for the inhabitants. Renewal can be the starting point to make a city more green, more sustainable and compact.
      OP-ACT Final report, results and recommendations - p.53

3. Why participate in an INTERREG IVC project?

International cooperation can be the start of mutual European adjustment in policy answers to demographic change. Joining an international project means a possibility to exchange ideas, best practices and new policies and strategies on topics that are relevant in shrinking and ageing regions in Europe. It helps to put the subject on the agenda of national and regional authorities and gives financial support, thereby creating the necessary conditions for experiment, finding creative solutions and new strategies to maintain a quality of life in the whole of Europe. The effects of demographic change are not easy to pinpoint; the effects are often only visible after a longer period of time. That is why it is so important to raise awareness and monitor the consequences of these new developments.

The interregional approach of the INTERREG IVC programme covers the whole territory of the European Union plus Norway and Switzerland and enables project partners to share methodologies across the participating regions all over Europe. It also enables them to adapt and change the original approach based on feedback from other partner regions. Because each region is unique, solutions have to be specific and tailored according to the situation. Exchange of good practice or policies within the INTERREG IVC programme is therefore not a copy-paste exercise, but benefits are primarily to be found in reflection, inspiration and adaptation. The financial resources that are brought in through participation in INTERREG IVC are important, but the international cooperation and development of the network throughout Europe is a key factor for, for example, the generalisation of telemedicine and support for SMEs.

Acknowledging that regions are at different stages helps to build the structure around the implementation and the transfer of good practices and policies. Some regions or organisations can act as mentors, while others are the ‘receivers’. Cooperation in INTERREG IVC thus provides an opportunity for those regions that are lagging behind to learn from the frontrunners. Similarly, more advanced partners can act as consultants in the process of transferring those practices that prove effective.

Another aspect of INTERREG IVC that has proven to be very positive in comparison with other EU programmes is the involvement of politicians in the exchange activity, which has a positive effect on the success for transferring solutions and strategies. It creates a higher degree of political commitment and offers opportunity for continuation, including after the project itself has ended. With a subject like demographic change, which touches upon so many policy fields, this is of great value.

And last but not least, the relatively fast access to know-how from all over Europe increases the capacity of local and regional authorities to deal with pressing issues in relation to demographic change and to be ready for the future.

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