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Silver Economy Forum highlights impact of ageing on EU agenda

EU2019FIMinistry of Social Affairs and Health
Publication date 26.7.2019 11.52
Photo: The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health

Demographic change is regularly cited as the bugbear of modern society. The debate on ageing often revolves around the unbalanced dependency ratio and the cost of long-term care, passing over the fine achievement of increased longevity.

Finland’s Presidency thought the rather dark tone of the ongoing debate on ageing needed brightening. To this end, the Presidency decided to organise a global conference on ageing, the Silver Economy Forum. Held in Helsinki on 9–10 July 2019, the event attracted over 70 speakers and 600 high-level participants from 48 countries.

What was different about the Forum, and what did it achieve?

Events like the Silver Economy Forum are few and far between in the political arena. The organisers’ unusual approach raised the debate on ageing to a new level and sphere. The two-day conference brought together policy makers, business leaders, academics and innovators to consider the consequences of longevity from unexpected and multiple angles. The Silver Economy Forum made its mark on the debate on ageing in Finland and internationally.

The way the forum was organised was exceptional: the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health was in charge of coordinating the event, working in tandem with the Ministry of Finance, the Bank of Finland, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Finance Finland and the Global Coalition on Aging (GCOA).

The forum’s leitmotif was the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which advocates cooperation between political leaders, civil society and the business world. The forum approached longevity from new, unexpected angles. It reached out to and brought together audiences and speakers who would not normally have the opportunity to interact. Feedback from the participants was extremely positive, and many said the event had surpassed their expectations.

Aren’t ageing problems solved by time?

In the run-up to the conference, some people argued that the problems of ageing are solved by the passing of time. This ‘time solves everything’ attitude, however, could cost us the European welfare model as we know it. The Silver Economy Forum therefore adopted ‘responsible, comprehensive and timely preparation for ageing’ as its guiding principle.

From this perspective, the North American and Asian models provided interesting points of comparison. Finland and Europe tend to try to narrow the gaps in wellbeing between population groups, and we still have a relatively strong consensus about the need for universal welfare systems. This is why the themes of equal opportunity, equality and inclusion loom large in European discussions of ageing in the context of health, social protection and fiscal policies.

It’s not enough to focus on population pyramids

As Secretary-General of the event, I realised that a purely strategic approach to ageing would be out of date. Demographic change is a global phenomenon that should be linked up with other contemporary megatrends: low birth rates, transformation of work, urbanisation and technological development.

Analysing population pyramids will not result in sustainable improvements to the economy and public health, nor is it the way to address labour shortages, build age-friendly cities or ensure productive financial markets and profitable business operations. We cannot attain these goals without the voluntary involvement of senior citizens and multigenerational economic and social policies.

The Silver Economy Forum showed the need for a new platform for the debate on ageing. A more detailed analysis of the event and further discussions to be held during the presidency will point the way for the approach to longevity that Finland and the EU will adopt in the future.

Sarita Friman, Secretary-General, Ministerial Adviser, Ministry of Social Affairs and Health