A new chapter for the EU, is it a new chapter for age equality?

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This comprehensive article highlights that age equality played a minimal role during the electoral campaigns, although some changes occurred. Notably, some parties' manifestos mentioned the importance of age equality.

Philippe Seidel Leroy


Policy Manager on Social Protection and European Parliament. AGE Platform Europe.

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Europe has voted in one of the largest democratic exercise on earth in the beginning of June. While we see a confirmed shift to the centre-right and the far-right, at the expense of greens and liberals, gauging the meaning for the EU’s policies on ageing policies still is an exercise akin to reading tea leaves. AGE Platform had launched a call for a European Age Equality Strategy? Is it becoming more likely?

Ageism is the way we feel, think and act towards persons based on the perception of their age (older or younger). It can take various forms and exists on different levels, including self-directed ageism – doing or not doing things that we believe are or are not appropriate at our age – and institutional: barring access to certain public goods or services, removal of rights such as the right to work or take part in vocational training at a certain age. Ageism feeds into age discrimination, which EU law currently only outlaws in areas of employment and occupation. Even in this area, our research has found that the principle of age equality suffers from exceptions and is applied inconsistently across the EU.

Other policy frameworks that exist, such as the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing of 2002 and the commitments that European member states renew every five years since, have failed to bring notable advances without a binding framework. The United Nations discuss the need for a legal framework to bridge protection gaps concerning older persons’ human rights, but this is a long process. For the first time in 2024, the working group in charge of this process has recommended the drafting of an international convention, among other policy measures. WHO estimates that ageism and age discrimination have profound individual, social and economic impacts, including worse physical and mental health and the reduction of life expectancy.

Clearly for AGE, ageism and age discrimination need to be addressed in a dedicated policy framework at EU and national levels. A directive proposed in 2008 to ban age discrimination in the access to goods and services has been discussed ever since, without being adopted. All other grounds of discrimination in the EU treaties (gender, race, sexual orientation, disability etc.) have their own equality strategy under the ‘Union of Equality’ priority of the outgoing European Commission – except for age.

Despite the increasing share of citizens and residents in the older age groups, age equality has hardly played a role during the electoral campaigns – if we are honest, most discussions during the EU elections campaign were actually on national policies. When reading behind the lines, some things were moving however. The Party of European Socialists (centre-left) itself called for an Age Equality Strategy. The European Green Party included a section called ‘no to ageism’ in its manifesto. The European Peoples’ Party (centre-right), in turn called for a ‘Senior guarantee’. The centrist Alliance of Liberals and Democrats Party included a commitment to dialogue between generations.

What the next legislature will bring depends on the arithmetic of power: the new European Commission needs to find an absolute majority in the European Parliament to be appointed. While the EPP is the largest group and has the most important role in the process, it does not have a majority by itself: it could however form an agreement with the Socialists and Democrats and the liberal Renew to form one. However, the European Parliament not being as tied to political affiliations as most national parliaments, the Commission needs to find more than just the absolute number of MEPs – for example, the French delegation within EPP has announced from the outstart that it would not support the current presidential candidate Ursula von der Leyen – stemming from its own EPP. If the EPP seeks these votes at the rights of the parliamentary spectrum, the S&D and some Renew MEPs might jump off the ship. If it courts the Greens group, it might need to compromise on important campaign topics for the EPP, the ‘Green Deal’ which translated the commitments to climate neutrality by 2050 under the Paris agreement into actual laws and policies to reach them. Gaining additional votes at the political right will alienate the centre and left, but might also mean to pay a tribute in reducing ambition when it come to ‘equality’ policies, which the right considers as leftist considerations.

However the power play will turn out, there stays a strong commitment to a Senior Guarantee by the EPP, and the willingness of the outgoing Commission President and her Vice-President for Demography and Demography (who both have ambition to continue and come from countries in which their EPP decisively won the European elections) to continue working on the issue.

So, what do the tea leaves tell us? Ageing policies should play a stronger role in the next legislature. It might be less far-reaching than an actual age equality strategy or an international commitment of the EU to promote the human rights of older persons at UN level, but some kind of strengthening can be expected. This could include sectors such as access to health and long-term care, encouraging policies for the employment of older persons, maybe more research and innovation.

When it comes however to the coherence of all policies, to enable healthy ageing through prevention throughout the life-course, ensuring equal rights for all at all ages, supporting people faced by ageism and other forms of disadvantage (gender, poverty, migration background, disability, …) at the same time, or ambitious policies to make our digital and built environments more accessible, more prone to support active ageing, , there is no guarantee that the next legislature will be a decided step forward.

However, what continues to be important is that change will not happen by itself in the vacuum of the institutional bubble. To make real advances in age equality, it is vital that older persons and their advocates mobilise on the ground, to voice their concerns and question political leaders at all levels.
Because beyond voting, citizenship calls for the active involvement and participation of all.

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