Older persons' rights should not be jeopardised by EU objectives on national fiscal consolidation and structural reforms!
Brussels, 22nd September 2015
AGE Platform Europe publishes its position on the 2015 European Semester exercise
The European Semester 2015 - the EU yearly cycle of economic policy coordination - has once more overlooked fundamental rights. AGE Platform Europe is deeply concerned that in the 2015 Country Specific Recommendations the social objectives of the Europe 2020 strategy have further receded to the background. Many reforms in social protection – in particular in pensions, health and long-term care – are now challenging older persons' rights to participate in society, live independently and in dignity.
According to AGE members' feedback, recent national reforms to 'modernise' social protection prompted by the EU Country Specific Recommendations (CSR) have a cumulative negative impact on the fundamental rights of older women and men in many EU Member States.
While EU member states have agreed on some positive recommendations, such as improving reconciliation between work and family life for women, many burning issues for older persons have however not been addressed. Using its competence on budgetary discipline, the European Commission imposes on member states to reduce public spending and pursue reforms which de facto undermine the fundamental rights of older people enshrined in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.
"It is the role of the European Commission as guardian of the EU Treaties to ensure that the CSRs on fiscal consolidation, structural reforms and modernisation of social protection respect everyone's fundamental rights", stressed Anne-Sophie Parent, Secretary General of AGE at a recent meeting with Frans Timmermans, European Commission first Vice-President. "For example, the gender pension gap is already at 40% on average for the EU28 and will increase in most countries if social protection reforms do not address the core roots of gender inequalities throughout the life course", added Mrs Parent.
Reduced pensions and inadequate health investment
"Many older persons feel the consequences of the fiscal tightening promoted through the European Semester", said Marjan Sedmak, AGE President, "pensions are reducing in many member states while costs for health and long-term care are increasing." This starts posing a direct challenge not only to older people with low pensions but also to those who have average pensions, which are no longer sufficient to cover their health needs. The healthy life expectancy has been decreasing for three years, reducing by 1.1 years for women and 0.4 years for men on average in the EU and investments are needed to bring the EU's health and long-term care infrastructure in adequacy with the projected increase of the older population in Europe.
Many reforms, such as the shift from statutory pay-as-you-go pensions towards more private saving, disadvantage populations that are already vulnerable: women, workers with interrupted careers and low incomers. The 2015 country-specific recommendations did not tackle the problem of persisting poverty among vulnerable older people, as the number of recommendations on policies to fight poverty has been reduced.
Persisting age discrimination in employment
While the CSRs recommend extending working lives, nothing is proposed to tackle the challenges older workers face to remain at work, which include age discrimination in recruitment and restructuring, lack of life-long learning facilities and inadequate policies on health and safety at work. The EU needs further action to support member states, as only 40% of persons between 50 and 64 work across the EU.
"We hope that the announced packages on long-term unemployment, a common European social floor, work-life balance and labour mobility will include proposals to address the needs of older workers and ageing people", said Anne-Sophie Parent, "but these issues should also be addressed in the European Semester to ensure coherence between EU social and fiscal objectives."