New European Commission: AGE welcomes some changes and highlights need for internal cooperation on ageing and demographic issues

New Commission 2015After approval by the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union in October, the new European Commission, made up of the elected Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, a First Vice-President, Frans Timmermans, 5 Vice-Presidents and 20 Commissioners, entered into office on 1st November 2014 for a five year mandate (until 31 October 2019).

In line with requests made by the European Parliament, several portfolios have been adapted within this new Commission (read more in this article).

Following the strong reaction from the European Parliament and civil society organisations to Mr Juncker's announcement in September of his wish to move medicines and medical devices issues from the portfolio of Health Commissioner to the new Commissioner for Industry (AGE co-signed EPHA's letter to Juncker on this topic), the responsibility for medicines has finally returned to the portfolio of the Commissioner for Health. Medicines are not ordinary goods and EU action must aim at ensuring that patients have access to safe, effective and high quality medicines, accompanied by independent and unbiased information.

Positive changes in task distribution and structure

Some important changes have been brought to the structure and the portfolio distribution of this new Commission, which we think are important for promoting older people's rights in Europe in a more effective way.

Firstly, the over-arching role of the first Vice-President Frans Timmermans who will be responsible for ensuring that Fundamental Rights are mainstreamed in all EU actions is a major step towards strengthened older people's human rights. We now wait for more details about the planned social impact assessments, which should ensure that proposed EU policies will benefit all citizens including the most vulnerable.

An oversight function has also been allocated to Ms. Marianne Thyssen, new Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility who will be responsible for "ensuring that employment and social considerations, including the impact of ageing and skills needs are appropriately taken into account in all Commission proposals and activities". Ms Thyssen's responsibilities, as described in her mission letter, seem to be in line with AGE objectives, calling for a fairer and more effective social market economy and a sustainable welfare system.

The clear mandate to unblock negotiations on the Commission proposal for the Horizontal Anti-Discrimination Directive banning discrimination on the grounds of age, disability, religion or belief and sexual orientation outside employment, which has been granted to Ms. Vera Jourova, Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, in charge of anti-discrimination and gender issues, is also very good news. In addition to this, Ms. Jourova will be responsible for working with the Fundamental Right Agency (FRA) and for supporting Vice-President Timmermans in ensuring that all EU actions and Member States actions when applying legislation comply with the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

Also to be welcomed is the fact that the issue of Consumers has now a portfolio of its own under the responsibility of Commissioner for Justice. With the rising life expectancy and the development of the silver economy, protecting vulnerable older consumers is a growing issue which will require proper consideration to address the current lack of adequate protection of vulnerable consumers.

However...

Next to those positive developments, AGE Platform Europe points out a lack of clarity in the way demographic change and age discrimination will be addressed in the new Juncker's team, in particular, how the new (Commissioner for Employment and Social Affairs (Ms Thyssen) and Commissioner for Justice (Ms Jourova) will cooperate on non-discrimination and equality issues and how Ms Thyssen will be empowered to address the multi-sectorial issues related to ageing and demographic change, which go far beyond employment and pension issues. We recommend that Commissioner Thyssen should take a leading role to coordinate Commission's action related to demographic change and should propose an EU Strategy on Demographic Change based on art. 25 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

In the next five years, the European Union will need to enhance its internal coordination and the cooperation with relevant actors, including civil society, in order to address major societal issues such as population ageing which impacts all areas of society.

AGE also calls upon Ms Thyssen and Vice-Presidents Katainen (Vice President for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness) and Dombrovskis (Vice-President for Euro & Social Dialogue) to ensure together that the social targets of Europe 2020 strategy are met by creating differentiated analyses and recommendations aimed to reduce old age poverty and increase employment of older workers. We welcome that life-long learning is given serious attention, but stress that it should benefit everyone, not only those of working age.

 

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