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Thank you Mr. Chair,
I have the honour to speak on behalf of the EU and its Member States.
The EU welcomes the opening of the ninth session of the Open-Ended Working Group on Ageing. It will help us again to focus on what is needed to allow older persons to fully enjoy their human rights and to examine implementation problems in practice. Firstly let me express our thanks to the Chair and the other Bureau members, and to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, for all their work on the preparation of this session.
In light of this morning's votes, I would like to reiterate that the EU firmly believes that the Open-Ended Working Group should be inclusive and open, and that our work here benefits greatly from strong and diverse civil society participation and their contribution.
The situation of older persons, and the promotion and protection of their human rights, remains on the agenda of the European Union and its Member States. The EU is in favour of the involvement in that debate of countries, of NHRIs and of representatives of civil society organisations.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the 1993 Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action for Human Rights. This landmark text led to the creation of new norms and human rights institutions offering stronger protection worldwide. It declared the indivisibility of all human rights, whether civil and political rights or economic, social and cultural rights. After 25 years, we have built a solid base of laws and institutions to promote and protect human rights. The EU’s Fundamental Rights Charter offers human rights guarantees for everyone across the EU in areas ranging from education to employment, from data protection to justice. With the adoption last year of the European Pillar of Social Rights, we hope to strengthen social rights in the EU, in line with the 2030 Agenda, so that no one is left behind.
The Vienna Declaration reaffirmed that human rights are universal, apply to everyone, and should be promoted and protected by all countries. However, many parts of society continue to suffer discrimination, intolerance and hate in their daily lives. A concerted effort is needed to halt the erosion of support for human rights that is happening in many corners of the world.
Together, the EU and its Member States will further their efforts to ensure that Europe delivers in practice on its existing laws and policies. These contribute to the building of a fair and inclusive society with just working conditions, greater social security, protection of privacy and more political participation, for young and for old. The Vienna Declaration 25 years on is a reminder to us all to stand up for human rights.
In some countries of the EU, population ageing continues. The EU is aware of the difficulties faced by older persons who make up a growing proportion of its population, and of the need to do more to ensure the protection and fulfilment of their human rights. In previous Open-Ended Working Group meetings there has been much discussion about whether a better tackling of the many real problems of older persons requires a new instrument or whether we should focus on making better use of existing instruments. Despite the different views on that question, we were pleased to see that the new methodology for our proceedings that was introduced last year has led to more substantive discussions. This Working Group has become an important international platform to discuss how we can best promote and protect the human rights of older persons and to weigh the need for their stronger protection. We can learn much from each other’s experiences. In recent years two regions have adopted specific legal instruments on the human rights of older persons: the Inter-American Convention on Protecting the Human Rights of Older Persons; and the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights on the Rights of Older Persons in Africa. We look forward to learning more about how the two regional instruments are making a difference to the situation of older persons in those regions.
The examination in an open debate of the two specific focus areas “Autonomy and Independence” and “Long Term and Palliative Care” should enable us again to identify priority elements that need to be addressed to improve the protection of the human rights of older persons and also to formulate ideas about how this could be done. We look forward to contributing to both sessions. With regard to these two cluster areas, there is broad recognition in the EU that policies on the health and welfare of older persons in many Member States need to be complemented with measures aimed at empowering older persons, particularly older women, safeguarding their autonomy and preventing all forms of abuse, violence and neglect.
Since last year’s meeting of the Open-Ended Working Group some significant events have happened in Europe.
A Ministerial Conference on Ageing was held from 21 to 22 September 2017 in Lisbon, Portugal. In the resulting “Lisbon Declaration”, European Ministers reconfirmed their commitment to the Regional Implementation Strategy (RIS) of the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing (MIPAA) and to older persons’ enjoyment of human rights as laid down in the MIPAA, and other relevant United Nations, international and regional conventions and treaties.
The Ministerial Declaration acknowledges the significant progress made by many Member States in fulfilling the ten commitments of the UN Economic Commission for Europe RIS/MIPAA during its third five-year cycle. The declaration covers a vast range of policy areas. Among the central concepts is “Active, Healthy and Dignified Ageing”. This is a positive approach to ageing that recognizes the potential of older persons and promotes opportunities for them to participate in society and the economy. It establishes a series of policy goals under each of the following three main themes:
1) Recognizing the potential of older persons,
(2) Encouraging longer working life and ability to work, and
(3) Ensuring ageing with dignity.
In the 2017 Lisbon Declaration, all EU Member States committed to the UNECE RIS/MIPAA implementation cycle 2017-2021, in addition to the whole spectrum of internationally recognised human rights standards and principles that also cover and protect older persons, without discrimination. MIPAA‘s objectives are in line with EU support to the Global Strategy and Action Plan on Ageing and Health adopted by the World Health Assembly in May 2016: combatting ageism, developing age-friendly environments, aligning health systems to the needs of older populations and developing sustainable and equitable systems for providing long-term care, at home, in communities, and in institutions. The end of the current MIPAA implementation cycle occurs in 2021/2022, about twenty years after its first adoption in April 2002. This could be an opportunity for a more profound updating of the MIPAA instrument, also making use of the outcomes of this Open-Ended Working Group.
One of the tools developed in the context of the Working Group on Ageing of UNECE and financed by the EU is the Active Ageing Index. The European Commission, UNECE and our academic partners are organising the Second International Seminar on the Active Ageing Index (AAI) in Bilbao (Spain) on 27-28 September 2018. It will provide a multidisciplinary forum for those interested in the use of the AAI to enhance the knowledge about ageing and older persons with a view to the development of better policy measures at different levels.
In the first half of 2018 the European Commission has also published two major reports on Ageing, that are issued every three years:
Firstly, the 2018 Ageing Report with Economic and Budgetary Projections for the EU Member States (2016-2070). The Ageing Report is used in a range of policy debates and processes at EU level, like the Europe 2020 Strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. The Report deals with the impact of ageing populations on the labour market and potential economic growth. It identifies policy challenges for the setting of sustainable medium-term budgetary objectives for public finances.
The second, related, report is the 2018 Pensions Adequacy Report, prepared by the European Commission together with the Social Protection Committee. It analyses how current and future pensions help prevent old-age poverty and maintain the income of men and women for the duration of their retirement. It underlines that Member States pay more and more attention to sustainable, adequate pensions in their reforms, but that further measures will remain necessary.
The annual European Semester exercise has been enriched in 2018 by building on the European Pillar of Social Rights, which was proclaimed in November 2017 at the Social Summit in Gothenburg. The European Pillar of Social Rights aims for a renewed convergence towards better working and living conditions across the EU, supported by sustainable and adequate social protection systems. We would like to particularly highlight two of the key principles of the European Pillar of Social Rights related to the rights of older persons, namely principle 15 on old age income and pensions and principle 18 on long-term care.
One of the first initiatives under the European Pillar of Social Rights, even before its formal adoption in 2017, was a proposal for a Directive on work-life balance for parents and carers with improved possibilities for carer's leave. This proposal has been the subject of intense negotiations since last summer. In June 2018 EU Member States reached an agreement on the general approach, a major step in the process of adoption of the proposal.
In May of 2018 the annual report of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) contained for the first time a special Focus Chapter on “Shifting perceptions: towards a rights-based approach to ageing”. This chapter explores the shift away from thinking about old age in terms of ‘deficits’ that create ‘needs’ to a ‘rights-based’ approach towards ageing with the need to respect the fundamental right to equal treatment of all individuals, regardless of age. The FRA report examines the EU's increasing focus on the rights of older persons while also finding that, with the exception of the Employment Equality Directive, there is a need to further strengthen the secondary legal framework in other areas of particular importance for older persons. In this chapter, the FRA also addresses three specific opinions to EU Institutions and Member States about required legal instruments and about how to implement the principles and rights enshrined in the European Pillar of Social Rights with regard to older persons.
In April 2018, the UN Human Rights Regional Office for Europe (OHCHR ROE) and AGE Platform Europe convened, with the participation of EU institutions in Brussels, an expert seminar on the human rights of older persons.
In June 2018, on the occasion of the 2018 World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, UNI Europa and AGE Platform Europe, together with the European Network of National Human Rights Institutions (ENNHRI) and the European Commission, organised in Brussels a joint workshop on “Working conditions in care: Implications for labour rights, quality of services and the dignity of older people”. For the first time, organisations of older persons and trade unions came together at the European level with other civil society organisations, national human rights institutions, policymakers and researchers, to explore the precarious situation of the care workforce and the risks this entails for the dignity of older persons needing care.
These recent activities illustrate the regular attention given in the EU to the human rights of older persons and to their situation in practice. We are very much willing to share our experiences and insights during the interactive discussions of this forum. We are pleased to see that, like last year, Ms. Rosa Kornfeld-Matte, the Independent Expert on the Enjoyment of All Human Rights by Older Persons, will play a prominent role in the discussion rounds on each of the two focus areas. This gives us the opportunity to recall that the EU and its Member States fully support the work of the Independent Expert. We are keen to continue our active participation in the Open Ended Working Group, as we are also engaged in other multilateral discussions on the human rights of older persons, including in the 3rd Committee of the UN General Assembly, at the Human Rights Council, and at the Commission for Social Development.
We consider that the protection of the human rights of older persons requires the involvement of multiple stakeholders, including civil society organisations, and we welcome the strong CSO participation in this session.
Let me conclude by reiterating that the EU looks forward to a productive and open debate. We are keen to exchange relevant experiences and views on ways to make tangible progress in the realisation of the human rights of older persons.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
 “A Sustainable Society for All Ages: Realizing the potential of living longer”