EUROPEAN PAPERS ON THE NEW WELFARE

Active Ageing: a core policy priority for the European Union

6.2 The Stockholm Summit target and the 2001 guideline on active ageing

When EU leaders met at the Lisbon European Council in March 2000, they agreed a number of ambitious goals for policy developments over the coming decade. These included the attainment by 2010 of full employment, defined as an overall employment rate of 70% for those of working age. It soon became clear that such a target could only be achieved if Member States also managed to raise the employment rates for older workers. It was therefore logical that EU leaders at the 2001 Spring Summit in Stockholm adopted a specific employment rate target for older workers of 50% and requested a report on “Increasing labour force participation and promoting active ageing” for the Barcelona Summit in March 2002.
The separate guideline on active ageing introduced in 2001 pinpointed “existing social attitudes” towards older workers as one of the important barriers to be addressed. Furthermore, it drew up the following sequence of policy priorities:
• securing the best use of older workers’ experience;
• maintaining the work ability and qualifications of older workers;
• making working arrangements more flexible;
• alerting employers to the strong business case for employing older workers;
• ensuring that the right mix of incentives and disincentives are present in tax/benefit systems.
The guideline represented a major advance towards a holistic approach to the problems of making work after 55 possible and attractive. Most importantly, the guideline underscored the link between the successful implementation of active ageing policies and the realization of some of the general policy goals of the Union. Promoting better employment opportunities for older workers, and enabling and motivating them to seize these, were thus finally on the way to become an integral part of Europe’s overall strategy for employment and growth.
Nevertheless, these policies should be assessed against the large disparity in the position of older workers across Members States. As Table 1 shows, employment rates for workers aged 55-64 vary considerably. Between the low (Luxembourg, Belgium, Italy) and the high (Sweden and partly Denmark) achievers there is a gap of more than a factor of 2. The UK is the only large Member State presently meeting the target. The rest of these hover around the EU employment rate average for this age group of 38.8%. Or, as in the case of France and Italy, they drop well below this, reflecting the fact that the pensionable age for men and women in the basic state schemes have, for a long time, been set at 60 and 60/55 respectively.

Table 1: Employment rates of older workers aged 55-64, EU-15
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Source: Eurostat, Commission Staff WP:The Stockholm & Barcelona targets, SEC(2003) 429


7. Initiatives culminating in the Barcelona target on delaying labour exit

In December 2001, the Laeken Summit in Brussels adopted 11 common objectives for a European strategy for adequate, sustainable and adaptable pensions. Higher employment rates for older workers were highlighted as an important element in making pension systems durable. Around the same time, this strategic assessment was amply confirmed by the findings of the Ageing Working Group under the Economic Policy Committee in its path-breaking forecast of public pension expenditure 2000-2050. Postponing retirement by extending working lives stood out as the single most powerful policy response to the problem of rising pension costs. A single year’s rise in the average effective pension age would neutralize between 1/5 and 1/3 of the expected growth in pensions expenditure if no extra rights were incurred in the process. Ensuring that pension schemes promoted longer working lives and later, more flexible, retirement was therefore also critical to the EU agenda for making pensions sustainable. Policy-makers furthermore underscored the need for a more ‘social protection friendly’ approach to age management in the workplace. The long-standing practice of off-loading employment problems onto pension systems, evident in early retirement patterns, had to cease. It was seen as essential that the cost of taking people out of labour markets through early retirement should be shifted to policies for retaining and re-integrating older workers. As in other areas, a shift from a passive to an active response to the employment problems of older workers was seen as essential.
The February 2002 Joint Report on “Increasing labour-force participation and promoting active ageing” adopts a life cycle approach to labour force participation. It focuses, firstly, on policies to ensure that present and future working generations remained active as they grew older and, secondly, on ways to prolong the participation of today’s older workers. The recommendations cover five specific areas: more jobs and better quality in work; making work pay; providing higher and adaptable skills at work; making work a real option for all; and developing a partnership approach to deliver the strategy. These objectives are reflected in the revised European Employment Strategy 2003-2010. An increase in the participation of all people of working ages is regarded as critical to the success of the strategy. It requires promoting active ageing through the positive interaction of economic, social and employment policies, and strong support from the social partners. The strategy calls for measures to provide an attractive and adaptable work environment, to improve access to training and to enhance incentives for taking up and staying longer in employment. Existing models of retirement and recruitment would have to change and early retirement should no longer be a major means to handle personnel problems during downsizing and corporate restructuring.
In March 2002, the Spring European Council in Barcelona considered the older worker issue both from the point of view of maintaining labour supply and of making adequate pensions sustainable. In the particular ageing and pensions context of the Spanish host, the issue of raising the effective retirement age took on a crucial importance. The Spanish Presidency pressed this issue with vigour. The result was that the assembled heads of government and state concluded that “a progressive increase of about 5 years in the effective average age at which people stop working in the European Union should be sought by 2010”. By endorsing the report on increasing labour participation, the Summit had also embraced its set of instruments for prolonging working life.
Following a favourable review of the first five years of the European Employment Strategy, the Joint Council in June 2003 agreed a revised strategy and adopted a new set of guidelines. The fifth guideline of “increasing labour supply and promoting active ageing” commits Member States to:
“… promote active ageing, notably by fostering working conditions conducive to job retention — such as access to continuing training, recognising the special importance of health and safety at work, innovative and flexible forms of work organisation — and eliminating incentives for early exit from the labour market, notably by reforming early retirement schemes and ensuring that it pays to remain active in the labour market; and encouraging employers to employ older workers.”
Furthermore, it highlights that “… policies will aim to achieve by 2010 an increase by 5 years, at EU level, of the effective average exit age from the labour market (estimated at 59.9 in 2001)” and that “In this respect, the social partners have an important role to play”. Thus, it continues the comprehensive approach adopted by the guidelines for 2001.


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