The European Commission wants to tackle demography and ageing issues in rural areas. In June 2020, the European Commission published its Report on the Impact of Demographic Change in the EU, taking stock of the main challenges related to ageing in the EU. Based on these findings, Dubravka Šuica, European Commission’s Vice-President and Commissioner for Democracy and Demography, presented on January 27, 2021, her Green Paper on Ageing.

Objectives of the Green Paper on Ageing

The Green Paper on Ageing aims at launching a political debate on ageing in Europe and discussing the different available options to cope with this challenge. As reminded by the European Commission in the Green Paper, the European Union does not have a competence on most of issues related to ageing, such as healthcare and pensions. Therefore, the Commission’s document aims at proposing different working axes, which must be adapted according to national, regional and local contexts. These proposals include:

  • Ensuring quality education opportunities in rural and remote areas for the youth in order to make the area attractive and to break the vicious circle of depopulation and ageing in some regions.
  • Promoting lifelong learning to ensure a large enough workforce in the healthcare and long-term care sectors for older adults.
  • Encouraging volunteering activities among older adults to facilitate their social inclusion and encourage cooperation, in particular between generations (including intergenerational learning, experience sharing and mentoring).
  • Combating old-age poverty by acting on older adults’ pension schemes.
  • Promoting healthy ageing, for instance through the new EU4Health programme which can help to fight cancer and dementia. 

What role for the Silver Economy in rural areas?

The EU Green Paper on Ageing also recognises the opportunities offered by the Silver Economy sector. – which is expected to grow by about 5% a year from EUR 3.7 trillion in 2015 to EUR 5.7 trillion in 2025.

The European Commission affirms that “the potential of less developed regions, including rural regions, can be further explored, for example to use opportunities emerging in the silver economy” and adds that “Cohesion policy plays a significant role in supporting their development.”

Although facing demographic challenges due to ageing, rural areas can count on their strengths, according to the Commission’s document: they offer a good quality of life, a proximity with nature, cheaper housing offers and, with more adapted goods and services for the ageing population, rural regions can be attractive both for the working population and for older adults, says the Commission’s document. Many sectors can benefit from the development of the Silver Economy, as mentioned by the European Commission and observed by SILVER SMEs’ partners, this for instance includes:

In addition, many of the interesting concepts mentioned in the Green Paper on Ageing were also observed on the ground by SILVER SMEs’ partners. The potential of social enterprises or multi-generational housing for the well-being on rural older adults can indeed be illustrated by the inspiring examples of La Exclusiva, and the Home Share.

SILVER SMEs therefore welcomes the Commission's recognition of the potential of the Silver Economy for the well-being of older people and employment in rural areas. Yet, if the Silver Economy is an opportunity to improve the quality of life of rural older adults while also creating jobs in rural regions, the European Commission warns that the that this issue must be addressed as a whole: if banks, local facilities and shops close down and transport remain underdeveloped in rural areas, this will “disproportionately affect older rural residents”. Ageing in rural areas is therefore a more global issue to be addressed in rural development policies too.

What are the next steps?

A public consultation was launched jointly with the publication of the Paper. Opened until April 21, 2021, the consultation is an opportunity to comment on the European Commission’s Green Paper and on the possible solutions in regions. SILVER SMEs already provided a feedback to the Commission’s roadmap in December 2020, recommending to support the development of the Silver Economy in rural regions through the Cohesion Policy and to facilitate investments for healthcare, transport and innovation incubators, among others (see our recommendations).

Although the EU Green Paper on Ageing is not a legislative document, it aims at supporting Member States and regions in developing their own tailor-made actions to cope with ageing. Therefore, by building on the experience of our 9 partners, SILVER SMEs will keep on providing expertise and examples in the debate of ageing in rural areas.