As the mounting challenges posed by demographic change loom large on the European horizon, an Assembly of European Regions (AER) conference held yesterday in 's-Hertogenbosch, Noord-Brabant (NL), has developed a roadmap to address those challenges and to exploit the opportunities they offer.
"Demographic challenges are not simply about dealing with the effects of an ageing European population,” said Constantin Ostaficiuc, president of AER Committee 2 (Social Policy and Public Health) and president of the Timis region (RO). “Demographic change varies greatly across the regions of Europe and cuts across numerous policy areas at all levels of government. But tackling the various demographic issues of the future requires a common policy approach now, and that approach should make best use of our regions’ knowledge, innovations and good practices.”
According to AER’s roadmap for demographic change, developed during the conference by regional politicians and officers from across Europe, that common approach will ensure that all people can participate in society, irrespective of age and mobility. It will build bridges between generations, ethnic communities and policy sectors. And it will encourage social innovation and new products that cater for the housing, transport, leisure and health needs of future populations.
“Demographic change is not only a challenge, but also an opportunity. We have learned a lot about technological developments and Noord-Brabant is a true hub for innovation. But we have to acknowledge that there are differences between our member regions, as well as between men and women. We need to cooperate with many actors, such as civil society, the business sector or universities. Demographic change cannot be an obstacle to our obligation as regional politicians to cater for our citizens’ individual needs,” noted Christina Wahrolin, vice-president of AER Committee 2 and county councillor in the region of Värmland (S).
AER conference participants agreed to seek European Union funding to support interregional cooperation between the regions and with other stakeholders, with a particular focus on exchanging ideas and good practices in social innovation.
Some regions are already developing innovative projects that could be adapted to other territories and populations. The conference heard presentations, for example, from the host region Noord-Brabant about the “Smart Care” project, which uses ICT as a healthcare tool, along with the “Smart Home” concept, which integrates technology and services through home networking for a better quality of living. The “Innovations 4 Welfare” (Interreg IVC) project, on the other hand, uses the inventiveness and development power of regional SMEs to create new solutions for the ageing population.
Brigite van Haaften, vice governor of the Province of Noord-Brabant, explained: "Of course, demographic challenges differ between European regions. However, I believe that the heart of the discussion is about 'living together' and the quality of our society. That is something that all regions share with one another and something that we are all going to have to work hard on. So there must be a great number of best practices that we can share with one another and initiatives that we can take together."
Further information about the conference and AER’s work on demographic change, including the background paper “Demographic Change – An Unavoidable Challenge Looming” (Sept 2009): "http://www.aer.eu/events/health-social/2009/innovation-demographic-change.html"
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The Assembly of European Regions (AER) is the largest independent network of regions in wider Europe. Bringing together more than 270 regions from 33 countries and 16 interregional organisations, AER is the political voice of its members and a forum for interregional co-operation.