A Committee of the Regions forum took place in Brussels on 14 February to mark the European Year of Active Ageing and Solidarity between the Generations 2012. Mercedes Bresso, Committee of the Regions President, highlighted the responsibilities of local and regional government: “we manage volunteering programmes and facilitate senior networks ... we invest in health and care facilities.” This is at the heart of what ESN Members in social services across Europe do, but it is perhaps less familiar at EU level. Koos Richelle, Director-General for Social Affairs at the European Commission added: “This European Year can only succeed if Europe's regions and cities get strongly involved.”

Paola Testori Coggi, Mr Richelle’s counterpart for health and consumer affairs, underlined the financial pressure on social and health budgets, saying: “we cannot reduce coverage or standards. On the contrary, we can and must improve them.” She outlined various funding opportunities under the new European Innovation Partnership for Active and Healthy Ageing, which aims to promote innovation in areas of prevention and early intervention, care and cure, active ageing and independent living.

The forum highlighted good practices from around Europe in a series of workshops. The City of Salzburg outlined its programme to boost frail older people’s confidence in using public transport. This includes training sessions for passengers, bus adaptations and training bus drivers. The German city of Gelsenkirchen presented its strategy for engaging all older people, especially those from the large ethnic minority populations. One of its elements was the recruitment of neighbourhood volunteers to act as a contact point and to organise local events with other volunteers. Meanwhile, in Andalucia, the regional agency for social services and dependency is working with ICT to improve information about care and access to key services.

ESN’s Policy Director Stephen Barnett attended the conference. He says: “The European Year of Active Ageing is not only about people working longer or about older volunteers, but also about improving the lives of the many older people who have significant care needs. That will be the focus of ESN’s EY2012 seminar this autumn.” ESN is a Member of the coalition for the European Year 2012 and is engaged in the development of quality principles for care and assistance services for older people through the WeDo project, led by AGE Platform Europe.

Read more on the EU Website for the European Year 2012.