Countries developed policies to increase the participation of older workers by:
(a) increasing the pension age, limiting preretirement incentives;
(b) developing anti-age discrimination legislation;
(c) providing subsidies to employers to keep older workers employed;
(d) providing subsidies to assist the re-return of older workers to the organisation;
(e) establishing incentives for lifelong learning and skills development in the workplace;
(f) developing awareness raising campaigns aiming at an attitude change in companies towards older workers;
(g) creating government-sponsored ‘age management best practice’ company prizes.
These national developments were accompanied by a wide range of documents published since 2000, starting with the communication Towards a Europe for all ages (European Commission, 1999), which identified higher employment of older people as pivotal for a successful policy response to the challenges posed by population ageing. There were also follow-up conferences.
However, the Lisbon Strategy in March 2000 indicated insufficient participation of older workers on the labour market as one of the main weaknesses of the Union and set the ambitious aim of achieving an employment rate of 70% by 2010. The importance of encouraging increased participation of older workers was confirmed at subsequent European Council meetings from December 2000 until March 2002 (European Council, 2000; 2001a; 2001b; 2001c; 2002). Since the European Council meeting of March 2002 in Barcelona, there has been continued emphasis on active ageing and raising the labour participation of older workers ( 2 ) ( 3 ).
In March 2010 the European Council adopted the Europe 2020 Strategy in which the European Commission points to increased ageing and low employment – especially of older workers – as two of Europe’s main structural weaknesses. The Commission proposed a target for 75% overall employment rate in 2020. The target specifically needs greater involvement of older workers ( 4 ) and for Member States to promote new forms of work-life balance and active ageing policies within the framework of the initiative An agenda for new skills and jobs (European Commission, 2010a). The adoption of Europe 2020 was followed by the adoption of Council conclusions on active ageing in June the same year (Council of the European Union, 2010). In the document, the Council calls on the Member States and the Commission to make progress on 19 specific points.
The most important actions relevant to active age management are ‘to encourage companies to introduce age management strategies […]; to raise the employment rates of older workers by improving working conditions, investing in life-long learning, and removing employment obstacles including those linked to discrimination [… ]; to promote access of older persons to education and information and communication technologies […; and] to develop common principles for active ageing’ (Council of the European Union, 2010, pp. 6-7).
The Bruges communiqué states that ‘by 2020, European VET systems should be more attractive, relevant, career-oriented, innovative, accessible and flexible than in 2010’. Also, European VET ‘should contribute to excellence and equity in lifelong learning by providing […] easily accessible and high-quality lifelong information, guidance and counselling services’ (Council of the European Union; European Commission, 2010, p. 6).
In 2010 and 2012 the EU also paid increased attention to pension reform (European Commission, 2010c). The white paper An agenda for adequate, safe and sustainable pensions, stresses the need to reform pension systems and to raise the labour market participation of women and older workers to ensure that pensions continue to be both sustainable and adequate (European Commission, 2012c).
( 2 ) European Council, 2003; 2005; European Commission, 2005a; 2005b; 2006b; 2009.
( 3 ) Council decision on guidelines for the employment policies of the Member States (Council of the European Union, 2005). The same guidelines were adopted for 2008- 10 by the Council decision of March 2008 (Council of the European Union, 2008a).
( 4 ) The Commission equally stresses the importance of the progressive inclusion of women and immigrants on the labour market.