Next Friday is the deadline for submissions to the European Union’s bureaucratically ensconced but noteworthy initiative, “Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Aging.” It’s a symbol of Europe’s recognition that innovation is necessary as its population ages and particularly acute this year, as the first of the baby boomers turn 65. With the U.S. facing similar population challenges, perhaps there’s something noteworthy here as our political leadership looks for greater competitiveness and fiscal sustainability.
The European Commission – the EU executive branch of government – has made the partnership initiative part of its “Innovation Union Strategy,” which is intended “to enhance competitiveness globally” while also tackling challenges in society. The goals are to “pursue a triple win for Europe [by] enabling EU citizens to lead healthy, active and independent lives while aging; improving the sustainability and efficiency of social and health care systems; and boosting and improving the competitiveness of the markets for innovative products and services – responding to the aging challenge at both the EU and global level, thus creating new opportunities for businesses.” It’s a critical part of what’s called the EU 2020 Flagship Initiative – Innovation Union issued this past fall.
With an interest in accelerating research, development and market activities, the leaders of the 2020 goal have focused on the pressing challenges of “climate change, energy and food security, health and an aging population.” Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, commissioner for research, innovation and science, and vice president Antonio Tajani, responsible for EU industry and entrepreneurship, said, “As we emerge from [the 2008-2010 fiscal] crisis in the teeth of fierce global competition, we face an innovation emergency.” And it is one that apparently sees its aging population as part of the solution – keeping people active and healthy.
It’s an approach worth noting. As we in America address a compelling set of fiscal challenges with 77 million baby boomers turning 65 in the next two decades, keeping our aging population healthy and active through innovation seems not a bad idea. And putting aging in the same critical issue bucket as climate change and energy is not such a bad idea either.
Michael W. Hodin, Ph.D., is Managing Director, The High Lantern Group and Executive Director of The Global Coalition on Aging.
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