Opening remarks of Prime Minister Antti Rinne at the Silver Economy Forum in Helsinki, 9 July 2019

EU2019FIGovernment Communications Department 9.7.2019 9.41
Speech

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Distinguished Ministers, Deputy-Director General Jakab, Your Excellencies,

Ladies and Gentleman

I would like to thank you for this opportunity to open the Silver Economy Forum as part of the official programme of Finland's Presidency of the Council of the EU. It is an honour. 

The theme of the forum is very topical. The ageing of the population affects not only Finnish society, but also almost all other societies in western Europe. Statistics show that 20 per cent of the population in the EU is over 65 years old, and that percentage is increasing.

The fact that societies have succeeded in making longevity more and more common must be seen as a success.  It demonstrates that we have overcome many diseases. Older people are now healthier, able to function better, and are more active than ever before. There is still a lot to do, but this is a positive change and brings with it many new opportunities, even for businesses.

However, as the number of older people rises – quite rapidly in many countries – ageing also creates new challenges for public services, for the sustainability of public finances and for businesses. In future, all successful societies and businesses will take into account the phenomenon of ageing.

It has never been more important to build resilience and develop the capacity of every level of government, business and society so that we can adapt quickly to change.

There is considerable uncertainty about how age-related public expenditure will evolve. The challenge that we have been working on in Finland for a long time now is how to cope with the trend of mounting public spending costs, in particular on health and long-term care.

In a changing situation, we must secure the future of the welfare state by doing things better and more effectively. This means making sure that basic health care functions well and people have timely access to other services.

It also means allocating more resources to preventive services. At the moment, despite significant developments, we still face some major problems. Often the lack of adequate resources means that the elderly and people in need are cared for in a way that keeps them bedridden, instead of restoring their capacity to function or ability to work. We can redress this by investing more in preventive services and rehabilitation.

As part of its Presidency of the Council, Finland stresses that one of the main goals of the EU is to promote the wellbeing of its citizens. This also means considering the needs of the elderly more.  We want to work towards achieving an ‘Economy of Wellbeing’, meaning a new approach to how people’s wellbeing increases productivity and generates economic growth.

The ‘Economy of Wellbeing’ emphasises the importance of investment in effective and efficient policy measures and structures. These will ensure access to social protection, to high-quality, affordable and sustainable health and social services, and better labour market policy measures.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Ageing affects society in many other ways too. For instance, the availability of labour is expected to decrease. Over the next 50 years, the size of the labour force in the EU is projected to fall by almost 10 per cent, even with positive net migration estimated to be more than 1 million people annually.

However, the diminishing labour supply could also act as a spur to boost innovation to achieve even higher levels of wellbeing.

Although the potential of digital technologies is widely acknowledged, there is still a great demand for solutions involving new technologies and digitalisation, especially within health care. And we can begin with very simple things, such as information systems.

I can give you an example from real life. I was diagnosed with pneumonia last January. Later I was given an additional diagnosis: coronary artery. When I was transferred from the intensive care unit to the cardiac unit, I had to bring a big pile of medical papers with me. Even within the same hospital in Helsinki, the information systems did not communicate with each other, and the data had to be transferred from one system to another manually.

There is a lot of this kind of extra work that could and should be eliminated, especially within health care. Digitalisation has to be harnessed so that, for example in hospitals, medical staff can do what they have been trained to do: treat patients.

New technology and digitalisation offer great opportunities but we must make sure that everyone has access to these new services and that they are easy enough to use. Digital exclusion is a phenomenon of the modern world, and something that we must do our best to avoid.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The phenomenon of an ageing population will bring together countries, cities, businesses and NGOs. It will create both challenges and opportunities for all.  Our desire is for ageing to be taken into account in all societal planning and decision-making, as well as in business strategies.

Ageing shapes societies and affects everything: financial services, insurance policies, transport, housing, health and social services, technology and so on.

Healthy ageing must be put at the centre of social policies, and health is a precondition for sustainable and inclusive economic growth. We encourage international organisations and all stakeholders to collaborate effectively and we look forward to the global action plan for healthy lives and wellbeing for all.

The Silver Economy Forum is a unique joint effort of political decision-makers, governments and businesses, NGOs and academia. It is also a defining moment marking the World Health Organization’s launch of the decade of healthy ageing 2021–2030.

Finland's government and Finland's Presidency of the Council of the EU are willing to work with you to overcome the challenges and take advantage of the opportunities associated with ageing. I want to wish you a successful two days and I look forward to hearing from you about the results of the discussions.

Thank you!