Interview with Markku Markkula, President of the Committee of the Regions

The Committee of the Regions is the voice of regions and cities in the European Union.It gathers 350 members who are regional and locally elected representatives from the 28 EU countries. Markku Markkula is the Committee of the Regions' President since February 2015. 

Europe is ageing. How do you see European regional and local authorities react to the challenges this trend creates for them?

Ageing and the demographic change in Europe causes a profound shift in our towns, cities and regions; affecting policies, infrastructure and services. This presents both opportunities and challenges, which need to be identified and correctly understood in order to be addressed effectively.

We – the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) – have in our many opinions requested more societal innovations. We have highlighted on several occasions the opportunities offered by Europe's demographic challenges to fundamentally review the way our societies function and to do our best to empower everyone, young and old, to contribute actively in their communities.

We know that the Local and Regional Authorities cannot support active and healthy ageing on their own. To be able to act as political drivers and promote a positive approach to ageing as well as look for innovative solutions to support active and healthy ageing, they require a supportive legal, financial and structural framework and action at national and EU level.

What would be the key message(s) of the CoR to encourage and convince European regions to address the ageing population challenge?

In our CoR five-year policy priorities we stress the importance of a bottom-up approach. The involvement of the grassroots level is key since regions and cities are at the forefront in the implementation of social policy as well as the main providers of services such as education, healthcare and employment services - inevitably entangled with the needs of the elderly and their carers, in particular home-carers.

We play an essential role as facilitators, providers and coordinators for the delivery of services targeted towards the ageing population, and thereby have a direct impact on the quality of life in our local communities. This is also why local and regional authorities need to change their role to be more enablers of open innovation and diversified service processes, not just traditional service producers.

The World Health Organisation has developed a comprehensive approach to ageing by promoting age-friendly environments. How can the Committee of the Regions further support this approach?

We think that the best approach is the promotion of age-friendly communities where public space, transport, housing and local services are conceived with the needs of all generations in mind, fostering also solidarity and cooperation between generations. Such inclusive communities also tend to be more environmentally friendly and conducive to greater social cohesion.

Cities and regions need operate more using European partnerships: we can co-create new concepts, new instruments and new services increasingly improving accessibility and promoting mobility among older people, allowing them to stay as independent as possible.

The Committee of the Regions supported the launch of a EU Covenant on Demographic Change in 2012 (Opinion ECOS-V-026). After two years of preparation, the Covenant will be launched on 7 December 2015 in an event hosted by the Committee of the Regions. What do you expect from it? How do you see the role of the Committee of the Regions in relation to the Covenant?

We hope that the event will foster a useful debate between all relevant actors interested in finding innovative solutions.

The Covenant will engage local and regional authorities, and other relevant stakeholders, committed to develop environments that support active and healthy ageing and contribute to increase a healthy life, enhance independent living and well-being of the elderly and create a society for all ages.

There is significant number of best practices to be found at local level and it's locally that social innovation happens and social services are delivered, as they are the best placed to assess the needs of the community. Let me just mention examples form my home region: Health Capital Helsinki, Aalto Health Factory, HealthSpa Ecosystem Booster and Laurea Living Labs. The CoR will be sharing such practices and further contribute to the debate and show how solutions at local level have been put in place and work.

The event will certainly reinforce the message that together we can find suitable solutions to tackle the challenge.