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The UN convention debate kicks off at the European Parliament

06 Dec 2013

This week at the European Parliament, two Slovenian MEPs, Ivo Vajgl and Tanja Fajon, hosted a conference on the topic of a UN convention on the rights of older people.

The aim was to explore how a UN convention could strengthen older people's rights in Europe and consider how the international process around this is moving forward. This was a direct result of the efforts of our partner ZDUS, the Slovene Federation of Pensioners' Associations.

The Slovenian government made a very positive statement in the Open-Ended Working Group in New York in August, which focused firmly on the rights of older people and expressed their clear commitment to the international process around older people's rights. This leadership by the Slovenian MEPs to draw attention to the debate in the European Parliament is a further positive development.

Wealth of knowledge and experience

The room was filled with a large delegation of Slovenian older men and women who had travelled for 18 hours by bus to Brussels to participate in the event. Despite the long journey, there was a lot of energy and enthusiasm in the room as well as a strong desire by many to contribute and to be heard.

Collectively the Slovenian participants brought a wealth and variety of experience and knowledge with retired engineers, economists and teachers contributing to the lively exchange. In addition to the two co-hosts, an impressive number of other MEPs from a range of political groups attended different parts of the meeting and raised questions and perspectives from Sweden, Croatia, Germany and Ireland.

I presented HelpAge's position on the need for a UN convention and our views on the progress made by the Open-Ended Working Group on Ageing and how we can support this process. Other speakers represented AGE Platform Europe, the European Federation of Older People (EURAG) and the European Representative of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Opportunity to mobilise civil society

It was acknowledged and agreed that while the process is a long term one, this presents an important opportunity to mobilise greater civil society participation and build consensus and understanding around key areas of rights where ageing has not been as visible, such as access to justice and the right to independent living.

There is still clearly much to be done to increase European older people, civil society and MEP involvement in this process and it was great to hear a Slovenian Age Demands Action activist demand that the European Parliament and other European institutions do more to generate awareness and participation among citizens. It became clear at the event that the host MEPs recognise the added value that an international convention can provide in Europe.

I left the event feeling inspired by the conviction and passion of Slovenian civil society and the final words of Dr Novak of ZDUS who said: "We need to act at home and stand together."

Find out more about our work towards a UN convention on the rights of older people, as well as our Age Demands Action campaign.

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Ellen Graham
Job title: EU Policy Adviser

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These blogs are personal reflections and do not necessarily reflect the views of HelpAge International.