European Union Policy on Ageing Research

Sergey Timofeev, Daria Khaltourina & Martin O'Dea

Articles 179-182 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union mandates the EU to strengthen its scientific and technological bases, while article 168 of the treaty mandates its fight against the major health scourges, by promoting research into their causes, their transmission and their prevention[1].

The EU policy on ageing is expressed in various documents and programmes such as; Reports on Ageing, The European Council regulations (which regulate general issues and develop more specific policy) and Programmes for Research and Technological Development.

The first two documents are only political, and are not supported financially. The Programmes for Research and Technological Development is more concrete. These Programmes are funding mechanisms which are developed by the European Commission to support and stimulate research in EU[2].  The first programme was adopted in 1984. All programmes have different budgets, but the general tendency is budget growth from programme to programme.

The eighth programme is in action under the umbrella of “Horizon 2020”. It is focused on innovations, fostering economic growth and providing solutions. It is announced on the official website of the European Commission “Horizon 2020 is the financial instrument implementing the Innovation Union, a Europe 2020 flagship initiative aimed at securing Europe's global competitiveness”[3].

Horizon 2020 should be implemented primarily through transnational collaborative projects, chosen through the grant calls of the Horizon 2020 programmes, as provisioned in the European Commission Decision No. 2013/743/EU. Those grant projects are complemented by public-private and public-public partnerships. The partnerships will be designed with the involvement of Member States and shall develop principles for their internal management.

Horizon 2020 consolidates several former programmes:

  1. Framework Programmes for Research and Technological Development;
  2. Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme (CIP)[4];
  3. European Institute of Innovation and Technologies (EIT)[5].


Most of the EU grant giving programs and institutions terminated are terminated due to the merge into Horison 2020. In turn, Horizon 2020 is funding several other bodies.


Horizon 2020 focuses on three priorities:

  1. Generating excellent science (€24 441,1 million);
  2. Fostering industrial leadership (€17 015,5 million);
  3. Tackling societal challenges (€ 29 679 million)[6].


Also three additional directions were envisaged by Council decision from 3 December 2013:

  1. Spreading excellence and widening participation (€816,5 million);
  2. Science with and for society (€462,2 million);
  3. Non-nuclear direct actions of the JRC (€1 902,6 million).

Also the EIT shall be financed through a maximum contribution from Horizon 2020 of            (€2 711,4 million)


Fostering industrial leadership contains:

  • Information and communication technologies
  • Nanotechnologies
  • Advanced materials
  • Advanced manufacturing and processing
  • Biotechnology
  • Space.


Tackling societal challenges contains:

  • Health (€7.5 billion)
  • Food, Water, Forestry, Bio-economy (€3.8 billion)
  • Energy (€5.9 billion)
  • Transport (€6.3 billion)
  • Environment including Climate Change Adaptation and Raw Materials (€3.1 billion)
  • European Society (€1.3 billion)
  • Security (€1.7 billion)
  • This pillar also funds themes named as "Science with and for society" (€0.5 billion) and "Spreading excellence and widening participation" (€0.8 billion).

Horizon 2020 combines both public and private funds.


            These programs are administrated by the European Commission, which involves following bodies:

  • Joint Research Center (JRC) - customer-driven scientific and technical support;
  • Innovation Union, bringing together all relevant actors across the whole research and innovation chain with a view to streamlining, simplifying and better coordinating instruments and initiatives;
  • European Institute of Innovation & Technology (EIT) which foster entrepreneurship in its higher education, research and innovation activities (also EIT shall contribute to the general objective and the priorities;
  • Knowledge and Innovation Communities (KICs) which are addressing the objectives of Horizon 2020, including the societal challenges, notably by integrating research, innovation and education;
  • European Innovation Partnerships; these institutes aim to foster Europe’s capacity to innovate. Innovation is indeed considered essential to preserve and improve Europe’s competitiveness and its ability to create jobs and to tackle societal challenges;
  • Scientific Panel for Health (SPH).


According to the EU Regulation No 1291/2013 of 11 December 2013 on establishing Horizon 2020 - the Framework Programme for Research and Innovation (2014-2020) and repealing Decision No 1982/2006/EC/[7], the issues of healthy ageing and ageing disease prevention should be a priority.

The broad list of activities (Article 1.3) include “effective health promotion, supported by a robust evidence base, preventing disease, contributing to well-being and being cost effective. Promotion of health, active ageing, well-being and disease prevention also depend on an understanding of the determinants of health, on effective preventive tools on effective health and disease surveillance and preparedness, and on effective screening programmes. Effective health promotion is also facilitated by the provision of better information to citizens which encourages responsible health choices. (…)

Personalised medicine should be developed in order to suit preventive and therapeutic approaches to patient requirements, and must be underpinned by the early detection of disease. It is a societal challenge to adjust to the further demands on health and care sectors due to the ageing population. If effective health and care is to be maintained for all ages, efforts are required to improve decision making in prevention and in treatment provision, to identify and support the dissemination of best practice in the health and care sectors, and to support integrated care. A better understanding of ageing processes and the prevention of age-related illnesses are the basis for keeping European citizens healthy and active throughout the course of their lives”.

However, it seems that the issue of ageing is in fact pushed into the background. There are only a few grant calls relevant for the prevention and treatment of ageing and ageing-related diseases. It is not quite clear from the publicly available papers how the decisions on ageing related disease are being made.

The reason for insufficient focus on innovative biomedical translational research on ageing could be priorities of the European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing.


European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing (EIP AHA)


EIP AHA was initially launched in 2011. Its main objective is to make the EU a place of excellence in innovation for healthy ageing. It envisaged a triple win for Europe:

  • improving health status of EU citizens, with a particular focus on older people;
  • supporting the long-term sustainability and efficiency of health and social care systems;
  • enhancing the competitiveness of EU industry through an improved business environment providing the foundations for growth and expansion of new markets.

In general, EIP AHA does not take part in research funding distribution. However, it affects the EU research funding priority indirectly and strongly influences the national research policies through the delegates participating in the meetings, and also through the action groups’ decisions.

The European Commission set up a high level Steering Group in 2011. This high level Steering Group was jointly chaired by the former Vice President Neelie Kroes and former Commissioner John Dalli, and it included Member States, regions, industry, health and social care professionals, elderly and patient organisations and other interest groups.

The industry is supposed to be represented by the producers of medical devices, telecom, e-health, pharmaceuticals, nutrition[8]. It seems from the meeting reports that information communication technology (ICT) companies (Vodaphone), food concerns (Danone) played a role.

Initially, the Operational Plan of the Strategic Implementation Plan of the European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing[9], which was published on the 17th of November, 2011, provisioned strategic innovation priority areas, three of which were directly related to biomedical innovation, including “prevention, screening and early diagnosis”.

However, in November 2012, EIP AHA launched 6 action groups:

  • Prescription and adherence action at regional level;
  • Falls Prevention;
  • Prevention of functional decline and frailty;
  • Integrated care;
  • Independent living;
  • Age-friendly environments.


It is unclear, what the reasons were for the Steering Group to chose these particular fields to form the action groups. For example, why motor function impairment is covered by two action groups, while ageing related visual impairment is not included.

Every action group is formatted by the stakeholders among the EIP AHA representatives.

Stakeholders wishing to get involved in one of the six Action Groups were selected through the "Invitation for Commitment" application process. The first Invitation for Commitment was launched upon the adoption of the Commission Communication on the EIP Strategic Implementation Plan in 2012 and was submitted by groups of stakeholders from the public and private sector. The second Invitation for Commitment closed on 28th February 2013 involved 310 new projects or commitments[10].

The Action group 3 “Prevention of functional decline and frailty” has the scope of work somewhat beyond frailty (understood as the loss of motor function), as its discussions include sometimes ageing-related cognitive impairment as well. The Action Group 3 Preliminarily roadmap 2015 published on the 13th of January 2015 is focused on motor function decline and cognitive decline prevention[11].

Since there are no plans to terminate the European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing, it will continue to influence the European Union policy on ageing research.

Regularly, the EIP on AHA opens a new "Call for Commitments" inviting organisations from all over the world, involved in developing, promoting or deploying / implementing innovative solutions for active and healthy ageing, to come forward with projects and initiatives that they will implement in the coming 3 years, which are relevant and can clearly contribute to the goals and action plans of the existing EIP on AHA Action Group as well as possible new action areas within the overall context of the EIP on AHA Strategic Implementation Plan 2011.




[1] Consolidated versions of the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union - Consolidated version of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union - Protocols - Annexes - Declarations annexed to the Final Act of the Intergovernmental Conference which adopted the Treaty of Lisbon, signed on 13 December 2007 - Tables of equivalences. Official Journal C 326 , 26/10/2012 P. 0001 – 0390. Cited on 11.06.15. 

[2] The 7th Framework Programme funded European Research and Technological Development from 2007 until 2013. Cited on 11.06.15. 

[3] What is Horizon 2020? Cited on 11.06.15. 

[4] Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme (CIP). Cited on 11.06.15. 

[5] European Institute of Innovation & Technology. Cited on 11.06.15. 

[6] Regulation (EU) No 1291/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 December 2013 establishing Horizon 2020 - the Framework Programme for Research and Innovation (2014-2020 and repealing Decision No 1982/2006/EC. Cited on 12.06.15.

[7] Regulation (EU) No 1291/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 December 2013 establishing Horizon 2020 - the Framework Programme for Research and Innovation (2014-2020 and repealing Decision No 1982/2006/EC. Cited on 12.06.15.

[8] Commission Staff Working Paper. The Pilot European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing (AHA). First Experiences on Governance and Processes. Brussels, 1.9.2011. SEC(2011) 1028 final. Cited on 12.06.15.

[9] Strategic Implementation Plan of the European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing. Operational Plan. Adopted by Steering Group on 07.11.11. Cited on 12.06.15.

[10] European Innovation Partnership of Healthy and Active Ageing. About Action Groups. Cited on 12.06.15.

[11] A3 AG preliminary roadmap 2015 (13 January 2015)