Jeremy Woolfe applauds the forthcoming 'European Year for Active Ageing', but wonders what it needs with a €5m budget.

The European Parliament's Social Affairs Committee has voted in favour of a €5m budget for raising awareness of 2012, the 'European Year for Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations'. The allocation is subject to clearance during a plenary session on 23 June. In a press release, Martin Kastler - MEP and parliamentary rapporteur for the 2012 programme - said that, initially, the Council of the EU and the European Commission had no intention of finding money for the campaign, but "you cannot raise awareness if you do not invest".

As for the aim of the European Year for Active Ageing, the Commission cites giving the baby-boom generation and tomorrow's older adults the opportunity to stay in the workforce and share their experience, to keep playing an active role in society and live as healthy and fulfilling lives as possible. Clearly, the purpose of the programme can only be admired. It is both ambitious and challenging. It embraces a praiseworthy attempt to reduce the squandering of human potential - and cut down on waste and personal misery - on a vast scale. That is all in addition to tackling pension investment shortfalls. Only a cynic would not wish the programme well. However, practicalities could be another matter.

The proposed €5m budget for the Year of Active Ageing may be compared with this year's focus on volunteering, which has a budget of more than €2m, and, similarly, 2009's 'Year of Innovation', which had a budget of nearly €2.4m. How do these budgets compare with those in the commercial world? For toothpaste, for example? Jorrit Hermans, creative director in Brussels for the Leo Burnett international advertising agency, says: "You can't measure effectiveness in terms of media spend any more. It's all about contents. With a good idea, you might need only a very small budget because the message will spread freely."

A mystery as to how the €5m promoting the active ageing theme is to be spent has emerged. An enquiry to the office of Kastler was referred to a named Commission press officer for details. But the press officer herself replied, "I am only the press officer", and referred the enquiry on to a more senior "spokesperson". "You can call her now," she said. It turned out the spokesperson was not at her desk, so a message requesting details of the planned spend was left on her pocket telephone.

Unfortunately, experience shows messages to Commission officials can sometimes be ineffective. They can be likened to writing the messages on pieces of paper, wrapping the papers around stones, throwing the stones into the sea and hoping for the best. In the case of the recorded message, there was no response. Furthermore, one subsequent call after another to Commission sources also failed to produce response. Putting up the shutters may be a sign of some kind of hitch, perhaps an internal institutional 'turf-war' or an issue of programme management feasibility.

Whatever the case might be, some light has been thrown on the subject by Anne-Sophie Parent, secretary general of Age Platform Europe, a European network of around 50 organisations representing the 50-plus age group. Parent guesses that the €5m for awareness raising could be devoted to some events in Brussels, covering costs by national coordinators, as well as work on a website.

Managing director Maciej Kucharczyk continues that Age Platform, working with the Committee of the Regions and the European Commission, is currently preparing a plan for mainstream implementation of the whole Active Ageing programme - excluding 2012 awareness - from start to 2020. Kucharczyk adds that they are assuming participation at local and regional level, including from public authorities, town planners, public transport operators, public health organisations, social service providers and so on. Funding is being proposed from existing sources, including from the European Cohesion and Social Funds. The plan, in the form of a brochure, expected in June, will tie in with Europe's 2020 Strategy, designed to bring the whole EU economy up to speed.