EUROPE – The European Commission says the European Union is missing the target of increasing the employment rate of older workers by around 650,000 a year.

The EU has a self-imposed target of increasing the employment rate of older workers to 50% by 2010, the so-called Stockholm target. Another aim, the Barcelona target, is to delay by five years the age at which older workers stop working.

Meeting the Stockholm target for the 15 current members of the EU would require an increase in employment of those in the 55-64 age group by seven million between 2002 and 2010, or 900,000 a year, the Commission said in a new report.

Just 250,000 more older workers a year are currently employed.

“Although 2002 showed a marked improvement in employment for older workers, between 1997 and 2001 the EU only managed a rate of about 250,000 a year,” said the Commission’s Employment in Europe Report 2003.

“Some member states, including Finland, the Netherlands, Denmark and Ireland, managed to improve the employment situation of older workers considerably,” it says.

“From other member states, notably Italy, Austria, Germany, Luxembourg and Greece, greater efforts should be encouraged to reach the Barcelona targets.”

“The rapid ageing of the EU population and low employment among older workers (those aged 55-64), partly due to the extensive use of early retirement schemes in the past, together with low fertility rates and increasing life-expectancy, will negatively affect the ability to finance pension and health care systems,” the Commission says.

“These developments also put increasing pressure on those in employment to be more productive in order to ensure rising living standards for the whole population.”

And it says that the average employment rate for older people in the new EU member states is 30%, compared to 40% in existing member states.

The report calls for flexible working time arrangements for older workers, as well as improved working conditions and increased training.

“The findings of this report are a useful spur to the work that is on-going at European level to stimulate employment,” said Anna Diamantopoulou, Commissioner for Employment and Social Affairs.