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Cannes, Prague and the Future of Europe

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Two prominents events in Europe have offered some much-needed respite from the growing this-is-why-the-eurozone-is-failing narrative. Indeed, while Madrid and Athens scare away tourists with demonstrations, the picturesque cities of Cannes and Prague are hosting events that remind us of Europe's unique magnetism. And, what's more, the Czech capitol and the gem of the French Riviera are reminding the world of the untapped and immense potential of aging populations.

Though the two events may seem impossibly unrelated at first glance, there's remarkable connection between them. Both the International Federation on Ageing's conference "Aging Connects" in Prague and the chic, soigné Cannes Film Festival are showing how aging is a source for innovation and art, which can both be drivers of growth in our 21st century.

At the International Federation on Ageing, leaders from business, government, NGOs and the Academy have gathered to find new, innovative pathways that can keep seniors connected, healthy, active and productive. In the shadow of the facebook IPO, we're given occasion to recognize just how significant connectivity is to healthy aging, and the IFA will build from that momentum. As the twenty-first century unfolds, and as more and more "seniors" live into their 80s and 90s, it will be essential to keep them connected. Too often, our discussions of healthy aging ignore the importance of social connections, and the IFA's event will hopefully begin to remedy this shortcoming. Nor was it surprising, therefore, that there was an announcement of a new website -- Age-Friendly World -- that will become the communications glue among the dynamic WHO's Age Friendly Cities Network. The new communications tool is a result of this years' WHO dedication to active and healthy population aging.

The gathering in Prague also brought new attention to the needs of the fastest growing segment of the globe's population -- adults over 50. One of the more interesting workshops called upon the global public health community to create adult immunization programs in our 21st century marked by aging populations on a par that was realized for children in the latter part of the 20th century. It was agreed in Prague by delegates from across the globe that effective disease prevention and wellness strategies in our era must deploy adult vaccines, and that widespread awareness would then also ensure the incentives for further innovation.

And at the Cannes Film Festival, the top prize -- the Palme d'Or -- went to Austrian director Michael Haneke's Amour. The film, which stars two French 80-somethings in the lead roles, shows audiences just how vital "seniors" can be. Haneke's film is a persuasive counter-argument to the legendary French actor Maurice Chevalier's ever-immortal quote: "Old age is not that bad when you consider the alternative."

Far more than just an alternative to death, Amour illustrates the rich, complex and capable lives of older adults. It is a sharp answer to the clichéd type-castings usually reserved for older characters in Hollywood movies. Rather than being used as aloof or foul-mouthed caricatures, the leads in Amour take viewers through a wide, subtle compound of emotions. Indeed, there is nary a viewer who could walk away from the film and dismiss the multifaceted nature of 21st century aging.

Not unconnected, the European Union has dedicated 2012 to Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations. Things like this can be cynical rhetoric, unless, of course, there is legitimate follow-through. Did the Cannes Film Festival and the IFA respond to the EU's dedication? Who knows. But the symmetry is fortuitous, and we'd be remiss to ignore the connection. As Europe struggles to figure out its finances, events in Prague and Cannes are showing that aging may be Europe's best untapped social and economic resource. And as the globe's population will exceed 2 billion people over 60 in the next three decades, the rest of the world is watching.