The desire to live a healthy and long life transcends economical, political, cultural, geographical, ethnic, religious, gender boundaries, splitting humanity into diverse, and many times opposing, fractions. Healthy Longevity advocacy can attract representatives from literally all kinds of human communities; this is one of its main strengths. But the effectiveness of longevity advocacy to yield actionable outcomes depends on several conditions: two crucial conditions are timing and the level of operation. This opinion piece would like to argue that the proper timing is right now to organise a focused longevity advocacy group at the level of the European Union.
Why there is a need for single-issue healthy longevity advocacy and politics within the EU?
Let us provide three reasons and some corresponding facts.
First, a global reason: there is ample need to communicate fresh facts, principles and arguments around aging research and longevity technology opportunities within the European Union, with the single message that only these new technologies will provide a long-term solution to the problems presented by aging and general health. The non-diluted core message is that the biggest enabler of general health is the biggest amount of healthspan extension that can only be reached with radical and medical healthy longevity interventions.
Fact-bundle #1: The last decade yielded a complete change of the paradigm around the understanding of the main hallmarks processes of biological aging and the malleability of the overall aging process. Building upon accumulating research in the previous decades, aging research has gone completely mainstream, and the paradigm of translational geroscience has gained strong supporters working on interventions directly targeting the root causes of biological aging to prevent – the biggest killer – age-associated diseases, and to extend healthy lifespan, aka healthspan, significantly.
“… there is now a new, worldwide Longevity industry, still in the early stages, but with a huge potential.”
Fact #2: Following upon the science and by a big financial push from general, mainly IT, technology companies and investors, there is now a new, worldwide longevity industry, still in the early stages, but with a huge potential.
Second, currently there is no dedicated organisation, with representatives from most EU countries, doing focused and effective healthy longevity advocacy at the EU level. There is an obvious and big opening for longevity advocacy, policy and politics.
Fact #3: Cross-European single issue longevity politics has an actual birth date, or rather period, the MEP elections of 2019. That is when multiple actors, in different countries stood at the elections focusing on the issue of working towards preventing age-associated diseases with healthy longevity technologies. Let me highlight here a dedicated, single-issue, one of its kind, political party, the German Party for Health Research and myself who stood as an independent candidate in the East of England Region. We got 0.2% of the votes with an almost zero budget, virtually unknown, meaning 1 in 500 voters thought the mission and programme are worth their votes.
Third, currently the public health crisis triggered by the Coronavirus pandemic is the single most important practical argument to develop robust healthy longevity technologies protecting people of all ages, preventing age-associated sensitivity of infectious and non-communicable diseases and to put this commitment into the centre of human society and politics.
Point #1: Chronological age, including accelerated biological aging processes, is the biggest risk factor in the severity of the COVID-19 infection.
Point #2: The unprecedented €1.82T budget for Coronavirus recovery package, agreed upon by EU leaders last week, showed that only a public health crisis of this magnitude can trigger a historical step like this, and offers the EU a new crisis-dealing mechanism.
All of these reasons are timely, showing a window of opportunity open. Who is up for taking on these challenges?
What is the European Longevity Initiative?
The ELI is a loose association of mainly EU citizens and residents coming together to form a healthy longevity advocacy group particularly targeting EU level legislation and EU wide public.
Its associates are currently covering the following EU countries: Germany, Slovenia, France, Czech Republic, Belgium, Hungary, Greece, Austria, Poland.
Moreover, current ELI associates are representatives of at least six existing European longevity advocacy groups.
- The already-mentioned German The Partei für Gesundheitsforschung – The Party for Health Research.
- LongevityForum.eu, funded by longevity supporters in the Czech Republic
- UK-based Longevity International running the pioneering All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Longevity in the UK
- International Institute of Longevity based in Poland and Liechtenstein
- Društvo za vitalno podaljševanje življenja Slovenije – Slovenian society for vital life extension
- Heales Société pour l’Extension de la Vie – The Healthy Life Extension Society, based in Belgium.
The associates are, on one hand, from a diverse professional background, biomedical scientists, engineers, social scientists, entrepreneurs, investors from the longevity industry, amongst others. On the other hand, the focus of these people is clear and well-aligned.
Current focus: The European Citizens’ Initiative
The European Citizens’ Initiative is a unique way to contribute to EU policy-making and legislation. The particular Initiative proposal needs to reach 1 million signatures for the Commission to decide on actions.
Now, this Initiative is a great fit for the current state of healthy longevity politics for three reasons and these three reasons can be aligned with the three reasons above.
1. The Initiative’s scope is general, top-down, and can be suitably used to raise general political awareness to the cause of aging research and healthy longevity. Since it aims to contribute to EU law-making it provides an opportunity to make the focus on healthy longevity part of the EU’s legislative DNA. The non-diluted message around the medical malleability of biological aging is still new and it should find its way to the topmost legal structure of the EU, even if initially in the form of non-binding legal constructs.
“… a terrific strategic tool to advance the education and training for the next generation of healthy longevity advocates … longevity won’t be recognised anymore as a niche or fringe issue.”
2. Such an Initiative requires the assembly of a group of organisers from at least seven different EU countries. This is a terrific strategic tool to advance our cause and mission and can contribute to the education and training for the next generation of healthy longevity advocates, for whom longevity won’t be recognised anymore as a niche or fringe issue. Also, an Initiative is a logical next step building on the MEP candidacies last year enabling a cross-European longevity movement. A successful Initiative, and I’d argue that even a non-successful one, provides further tactical advantages by its being a cross-EU attempt.
3. The case of the 1 million signatures. Due to the pandemic there is a heightened sensitivity to public health in the public and the unprecedented situation gives me hope that a reasonable but also non-diluted and tightly-executed healthy longevity legislative proposal can actually reach 1 million signatures. This could be the greatest political result to date the longevity movement has achieved in international politics.
Besides focusing on the Initiative there are several other tools in the EU longevity advocacy toolbox; one such would be specific, detailed and localised petitions. Petitions are submitted to the EU Parliament, for comparison, Initiatives to the EU Commission, and they should relate to existing EU activities. Here one needs to find causes that can be fully embraced and in a particular manner with our commitment.
One promising strategy would be to consider The European Medicines Agency, the EMA. The EMA is traditionally thought of as highly aligned with the US FDA in its decisions, but there are also noted divergences. While the FDA is a federal agency, the EMA is a decentralised scientific agency, and not a regulatory authority. I think the EMA should play a much bigger role as a proponent of upcoming medical healthy longevity opportunities.
Lastly, going back to point 2 above, the ELI offers a chance to educate and train the first real professional longevity politicians within the context of the European Union. Currently, our main vehicle is a slack workspace. If you feel like joining us, please send an email to email@example.com and consider becoming an active agent of longevity change.
The time is now. Now is the time.
Connect with Attila on Twitter on @attilacsordas.