EESC urges bold action for youth-driven sustainable rural development in Europe

Youth in rural areas

In a visionary call for transformative change, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), at its latest plenary session, adopted an own-initiative opinion  emphasising the pivotal role of young people in shaping the sustainable future of rural areas across Europe. The EESC's comprehensive recommendations highlight the urgency of fostering the vision, commitment and active participation of young people for building resilient, inclusive and digitally advanced rural communities.

The EESC advocates the creation of comprehensive tools to collect detailed data on population dynamics, community engagement and the specific needs of young people in rural areas. Investment in research and analysis of disaggregated data is deemed vital for targeted policies and services. The Committee also underscores the importance of adopting holistic and cross-sectoral approaches, including rural proofing and the EU Youth Test, to ensure the effective and lasting implementation of EU policies that have a tangible impact on rural development. To make rural areas more appealing to young people, the EESC urges that public, commercial and youth services, quality employment and education, digital and physical infrastructure, public transport and leisure activities be made available. Initiatives like the Rural Pact and EU programmes such as Erasmus+ and the European Solidarity Corps are recognised for their role in empowering young people. At the same time the EESC highlights the importance of ensuring quality employment opportunities, access to education, support for entrepreneurship, and access to land for young people in rural areas.

"Institutions at all levels must strive to overcome the major obstacles that make rural areas unattractive to the younger generations. There will be no future for rural development without the active participation of young people, who must be meaningfully involved, including in the governance of these territories", said the rapporteur for the opinion, Nicoletta Merlo.

In discussions on the stimulation of a sustainable rural economy promoting youth-centric strategies, the question of the escalating energy crisis arises. The EESC has raised concerns about the profound repercussions of this on rural areas, with a particular focus on the agricultural sector.

 In the own initiative opinion on The impact of high energy prices on the agricultural sector and rural areas, which was also adopted at the last plenary session, the EESC supports initiatives aimed at reducing reliance on fossil-based inputs and energy sources. It calls for enhanced policy coherence, emphasising the urgency of the green transition, particularly decarbonisation and non-fossil-based energy sources across various sectors.

It also emphasises the pivotal role of local and regional energy communities in achieving a fair and efficient energy transition in rural areas. The committee recommends recognising and promoting these communities, particularly those focused on renewable energy sources, to contribute to rural development and resilience.

"To address the impact of rapidly rising production costs, we call for harmonising contract laws and practices within the food supply chain. The aim is to create consistency and efficiency between EU Member States, ensuring contracts reflect changing production costs in primary agriculture", said the rapporteur, Simo Tiainen.

The EESC underscores the importance of leveraging instruments under the National Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) Strategic Plans to address crises resulting from rapid market changes. In the light of the rising production costs and challenges faced by CAP mechanisms, the EESC suggests the inclusion of counter-cyclical elements post-2027.

The EESC stresses that Europe needs the vision, commitment and participation of all young people, irrespective of whether they live in rural or urban areas. Acknowledging the fragility exposed by recent crises, the Committee highlights the EU's long-term vision for rural areas, namely to create stronger, connected, resilient and prosperous communities by 2040. (ks)