Meet our members | Nicoletta MERLO: we should involve young people at all stages of the EU's decision-making processes

Nicoletta Merlo is National Head of Youth Policies for CISL, one of the largest Italian trade union confederations, and represents her confederation on the Italian National Youth Council. In 2017 she started a European experience in the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), which led her to be elected, in 2019, as a member of the Bureau of the ETUC Youth Committee. Since October 2020, she has been a member of the European Economic and Social Committee and actively participates in the SOC and NAT sections and in the Equality Group, seeking to be spokesperson for the demands and needs of young people and promoting the inclusion of a generational perspective in the Committee's discussions and multiple activities.

What drives you to be an active and engaged EESC and NAT Section member? How do you make the link with your work (and your life) back home?

Being appointed to the European Economic and Social Committee was a great and unexpected emotional experience for me. Knowing that I’m the youngest member of the Italian delegation, as well as one of the youngest of the entire Committee, makes me feel proud and honoured. I believe that having members under 35 in the Committee is an added value because, although they obviously do not have the skills and experience of more mature members, I’m convinced that they can bring new perspectives, visions and sensitivities that undoubtedly enhance and add to the work of the EESC. I chose to be part of the NAT Section because I've always been very sensitive and concerned about environmental protection and sustainability issues. I follow the activities of several youth organisations working in this field at national and European level and I’m convinced that the contribution that young people can make on these issues is fundamental.

The topics I’m most interested in are: climate change, just transition, sustainable development goals, environmental protection and support for inland and rural areas. In particular, with regard to the climate transition, my commitment is to carefully address all the possible repercussions that this will have on the labour market. In my opinion, the principles of the just transition absolutely must be translated into concrete measures that guarantee, on the one hand, the activation of participatory processes and the involvement of organised civil society and, on the other, by means of specific orientation, upskilling and reskilling measures, that no one is left behind.

As I always try to bring young people's points of view and perspectives on the different issues we address in the study groups into discussions at section meetings and plenary assemblies, it’s natural for me to link my commitment in the EESC with my daily work at national level: they are certainly different activities but at the same time they are interconnected and complement one another.

As a member of the EESC coordination group for the European Year of Youth 2022, what is your take on the progress achieved so far and how is the EESC participating actively?

I very much welcomed the Commission's initiative to declare 2022 the European Year of Youth because young people have suffered a great deal in social and economic terms in recent years, and with the pandemic the situation has become even worse: they have faced restrictions, distance learning and a drastic reduction in social links; they have suffered rampant unemployment, often not accompanied by adequate social security systems due to previously interrupted careers, internship experiences or short-term or non-standard contracts; and they are also (and not surprisingly) the generation in which psycho-social disorders are most prevalent.

Against this background, today's young people need to see that the European institutions are fighting for a better, fairer future for their generation and those to come; they need to look forward to tomorrow with confidence, but this is not possible without seeing concrete improvements in the present. If we want 2022 really to be the year for young people, over and above mere words, we need to create the right conditions and offer the younger generation the right tools to enable them to live a dignified life, which, of course, cannot be separate from a good education and quality employment.

For the success of the initiative and to ensure that it is a real investment, including in the future, it is essential that the activities and events to be carried out are aimed at obtaining concrete, tangible and lasting results. Above all, however, in order to restore the confidence of younger generations, there needs to be a long-term political strategy and planning for targeted measures to be taken, including – and perhaps above all – at  legislative level (e.g. to improve the employment levels of young people and to abolish unpaid internships). Moreover, youth organisations representing organised civil society should be given a voice and adequate scope for proposals, action and participation, as this is the only way for them to become real players in building a better, fairer future.

The EESC is showing great sensitivity and attention to the younger generations: there are now many occasions and activities in which youth organisations are listened to and involved in, as well as numerous opinions (including own-initiative opinions) dealing with issues and problems that are particularly important for young people. In this respect, NAT is the most active of the Committee's sections, thanks above all to the great commitment of the section president, Peter Schmidt, and this is one of the many reasons why I'm proud to be part of it. The real challenge is to make this type of initiative structured and permanent, because I believe that opening the Committee's doors to younger generations is also important for making our work known and for conveying information on our activities.

You are also involved in EESC activities that foster structured youth involvement in climate and sustainability matters in the EU decision-making process. In your view, what elements are essential to ensure that the concerns and views of young people are properly considered by the EU institutions?

The intergenerational aspect of climate and sustainable development policies should be deemed crucial by the institutions, and not just expressed in words; on the contrary, it is important for this attention to be translated into strong, meaningful involvement of young people at all stages of the EU's decision-making processes, from the drafting of proposals and legislative initiatives to their implementation, monitoring and follow-up.  In my opinion, young people should be at the centre of an involvement process that is not limited to ad hoc meetings or occasional consultation, but is instead capable of making them real players in the decision-making processes and translating their proposals into concrete action.

Young people should be at the centre of an involvement process that is not limited to ad hoc meetings or occasional consultation, but is instead capable of making them real players in the decision-making processes and translating their proposals into concrete action.

In addition, one instrument that I consider essential to envisage and use systematically at every level is the assessment of the generational impact of all public policies. In my view, it would be essential to draw up guidelines at European level for assessing (before, during and after) the initiatives proposed and then carried out, in order to understand how useful and effective they really are for the younger generations, and thus to be able - if necessary - to modify or implement them in the course of a project to ensure that they achieve the desired objective.