Meet our members | Nicoletta MERLO: it must be clear that young people have the right to be heard and engaged

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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. Currently a member of the bureau of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) Youth Committee, she's very committed to mainstreaming youth engagement at the EESC and has recently been appointed as a member of the NAT Bureau of the EESC.

You have recently been appointed as a member of the NAT Bureau. What are your expectations and how would you like to contribute to the strategic work of the Section?

I welcomed this appointment with great enthusiasm. It was very unexpected for me given my age and my lack of experience in the Committee, but I think it clearly and concretely demonstrates the interest and willingness - especially of this Section - to have young people on the team and to actively involve them in decision-making processes.

My expectations are very high: at NAT we deal with topics related to the great crucial challenges of our time, from climate change to the European Green (and social) Deal, from the circular economy to food production and consumption, from rural development to just transition and the implementation of the SDGs... on all these fronts (and many more) I am learning a lot, thanks to the exchange and dialogue with many colleagues who, each with their own characteristics and sensitivity, share their expertise and experience.

My goal is to try to enhance the role and importance of young people in the fields of environment, climate and rural development, and also to ensure that the youth perspective is always adequately taken into account in our opinions and activities through the application of the Youth Test.

You are very committed to mainstreaming youth engagement at the EESC. What is your hope and vision for the way forward, so that the EESC continues to "walk the talk" on more structurally involving young people in the next half mandate?

Honestly, my hope would be to see more young people among the committee members because this would ensure that the generational perspective is adequately taken into account in each section and would make generational mainstreaming more natural. Unfortunately, however, this is a decision that is up to the Member States and on which we cannot intervene.

Therefore, if I think about what we can do to involve young people more and better in our work at the Committee, I believe that putting into practice the contents of the Resolution "The long-lasting legacy of the European Year of Youth: youth mainstreaming and empowerment" and "exporting" the "NAT model" to the other Sections would guarantee effective improvement and enhancement of the actions and activities we have undertaken in recent years and which are already bringing good results, also recognised by the main youth organisations at European level. From this point of view, I believe we can be optimistic because our President Oliver Röpke has included youth involvement in the priorities of his mandate and has already repeatedly emphasised in his speeches and demonstrated in deeds his intention to continue to believe and invest in this ambitious project and this gives me hope for the future.

As rapporteur of the ongoing own-initiative opinion on "The role of youth in rural areas", what are your initial findings on possible ways to improve the youth situation in the context of rural development?

The hearing we organised on this issue and the contributions that emerged during the debate provided us with important insights that we plan to include in the text, along with the highlighting of several good practices.

There is one thing rural areas and young people have in common: high potential that needs to be recognised, channelled, developed and adequately promoted. I believe that this is exactly the purpose of the Opinion and we hope, through this document, to turn the spotlight on the subject and raise the awareness of institutions at all levels so that they take action in a complete and effective manner.

The main aspects on which the Opinion is focusing are:

  • The need to generate more interest in rural areas, first of all by investigating which investments could make these areas more attractive to younger generations: for rural communities to be future-proof and repopulate again, it is first of all necessary to facilitate travel to and from urban areas with investments in infrastructure and sustainable mobility, to invest in IT infrastructure and high-speed broadband connections, but it is also necessary to guarantee affordable housing and to create spaces and places for aggregation, which are essential for the younger generation and to revitalise the social fabric.
  • Then there is the issue of governance, the need to actively involve young people in rural development through participatory paths that also foster civil dialogue and intergenerational solidarity. This is not about 'gentle concessions'; it must be clear that young people have the right to be heard and engaged.
  • We also consider the employment aspect because we are convinced that there cannot be rural development without it: investing in the promotion of sustainable jobs (stable and competitive employment contracts, social protection, valorisation of short supply chains and promotion of entrepreneurship, including by providing intergenerational mentoring systems) is crucial, and special attention must be paid to female employment, which is still decidedly scarce, especially in these areas.
  • Lastly, also as part of the European Year of Skills, we are discussing, in a holistic and transversal way, education, training and research on new skills and knowledge and on technological, technical and organisational innovation, which are fundamental for overseeing rather than enduring the environmental transition and for implementing sustainable development actions.

There is one thing rural areas and young people have in common: high potential that needs to be recognised, channelled, developed and adequately promoted. I believe that this is exactly the purpose of the Opinion and we hope, through this document, to turn the spotlight on the subject and raise the awareness of institutions at all levels so that they take action in a complete and effective manner.