In the framework of the European Year of Youth, the European Commission is currently working on a Communication on brain drain and how to mitigate challenges associated with population decline using the tools and funds from the Cohesion Policy.
Euromontana wants to bring the voice of mountain areas to the table and has therefore contributed to the European Commission’s public consultation to provide some insights on our regions’ demographic challenges and some recommendations.
The lack of diversified and qualified jobs is driving brain drain in mountain areas
Many mountain areas in Europe are experiencing a demographic decline due to a lack of attractiveness. In these areas, ageing, youth outmigration, brain drain and sometimes depopulation are leading to a vicious circle of further loss of attractiveness and services.
The 2022 Euromontana report “Being young in a mountain area” and other recent national or regional studies on mountain population flows demonstrate that youth want to stay in mountain areas, but struggle to find employment opportunities that fit they academic background. In fact, the lack of economic diversification and the lack of qualified positions are the main drivers of brain drain in mountain territories.
Using Cohesion Policy to reverse the trend
Euromontana welcomes the European Commission’s intention to limit brain drain using the EU Cohesion Policy, which channels funds to be used by territories to tackle their specific challenges.
Yet, Euromontana warns that strategies against brain drain should not only rely on regions’ Smart specialisation strategies. Although some have proven to be beneficial for mountain regions, many of these strategies are still focused on traditional sectors like the agri-food production and tourism and therefore do not contribute enough to diversifying the local economy. Moreover, these strategies often engage key stakeholders from the main cities, who have the resources to design and contribute an S3 strategy; therefore, these strategies often do not benefit the most remote areas, which are those facing brain drain.
Euromontana thus invites regions to use the Cohesion Policy funds to:
- Boost the diversification of the local economy, by encouraging the emergence of new promising sectors, building on mountains’ resources, such as the bioeconomy, circular economy or sustainable energy.
- Support rural entrepreneurship through specific support schemes providing guidance on administrative processes, in order to create new jobs in regions. The European Social Fund would be especially useful in such case.
- Build territorial attractiveness strategies to attract back young graduates and families who left their region to study or work elsewhere.
- Replicate successful rural internship schemes in order to change the mindset about life and work in rural areas and promote the existing employment opportunities.
- Assess the potential of teleworking in regions and develop sustainable strategies to attract potential remote workers.
Beyond the Cohesion Policy, Euromontana also advocates for:
- Further exchanges of good practices between regions facing brain drain in order to encourage the replication of successful strategies. These exchanges could be held in the framework of an Interreg Europe project but also within the Rural Pact community.
- More data to be provided at infra regional level. Analysing demographic trends below the NUTS3 level is essential to really grasp the population flows between the urban, semi urban and rural areas of a region. Such data could be provided by Eurostat and the new Rural Observatory.
- Analysis of the impact of the COVID-19 on rural demography. So far, there are no proof that the pandemic changed the mindset on rural areas and had concrete and stable impact on rural demography and territorial attractiveness. Such analysis could be provided by Eurostat, the Joint Research Centre or by some Horizon Europe projects.
These recommendations were shared with the European Commission in our position paper “Addressing brain drain in mountain areas: tools to reverse the trend and boost territorial attractiveness”. The document also includes examples of good practices already implemented in regions, such as the Desafio rural Eramus programme in the Aragon region (Spain), the campaign “Stay in the countryside – it pays off” (Poland) or the MiaEngiadina’s co-working initiative (Switzerland).
Mountains’ attractiveness will be further discussed during the XII European Mountain Convention on “Smart Mountains: how to make our territories attractive and future- oriented?”, taking place on 25-26-27 October 2022 in the Sila Natural Park and Biosphere Reserve, Italy.23 June 2022