Rural Europe is more affected by demographic change. This is the message shared by the European Commission in its “Report on the impact of demographic change – in a changing environment”. Presented by European Commission’s Vice-President Dubravka Šuica, Commissioner for Democracy and Demography, last 17 January, this new version of the report updates the data provided by the first edition in 2020.
Rural Europe is harder hit by ageing and depopulation
Rural Europe is facing many shrinking demographic trends, as already evidenced by the first Report on the Impact of Demographic Change in 2020. Rural areas as a whole are ageing faster than urban areas, due to natural population decline and out migration. In this respect, young people, and especially young women, seem to be more likely to leave their region.
At the same time, many territories face a lack of attractiveness linked to poor connectivity, infrastructure, services provision, or employment opportunities and therefore struggle to retain or attract populations.
Impact of COVID-19 on rural-urban population flows
The intention of this updated report was to take into account the demographic changes related to recent events, such as the war in Ukraine and the COVID-19 pandemic. In this regard, the EU Commission points out that counter-urbanisation trends were visible in Austria, Italy and Spain, although without specifying which types of rural areas have regained attractiveness.
Such a change of mindset can of course be beneficial to rural communities but the report also points out risks that concerned territories must tackle, such as rising housing prices, unsuitable transport offers or increasing use of natural resources.
What responses to demographic change?
In response to the challenges arising from demographic change in rural areas, the European Commission advances the following solutions:
- The development of the Silver Economy in the face of ageing. This industry is promoted as a solution to both improve the quality of life of older rural people and create economic opportunities in these areas.
- Rural revitalisation efforts to address the loss of attractiveness, supported in particular by the Long-Term Vision for Rural Areas and the 2021-2027 Cohesion Policy and Common Agriculture Policy.
- A “Talent Booster Mechanism” in response of the lack of qualified workforce in some regions. Further detailed in the Communication on “Harnessing talent in Europe’s regions”, this proposal aims to support regions by developing pilot sites and helping them to implement appropriate strategies.
Ageing in rural and mountain areas will be on the agenda of the final conference of our SILVER SMEs project, held in Brussels on 21 February. The event will give the floor to different representatives of mountain territories as well as to representatives of EU institutions. Toma Šutić, in charge of ageing policies within the cabinet of European Commission’s Vice-President Dubravka Šuica, will present how recent EU policies take into account the needs and challenges of rural older adults.
Moreover, Euromontana will continue to look at the impact of COVID-19 on mountain demography and will be involved in the 2023 European Year of Skills to discuss employment needs in mountain areas. We also hope to have more complete statistics on the impact of the war in Ukraine on neighbouring territories, in particular the mountainous region of Podkarpackie, which shared its experience during the XII European Mountain Convention.30 January 2023