2022 has been proclaimed by the United Nations "International Year of Sustainable Mountain Development". For the occasion, the Euromontana association promoted an interesting survey among young European mountain people
Three months in the summer of 2021 to contact hundreds of young Europeans between 18 and 29 with ties to the world of the mountains. The results of this effort by Euromontana – the European association of mountain areas – are now available in a report published in January 2022.
An age group chosen by researchers to probe the opinions, difficulties, and desires of those who are making their first adult choices, which will determine the future.
The report collected the opinion of young people from twenty European countries – including many of our interest such as Slovenia, Greece, and Croatia – and then provided insights on the six countries from which the most contributions were collected: France, Italy, Norway, Poland, Romania, and Spain.
“1134 young Europeans, all mountain people, contributed to our investigation”, underlines Juanan Gutiérrez, president of Euromontana, “and the most relevant outcome is that young people wish to stay in the mountains. And this hasn't changed in the last ten years, since we made a previous report on the issue”. A glimpse of optimism in the framework of general weakening of mountain communities that has continued for decades.
Stay or leave. And why?
One of the first questions involves the desire, or lack thereof, to continue living in the mountains. 77% of respondents already live in the mountains either permanently or occasionally. "66% said they want to stay in the mountains", explain the authors of the report, "and a very positive fact is that there is no country that young people mostly want to leave". Of course, there are differences: “Poland is the country with the highest percentage of young people who say they want to leave the mountains, 29%, similar to the European average. In Romania, on the other hand, only 1% of those interviewed said they wanted to move elsewhere".
5%, on the other hand, stated decisively that they wanted to leave. But why? 53% of them are either studying or working in a highly specialised field such as law, psychology, medicine, engineering and no one sees their future in a "traditional mountain workplace". It is therefore likely that it is the lack of adequate study and work opportunities that pushes them to leave the mountains.
It is interesting to note how the strong differences between countries in this regard lead to confirm this hypothesis. The young people least inclined to leave the mountains are in fact the Spanish and Romanians, with only 2% and 1% respectively declaring that they wanted to leave. These are the same countries where young people are more interested in working in traditional mountain sectors or in starting their own business there.
A significant part of the interviewees also declared their interest in remote work. "It is clear how the crisis linked to Covid-19, combined with the improvement of digital tools, provides new job opportunities in the mountains", explain the Euromontana researchers, "it is therefore up to the territories to develop the necessary infrastructures – Internet access, co- working, but also rural-city transport – to allow these young people to settle in the most remote mountain areas, while maintaining access to the main cities”.
However, in their opinion, a very real risk remains. “Only the next few years will tell whether the mountain territories will have attracted more young people as a result of Covid-19. So far, it is difficult to identify the territories that could benefit from this return to rural areas”. And they add that this new demographic phenomenon could be limited exclusively to the territories around the cities to the detriment of the more remote areas.
Another crucial question, what services are missing in the mountains? Also in this case the answers are not obvious. For some services, the satisfaction rate of the young people interviewed is very encouraging. Above all, access to the Internet, with 75% of young people declaring themselves satisfied or very satisfied.
"Similar dynamics for access to healthcare facilities, that does not seem to be a problem for a large majority of respondents, as 73% are satisfied or very satisfied", explain the researchers, underlining that this is not a surprise because generally young people are not the segment of the population who regularly need relevant and diversified healthcare services.
However, country-level analyses reveal significant differences. In Romania, for example, the rate of young people satisfied or very satisfied with the healthcare available drops to 50%.
For other services, however, satisfaction is lower. When it comes to public transport, for example, 52% of young people surveyed regard the offer as unsatisfactory or non-existent.
“It should be reiterated that, however, the lack of job and education opportunities remains the main factor behind the lack of attractiveness of the mountains among young people. And this has not changed in the last 10 years”, underline the authors of the report.
The latter also note that many young people wish to leave the mountains temporarily, for example to study elsewhere, and then return later in life. Mountain territories should therefore develop territorial attractiveness strategies that take into account their life cycle. In particular, this means supporting the creation of skilled jobs but also the installation of useful infrastructures for young workers, such as access to housing and childcare facilities.
Mountains in 2040
The questionnaires of the report "Being young in a mountain area" also asked to describe one's ideal mountains in 2040. Very different visions emerged, between countries and between areas within a country.
Nonetheless, the issue of tourism remains central to many views on the future. Although concerns vary from one country to another, the desire of young people in the mountains is unanimously centred on more sustainable tourism. In the case of France and Italy, where the majority of the young people interviewed live in the Alps, the ideal mountain is no longer geared primarily to tourism. In Italy, young people express the fear that an economy that is too dependent on tourism does not offer sufficient professional opportunities for young people in other economic sectors. In Romania, young people instead imagine a mountain where the tourism sector is more developed and capable of capitalising on the natural and cultural heritage, including crafts and agricultural products. And they envision a model based on small local companies.
“A vision focused on respect for nature does not mean that the young people of the European mountains are opposed to any economic development”, the authors of the research clarify, “on the contrary, they imagine lively and dynamic mountains, where different economic sectors support the population. Their ideal mountain also offers more services and infrastructure. They don't necessarily expect basic services to be located exactly in their village, but to be accessible at a reasonable distance”. In this sense mountain youth therefore reflect in terms of a functional space, whether it is an entire valley or an area within the radius of a small town. And for this, mobility remains essential and is one of the main pillars of the demands of young people in this survey and of their visions for the future.
“Through this report Euromontana intends to bring the voice of mountain youth to the fore of 2022, European Year of Youth and UN International Year for Sustainable Mountain Development", explains the president of the association Gutiérrez, "we invite political leaders to collect these messages and act in response to the demands of young people, to ensure that their concerns are not left behind".
Euromontana has recently launched the Montana174 initiative, a communication campaign on EU cohesion policies in mountain areas, to provide the tools for using these funds
88 questionnaires were collected on Romania. The specificity of the profiles of the young responders is their desire to stay in the mountains. When asked what they would like to see more of in their region, the most common request is more support mechanisms for youth entrepreneurship – 44.7% of the responses. If we analyse the main reasons why young people in Romania want to live in the mountains, they are the same as in the rest of Europe: life close to nature and quality of life. However, in Romania, the attachment to the territory and the presence of the family seem to play a more important role than elsewhere. As regards accessibility to services, while satisfaction with Internet access is even higher than at European level, other services are subject to dissatisfaction. 73% of respondents say, for example, that access to training, for example permanent or professional, is unsatisfactory or non-existent. Moreover, Euromontana has already stressed the significant inequalities in terms of access to healthcare between EU countries and between mountain areas and other regions: in the Apuseni mountains, for example, there is only one pharmacy for over 5,000 people, scattered throughout the region, four times fewer than in the rest of the country.
This content is published in the context of the "Work4Future" project co-financed by the European Union (EU). The EU is in no way responsible for the information or views expressed within the framework of the project. The responsibility for the contents lies solely with OBC Transeuropa. Go to the "Work4Future"
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