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Boosting talent in the EU


Europe's got talent. And that talent, sometimes, departs for better horizons. At times, it moves from one Member State to another, and on other occasions it transfers to third countries. However, above all, it travels from rural to urban areas, emptying the former for lack of opportunities, impoverishing the social reality of these types of regions and increasing demographic pressure in already overcrowded urban areas.

The European Year of Skills has spearheaded work on diverse areas in the European Parliament. The report adopted during the November plenary session on "Harnessing talents in EU Regions is, in my view, among the most important ones. This text brings into conversation one of the topics that the REGI committee has been most concerned about over the last mandate, demographic challenges, with the need for investment in education, retaining talent, and job creation.

The average age in the EU is estimated to increase by 5.8 years over the next 78 years thus drastically reducing the share of people active in the labour market

I am proud of this report because I do not believe that demographic challenges are a watertight compartment. Demographic challenges and the phenomenon of the rural exodus are the result of complex processes manifested through a reality of economic and social poverty, together with lack of access to public services. To bring forward solutions to solve these issues, a holistic response is required, one that takes into account all the variables that come into play when analysing these phenomena.

Data addressing demographic transformation are worrying: the EU population is expected to decrease by 27.3 million over the next 78 years (by 2100). In turn, the average age in the EU is estimated to increase by 5.8 years over the same period, thus drastically reducing the share of people active in the labour market and further increasing existing territorial disparities and pressures. However, I actively refuse to address the rural exodus and the process of talent drain in a negative way. This has been, at all times, the spirit of the report that we have adopted in this regard.

In this sense, a conceptual point of departure when drafting the report has been to understand what the risks are for Europe, in the medium and long terms, if the loss of the young population in regions with serious economic imbalances is not addressed. In turn, we have tried to escape myths and commonplaces when we tackle talent drain and demographic challenges by listening to stakeholders and regional and local administrations, taking into account their feedback and reflecting it in the text.

The report calls on Member States to have greater flexibility when establishing priorities within programmatic objectives to be able to favour regions that lose population in a severe and permanent manner

This mandate has been particularly prolific in what concerns rural areas. The report on Harnessing Talents, the latest of the 2019-2024 term on this topic, is particularly relevant because it proposes innovative solutions and has generated a very broad political consensus. The document identifies substantial progress from the European Parliament, such as calling on Member States to have greater flexibility when establishing priorities within programmatic objectives in order to be able to favour regions that lose population in a severe and permanent manner. We have also asked for a specific budget line for these types of regions. More specifically, we have called for at least 5 % of the cohesion funds of the next programme period to be earmarked for rural areas.

However, I thought it essential to go beyond budgetary claims, which, although very important, do not cover the full reality of the solutions that, in my belief, the European Parliament must propose. I am talking, for instance, about the fundamental fact that all public policies developed in such territories are "place-based" policies, implementing a kind of verification mechanism that we have called "rural proofing" to ensure that the difficulties faced by this type of territory are taken into account when designing specific plans.

I am also talking about making education and training programmes accessible to all ages and social groups, both face to face and remotely. More specifically, I speak of the importance of countries implementing programmes to encourage the inclusion of girls and women in digital training in rural areas and other affected areas.

We have also requested that progress is made in the digitalisation of public services so that schools, universities, research centres and public transport networks are included in these processes. Related to this point, we have highlighted the importance of Member States sponsoring the creation of research centres and networks of researchers to address the phenomenon of talent drain.

It is therefore a very comprehensive and multifaceted report that goes a step further in its commitment to rural areas. Tying populations to regions and creating spaces where citizens, especially young people, want to live and thrive is a clear commitment of the European Parliament. We demonstrate that, once again, with this report.

Cristina Maestre Martin De Almagro, Member of the European Parliament

This article appears in Take no land no more: soil matte

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