Doc. 9099

15 May 2001

Situation and prospects of young people in rural areas


Committee on the Environment and Agriculture

Rapporteur: Mr Juha Korkeaoja, Finland, Liberal, Democratic and Reformers' Group


I.        Draft recommendation

1.       For a long time the Assembly has been recommending measures to help rural areas and in particular young people living there, for example in Recommendation 776 (1976) on the situation of rural and agricultural youth in Europe.

2.       Although progress has been made, young people living in rural areas in Europe still encounter many difficulties, especially as a result of urbanisation and rural decline. This is particularly true in central and eastern European countries, which are experiencing even greater imbalances owing to the vast socio-economic changes currently taking place.

3.       The Assembly stresses the need to give young people and their representative organisations a greater say, at both national and European levels, in the preparation of youth or rural development policies that concern them. It is likewise necessary to improve the co-ordination of national policies in these fields so as to avoid incompatibilities and increase the positive impact of the measures recommended.

4.       The problems encountered by young farmers and young people living in the countryside mainly concern difficulties (financial, fiscal and legal) in setting up in business and finding adequate and appropriate training, as well as high unemployment and the lack of alternative jobs, the traditional shortcomings of rural areas as regards infrastructure and services, not to mention the often negative image of farming and a lower standard of living.

5.       The Assembly considers it urgent to change this state of affairs, otherwise living conditions will become even more difficult for rural populations, in particular young people. The socio-economic development of European countries in various fields (education, health, communications and transport, etc), the modernisation of life-styles in rural areas and the increased appeal of rural areas resulting from the new activities that could be developed there would make it possible to offer better opportunities to young people who live in rural areas and would like to build a future there.

6.       The Assembly therefore recommends that the Committee of Ministers:

i.       instruct the European Youth Centre and the European Steering Committee for Youth to foster activities of relevance to young people in rural areas and in particular:

ii.       to invite the governments of member states to:

II. Explanatory memorandum by Mr Korkeaoja


1. Introduction ………………………………………………………………………..        5

2. General comments on the situation in rural areas and amongst rural young people       6

3. Geographical and demographical factors………….……………………………….       6

3.1. Population density …………………………………………………………       6

3.2. Who lives in the countryside? ……………………………………………..       7

4. Socio-economic factors……...…………………………………………………….       8

4.1. Agriculture ..………..….………………………………………………….       8

4.2. The economy and employment …..……...………………………………..       11

5. Socio-cultural factors .……………………………………………………………..       14

5.1. Education and training …………………………………………………….       14

5.2. Transport ……...……………………………………………………………       15

5.3. Quality of life ……………………………….……………………………..       16

5.4. Social, health and leisure services …………………….…………………..       16

5.5. Socio-cultural change . …………...………………………………………..       17

6. Young people’s participation in society and social development ………………….       18

6.2. Youth movements………………………………………………………….       18

6.3. Council of Europe …………………………………………………………       19

7. Conclusions ………………………………………………………….………………       20

Appendices……………………………………………………………………………...       21

1. Introduction

1.       Young people in rural areas have often found themselves marginalised both by decisions on the formulation and development of rural policy and by decision-making processes related to youth policy. However, young people in the countryside are more profoundly affected than other young people by the transitions taking place in contemporary society. The changes lying ahead in rural areas of Central and Eastern Europe, in particular, will have a fundamental impact on the opportunities available to young people continuing to live in the countryside. This report reviews the situation of young people in rural areas and the main problems they face, and also proposes measures to improve their position.

2.       The Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly has dealt with the development of rural areas and youth policy in a number of official statements. This was already the case in recommendation 776 (1976) on the situation of rural and agricultural youth in Europe. And more recently in recommendation 1296 (1996) on a European Charter for Rural Areas; recommendation 1320 (1997) on education, training, and advisory services in agriculture, fisheries and forestry; recommendation 1321 (1997) on improving the situation of women in rural society; and recommendation 1364 (1998) on European youth co-operation and recent proposals for structural change. The Committee of Ministers addresses the question in Recommendation N° R (97) 3 to the member states on youth participation and the future of civil society. The thrust of the recommendation is the promotion of co-operation and partnership between youth organisations and local and national authorities. Important background material is also furnished by the CLRAE (Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe) Resolution 237 (1992) on the Charter on the participation of young people in municipal and regional life, and we should also note the final declaration of the European Union's Cork Conference, the Cork Declaration on a living countryside (1996).

3.       The Council of Europe also produces special country reports on the youth policies of each country. The first such report (published in 1999) was on Finland. It deals only briefly, however, with the situation of young people in rural areas. Other reports, on Spain, Sweden and the Netherlands, were published in 2000, while reports on Romania and Estonia are to appear in 2001 and on Luxembourg and Lithuania in 2002.

4.       Together with European rural youth organisations - the International Movement of Catholic Agricultural and Rural Youth (IMCARY) and the European Committee for Young Farmers and 4 H Clubs (ECYF 4HC) - the Council of Europe's Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development organized a round-table conference in Budapest in October 1997 to discuss the situation of young people in rural areas. Discussion continued at a symposium in Strasbourg in March 1998 on the theme of "Youth participation in rural development". The final declaration of the symposium urges the Council of Europe and its political organs, national governments, local and regional authorities and non-governmental organisations to take steps to improve the position of young people in rural areas. The aim is to develop a common perspective that can accommodate the needs of both youth policy and rural development policy.

5.       In writing this report and drawing up recommendations, every effort was made to seek the closest possible involvement of rural youth organisations. Young people in rural areas and their representatives, and they alone, know best what they want. When policy is drafted, it is all too easy to overlook the opinions of young people themselves. For the purposes of this report the opinions and views of the IMCARY, the ECYF 4HC and the CEJA were sought. Some of their replies are still awaited.

2. General comments on the situation in rural areas and amongst rural young people

6.       Europe's rural areas differ greatly in terms of their social, political, economic and geographic features, and young people in these areas cannot be treated as a homogeneous group. Nevertheless, a large number of young people in Europe's rural areas will unavoidably find themselves confronted by many of the challenges of tomorrow's world, challenges such as globalisation, the information society, the post-modern labour market and the need to tolerate constant uncertainty, as well as the general challenge of how to take charge of their own lives. Potential, or in some cases real, threats include uncertainties about income security, jobs, places in education and training, and the weakening in the level of services in rural areas.

7.       The threats facing young people affect more or less the entire European countryside, as rural areas across the continent are going through a period of transition. OECD countries currently employ less than 6 per cent of their labour force in agriculture, while in Eastern Europe 17 per cent of the population work in this sector. The drift away from agriculture has been rapid, and there is no end in sight. On the contrary, the enlargement of the EU and the implementation of the Common Agricultural Policy will cause a continuing decline in the numbers of people employed in agriculture.

8.       The transition in the agricultural sector contains the threat of a major rise in unemployment. The service and manufacturing sectors will not necessarily be able to provide immediate alternative employment for the labour force being shed by agriculture. Rural areas have only limited resources with which to hold on to their population, and the results have already been seen in depopulation of the countryside as people move into urban areas. The consequences of this rural depopulation are visible in the weakening of the level of services and infrastructure in rural areas. Educational, social, health and leisure services are all in decline, while in some areas they have disappeared altogether.

9.       The transition in rural areas is having a particularly strong impact on the young. It is fundamental to the vitality of rural areas that young people should have faith in the future of the countryside. All means should be employed to strengthen this faith. At present, the towns appear to be offering young people better employment and educational opportunities, a feature particularly noticeable in the former socialist countries.

10.       It is important to find an approach that embraces both youth policy and rural development policy.

3.       Geographical and demographical factors

3.1. Population density

11.       In most European countries, the population density in rural areas varies between 50 and 100 inhabitants per km2. In certain regions such as central Spain and parts of Finland the figures are very low (ie below 50 inhabitants per km2: in Finland, for example, average national population density is only 17 inhabitants per km2 and the figure in regions such as Lapland is 2 inhabitants per km2).1 A sparse population is usually a reflection of harsh environmental or weather conditions. The land is not very fertile and is thus unsuitable or unprofitable for farming. The relief of many of the regions in question also makes them relatively inaccessible.

12.       The rural areas with a higher-than-average population density are those that lie closest to major conurbations. This reflects the fact that more and more people are seeking a different quality of life. They are keen to move from polluted, noisy cities to the nearby countryside. Because the city is not far away it is possible to commute and to take full advantage of urban social and cultural life.

13.       Although, on average, the rural population in European countries accounts for 20-30% of the total (see table 1), it carries little economic weight. There are, however, some exceptions, such as Poland, the most agricultural and most populous of the Central and Eastern European countries, where 38% of the population live in the countryside, Portugal, where the corresponding figure in 1992 was 55.2%, and Hungary (41%). In the European Union, agriculture accounts for only 1.8% of total GDP (see figures 2 and 2a) and employs only 4.9% of the workforce (figure 2). But it is clear that in the Central and Eastern European countries agriculture represents a much higher proportion of GDP and that the level of employment in agriculture varies hugely from country to country (in Poland, for example, the proportion of the workforce employed in agriculture in 1998 was 19.1%, while in the Czech Republic it was only 5.5%)2 (see figure 2). Over the years, the number of jobs in farming, fishing and forestry has gradually shrunk, mainly as a result of technical progress (see figures 3 and 3a) and the proportion of young people in the agricultural workforce is low (see figures 4 and 4a) - as a rule below 20% and falling. In the EU in 1999, agricultural workers aged 15-25 represented, on average, 4.9% of the total, with the highest proportions found in Greece and Portugal (17% and 12% respectively). Among the working population aged 25-29, only 3% have jobs in agriculture. As a result of this trend, efforts must be made to develop other forms of economic activity in the countryside.

14.       The picture varies, however, in the different Central and Eastern European countries: in some cases the rural population is ageing and young people are moving to the towns and cities, while in others (notably Poland)3 the young still represent a significant proportion of the rural population. In the most rural regions of Poland, roughly equal numbers of young people live in the countryside and in urban areas. The importance of seasonal work in rural areas and the fact that women tend to move to towns and cities - in order to study, for example - mean that more men than women live in the countryside. There is also a higher proportion of single people in rural areas than elsewhere.

4. Socio-economic factors

15.       The enlargement of the European Union and the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy are altering the conditions of agricultural production throughout Europe. In the midst of the present uncertainty, it is extremely difficult for young farmers to plan for the future.

16.       Agriculture in Europe is changing constantly. The number of farms is steadily falling (in the EU, 25% of them disappeared between 1987 and 1997, see figure 5) but average farm size is increasing (it rose from 13.3 ha in 1990 to 18.4 ha in 1997, see figure 6). This reflects the tendency for larger farms to seek to consolidate or strengthen their position by buying up smaller holdings. A study of the situation of young farmers in relation to farm size and turnover shows that they tend to be found on larger, more profitable farms. This means they need better qualifications, in order not only to manage large acreages and operate increasingly efficient machinery, but also to cope with the various aspects of personnel management on farms employing a substantial workforce.

17.       The proportion of family-run farms in Europe is relatively stable and high. In the French département [county] of Bas-Rhin, for example, 90% of farms are family businesses.4

18.       The role of agriculture in the EU economy is steadily declining. Agricultural GDP as a proportion of total GDP is falling (it was 2.5% in 1990 and only 1.5% in 1997, see figure 2a). The same trend is clear from figures for the value of agricultural production (down from ECU 15 500 m in 1990 to ECU 15 300 m in 1997, see figure 7) and for employment (6% of the workforce was employed in farming in 1990 and only 4.9% in 1997, see figure 2a). The loss of jobs also reflects agricultural modernisation.

19.       The decline is substantial (-28% in the EU) in the segment of the workforce aged under 35, while in other age groups it is less marked.5 In the under-35 bracket there has been a fall in numbers as well as a proportional decline (see figure 8). This raises a problem with regard to the prospects of farms being taken over by the young generation. Fewer farmers are young (the proportion fell from 8.75% to 7.68% between 1990 and 1997 (see figure 9) while the proportion aged over 65 rose from 23.28% to 27.76%.6 This means that the farming population is ageing and succession on farms is no longer secure.

20.       In the Central and Eastern European countries the large state-owned farms were privatised in the early 1990s. Most farms there are small family businesses and a division has emerged between the landed and the landless. Statistics are hard to obtain but, as a rule, the number of young farmers is increasing and the pattern of farming is changing. The demand for labour will fall once farms have been modernised, but this process is still largely incomplete. Farmers are loath to take risks, preferring to hang on to their existing jobs. They are also wary of co-operatives and associations. On the other hand, non-farming activities are being developed but the countryside lacks the physical and social infrastructure to accommodate them.

Entering the industry

21.       Young people already engaged in farming and those planning to enter the sector face problems due to the frequently inadequate availability of finance, or to tax regimes unfavourable to young farmers.

22.       Young people wishing to become farmers face high set-up costs (problems include the availability and price of land and the cost of machinery, farm modernisation, credit and production licences). Different EU countries have different rules concerning production rights or licences. In France, for example, they are not marketable commodities but continue to be granted through an administrative procedure. The Netherlands has opted for the opposite solution with the result that, on the one hand, farms able to obtain licences do very well while, on the other, those that cannot afford them go out of business, and it is virtually impossible for non-farmers to obtain licences and thus to set up in the industry.7 Production rights have become a real problem in terms of equality of opportunity with regard to entry to the industry.

23.       Although the number of women farmers is growing,8 women who wish to set up a farm business face particular problems such as the inflexibility of welfare arrangements (maternity leave and benefit and childcare, for example) and the lack of training provision.

24.       Encouraging young people to set up in agriculture will mean funding effective pre-start-up support, promoting information about farming as an occupation and introducing arrangements for the smooth transfer of farm holdings and gradual entry to the industry (ie with early retirement or pension incentive measures).

Inheriting a farm

25.       Numerous fiscal and legal barriers (which vary from country to country) complicate farm inheritance. A particular problem in European countries in this regard is the question of "compensation" when a farm is left to more than one person. It must be fairly divided between all the heirs, ie those who intend to stay on the farm and those who wish to leave. Obsolete inheritance laws also make for difficulties. There ought to be provision for tax relief when a holding is handed over, and for reduced inheritance charges.

26.       Changes of ownership can often be difficult when parents continue to live on the farm and their children want to enter the business. Most farms are family run and are home to several generations. But are they profitable enough to support more than one household?

27.       Young people from outside the farming community who want to enter the business still face many problems. As they do not own land, they must begin by buying it, along with premises. Steps should be taken to promote co-operation between farmers who want to retire, and have no successors, and young people from outside the farming community. This could mean, for example, enabling a new young farmer to take a tenancy on the holding of a farmer about to retire.

Standards of education and training

28.       Agriculture is affected by the general problem of education and the lack or inappropriateness of training courses. It is through training that young farmers acquire basic knowledge of the job, their environment and their prospects. In Bas-Rhin, for example, three-quarters of young farmers nowadays have qualifications at least equivalent to the baccalauréat (A-level) and have completed a six-month placement. Young people setting up as farmers are increasingly well trained (in 1999, 4% of those who entered the sector in Bas-Rhin were qualified as engineers).9

29.       Young people in the EU today are well trained but in many cases there is no link between training and entry to the sector. There is thus an argument for applying the French six-month placement scheme – allowing young farmers to develop their start-up plans through experience of a radically different agricultural context – throughout Europe.

The image of farming and the farmer’s new role

30.       Farming has a special role inasmuch as farm production entails recognition of the constraints involved in producing living creatures, and because the end product is food there is a very particular relationship between the producers, their produce and the consumer. The various food safety scandals of recent years have tarnished farmers’ overall public image: they have been seen as striving for ever higher output at the expense of consumer safety. Young people are therefore wary of entering certain branches of farming, such as stock rearing, because they cannot be sure whether their produce will be marketable. Farmers now need to work to rebuild their image and regain consumer confidence in order to boost the demand for certain food produce.

31.       Farming today also has a special position in terms of both the social organisation of farm production and the special treatment meted out to farmers under the various (national and European) agricultural policies.

32.       The new French Outline Agricultural Act recognises that farming has a number of functions (economic, social and environmental) and thus provides for government funds for the preservation of jobs and the protection of the environment to be channelled into rural areas. Contrats territoriaux d’exploitation (area farm production contracts) help to steer farming in a new direction inasmuch as one of their main aims is to take account of its multi-purpose nature. The multi-purpose principle is seen as an instrument for reducing disparities between farmers, classing them as providers of services (eg forestry and farm-tourism services) and contributors, in their role as food producers, to rural development.

33.       Thus, an awareness of environmental considerations is central to the practice of agriculture. Production should be ecologically sustainable and preserve the cultural values of rural areas. The principle of sustainable development is fundamental.

4.2. The economy and employment

a. Employment in the primary sector and diversification

34.       Young people in rural areas face an uncertain future. Overall, there are fewer job opportunities in the primary sector (farming, aquaculture, fishing and forestry). The problem is particularly acute in Central and Eastern Europe where there are high rates of unemployment and social marginalisation, especially among the young. Opportunities are limited as a result of the decline in traditional manufacturing industries, the closure of small shops - driven out of business by superstores - and cuts in education and health services. Unemployed young people thus decide to move to urban areas to increase their chances of finding work.

35.       There is a major trend towards diversification as ever-increasing numbers of young people combine more than one job - for example, farming and working in industry or the service sector. No more than 55% of farmers in the EU work on the farm full time (see figure 10). The scope for diversification depends on the labour market locally and in the hinterland of the farm and, to a much lesser extent, on the type of farming practised. Certain farm owners who have other occupations nonetheless hang on to their farms for non-commercial reasons (they may wish to retain a certain lifestyle or a sense of security associated with the land, to maintain family ties or to keep a place in the communities where they grew up).10

36.       In many cases, young people without a steady job live at home for as long as possible and thus have a degree of financial security.

b. The food industry

37.       Food production is a key activity in rural areas. The problem of controlling the production of certain foodstuffs has generated a new demand for quality produce and regional specialities. By decentralising food production, packaging and marketing, it should be possible to reduce transport time and costs, as well as pollution.

38.       Local producers should be helped to market their produce. The problem they face is price competition, for many local products are dearer than those sold in superstores. There should be better access to markets for produce from small-scale enterprises, with the emphasis on quality and (if appropriate) the fact that the product is organically produced rather than price.

39.       Europe has tremendous potential in food production. It could eventually become a major food exporter. There is scope for the young to exploit and develop the market niche for high-quality produce and regional specialities.

c. Raw materials

40.       Textiles, pharmaceutical products, building materials, furniture, chemical products and fuels can all be manufactured using plants, trees and other raw materials from the countryside. By manufacturing them locally, companies can keep down production costs.

41.       The extraction of sand, clay and other minerals is a further type of activity that offers new potential for job creation, not only in the extraction process but also in associated trades such as the manufacture of ceramics and pottery, crystal ware and glass.

d. Farm tourism

42.       Rural tourism has been developing for a number of years in Europe’s various regions. Tourists generally, and city-dwellers in particular, are keen to discover or re-discover the countryside with its unspoilt environment, traditions and local specialities.

43.       In rural Poland, for example, there has been a headlong rush into tourism. Around a third of local authorities pin high hopes on it. A major publicity drive is under way to promote the new tourist destinations and various farm tourism and inter-municipal associations have been set up.

44.       Tourism development is hampered, however, by the fact that the inhabitants of Europe’s different regions know little about their local tourist and cultural attractions. Many people think they know their region well, having lived there all their lives, but they are not actually well informed about its history or ancient buildings and monuments. Appropriate training for people keen to develop tourism in their areas should therefore be encouraged.

Theme farms

45.       There is scope virtually everywhere in Europe for the development of farms with an educational theme. In France the concept is already being promoted by the Bienvenue à la Ferme [Welcome to the Farm] network.

46.       Educational farms cater for children and teenagers on school trips or organised holidays, providing learning-based activities that give the young visitors an insight into the world of agriculture. Discovery farms offer a chance to explore a farm and its surroundings.

47.       At farm-based riding centres a range of activities is available, including beginners’ riding lessons, lessons in harnessing, classes on "getting to know horses", trekking, competition riding and vaulting. Some centres also offer accommodation and meals.

48.       Farm guesthouses provide accommodation, meals and leisure activities on the farm or nearby. They accept only limited numbers of guests so as to retain a homely atmosphere. Menus are based on regional specialities and local produce.

49.       Other farms specialise in afternoon teas, with the farmer offering a guided tour followed by light refreshments. Typically these farms are open from 3 pm to 6 pm.

Folk museums

50.       Folk museums also have an important educational function in that they enable visitors to "travel back in time" and learn about the past. Working villages are a reminder of the way our ancestors lived and laboured, and visiting children can get a taste of different country activities depending on the season. There is scope for young people in rural areas to develop this type of activity and use it to showcase regional traditions.

e. New types of rural employment

Communications and commercial services

51.       Thanks to new communications technologies and their associated infrastructure, people can work anywhere, provided they can communicate by telephone, fax or e-mail. The development of these communication tools has thus paved the way for a new type of employment known as teleworking (or distance working). In 1990 the Parliamentary Assembly adopted Recommendation 1122 on the revival of the countryside by means of information technology, intended to promote the development of modern means of communication in the countryside and thus foster the growth of teleworking.

52.       By comparison with town and cities, however, rural areas are still short of the necessary communication tools and resources. These should therefore be developed, for example by relocating the office operations of major companies in the countryside, helping people to set up small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) there, or promoting the establishment of new companies - and also by training those who live in the country to use the new tools. As examples of businesses that rely on teleworking, it is instructive to look at two projects entitled "E-Commerce" and "DistriBio".

53.       "E-Commerce" started up in Arigna (Ireland) in December 1999. It is a partnership between the local action group and the software manufacturer Troyan, based in the nearby town of Boyle. A dozen unemployed young people with some knowledge of information technology took a training course in electronic commerce (covering website design, Internet marketing, computer graphics and advertising).11 "DistriBio" was set up in Portugal by a young French couple. The company provides a weekly home delivery of organic food baskets (containing 8-10 items that vary according to the seasons) to some fifty customers within a radius of 200 km.12

Businesses based in the countryside

54.       The success of business development in the countryside reflects two assets found there: the sense of belonging that rural communities share and the premium placed on personal relations. The desire of the workforce to remain in the area makes for stability within companies, and the qualities of constancy and corporate loyalty are very important. Many country people have known one another for years and this naturally makes for ease of contact, co-operation and exchange. In rural societies where people are generally familiar with one another there is a sense of solidarity stronger than that found in towns, where anonymity is normally the rule. Other advantages mentioned include "quality of life", "a pleasant environment" and "the beauty of the location". It is easier to work in pleasant surroundings.

55.       In order to help young people in rural areas to find jobs, a system of (long-term) placements should be introduced and exchanges of skills at local level should be promoted. Young people could thus get a foothold in a local company, with the possibility of a job at the end of the placement.

56.       Young entrepreneurs – in the agricultural industry and elsewhere – often face problems because their financial resources are limited and they have difficulty obtaining loans. There is a case for introducing tax concessions in rural areas in order to help young people set up companies.


57.       The level of health, educational and cultural provision in rural areas must be as high as that in towns and cities.

58.       There is scope to create jobs in day nurseries and retirement homes and in accommodation for disabled people. The provision of home support for the elderly and sick could be remunerated and extended. As noted in paragraph 3.2, the rural population is ageing. This means there will be more employment opportunities in the care of elderly people, and there is also potential to develop cultural activities for them.

5. Socio-cultural factors

5.1. Education and training

59.       Increasing numbers of schools in rural areas are being closed altogether. This is chiefly a consequence of rural depopulation caused by migration to urban areas but it is also, in part, a result of budgetary pressures on local authorities and the public sector in general. Higher education is almost totally concentrated in urban centres, which in turn further fuels the process of rural depopulation.

60.       In the different countries of Europe, the percentage of young people from rural areas who undertake further education or training is below the overall national average. Women in rural often have significantly less education than men.13 This means that young people in the countryside do not have the same career prospects as their counterparts in urban areas and their employment options are limited. Many work in jobs that demand few qualifications and are therefore poorly paid.

61.       It is essential to the success of rural areas that they can sustain and develop a high quality of educational provision. In Eastern Europe in particular, the level of educational provision in rural areas has been inadequate, due to the employment of under-qualified teachers, low pay and a lack of teaching materials.

62.       The education and training on offer in rural areas are not always as effective as they should be because young people attending distant schools and colleges face transport problems - and not all young people have the financial resources necessary for pursuing their studies, given that they often need to travel to cities because educational provision in their own areas is inadequate or non-existent.

5.2. Transport

63.       Transport - or the lack of it - is also a significant factor in the exodus of young people from the countryside. Most services, shops and schools are concentrated in large urban areas. Remote villages do not always have a well-developed public transport system and people living there rely on private cars.

64.       In the Central and Eastern European countries, privatisation has led to the closure of many non-profitable routes and people living in the countryside have found themselves without any means of transport. What is more, prices have soared and car ownership eats up a very high proportion of earnings.

65.       Another problem in remote areas is that motorways and other roads are not always properly maintained. The transport network in the Central and Eastern European countries is less developed than that of Western Europe.

66.       For all these reasons, there is a good case for introducing a system to help young people in rural areas with transport costs. The development of public transport should be supported, particularly on less-used routes.

5.3. Quality of life

67.       As a rule, quality of life in the countryside is below the national average in terms of housing standards. The percentage of older homes (pre-1950) is higher than average in rural areas and many such homes lack, for example, a modern bathroom.14

68.       In some European regions, houses or apartments were built to meet a surge in demand for accommodation following the waves of immigration in the 1960s. But much of this development took place without regard for the natural and cultural surroundings. Moreover, the construction materials used were often cheap and not durable.

69.       As the rural population ages, many buildings remain neglected or badly maintained because they belong to elderly people who do not always have the means or the desire to renovate their homes.

70.       Some areas - in many cases tourist areas or those adjacent to large towns and cities - have managed to attract new inhabitants. But the incomers are rarely young because levels of rent and land prices act as a deterrent.

71.       There are also examples of a new type of country dweller, who has a second (or sometimes main) home in a rural setting. These are professional people who have moved to the country in search of a relaxing, attractive and healthy environment, while continuing to work in the city. The trend is termed "counter-urbanisation".

72.       The re-population of the countryside, although it may be confined to areas close to major conurbations, can be expected to provide a certain stimulus to the tertiary sector there. The new arrivals will have new needs to be met, leading, for example, to the opening of local shops. As service-sector companies are set up they will require staff and there is potential here for generating jobs and opportunities for young people.

5.4. Social, health and leisure services

73.       Rural depopulation has a paralysing and sometimes fatal effect on rural services. The reduction in the range of leisure activities available in rural areas means that young people in urban areas and those in rural areas have unequal opportunities.

74.       Urban young people have many more leisure options than their rural counterparts. There are fewer clubs and associations (for sports and cultural activities etc) in the countryside and the choice is narrower. But young people need a range of activities in order to develop.

75.       Access to culture is also much more problematic for people in rural areas. Cultural activities are less developed and exhibitions, film screenings, plays, concerts and similar events are rare.

76.       In the Central and Eastern European countries, where cultural establishments have been taken over by local authorities in place of a centralised bureaucracy, small authorities have found themselves unable to foot the bills. Cultural centres in many villages have thus been forced to close for lack of funding.

5.5. Socio-cultural change

a. Change as a result of globalisation and the development of communications

77.       Communities are confronted by a number of phenomena - globalisation, interdependence, the spread of information technology and the mass media, for example - that affect the way people relate to one another and their life choices.

78.       These phenomena have a dual impact on young people: they are more aware of opportunities (to travel, undertake further education, increase their earnings etc), although the opportunities are often synonymous with a move to the city; and, at the same time, the traditional forms of organisation of employment and family and community life are changing.

79.       The development of communication and information systems has brought changes for rural young people. Through terrestrial and cable television and information technology they can explore an urban universe that is unlike their own. On TV they see young people with other customs and traditions. Even where there are major differences, rural young people often identify with their urban counterparts. The consumer behaviour, values and attitudes of the entire population thus tend to become standardised. This growing trend brings the risk that young people will lose a rural identity.

80.       A sense of dissatisfaction among the young can lead to increased violence, law-breaking, drug-taking and alcohol consumption.

81.       There is a certain conflict between, on the one hand, the importance accorded to community identity and, on the other, young people's urge to explore their own "youth" identity. It is often hard for people in a tightly knit community to strike the right balance between tradition and modernity. In many cases, young people have little scope to explore their own identity in country towns and villages where the opportunities for education, training, mobility and leisure activities are limited.

b. Seeking a local cultural identity

82.       By contrast, some young people are increasingly interested in regional culture and seek their own local cultural identity. This trend is apparent from the fact that growing numbers of young people are involved, for example, in societies that aim to develop and promote regional culture, or in folk groups.

6. Young people's participation in society and social development

6.1. Overview

83.       Although 65 per cent of young people in EU Member States are involved in organisations of one sort or another, they have become more apathetic as regards political participation. Young people are no longer prepared to commit themselves in the traditional way. Social participation and the development of a sense of having a stake in society will require active measures to promote involvement. Information networks have a special role to play in keeping people in rural areas in touch with decision-makers. This sort of two-way democracy is something that needs to be developed further. However, the essence of participation is in the shouldering of real responsibility, and provision should therefore be made to support all forms of youth participation both politically and economically. Participation may be either political or more general social participation (cultural, social work, etc.), but the most important thing is that it takes place in a receptive environment with a positive attitude towards young people.

84.       A strong and close network of voluntary activities in non-governmental organisations is essential to the development of rural areas. Such a network generates social capital rooted in the mutual trust between people, which is essential to the success of co-operative activities. Non-governmental organisations have a vital role to play in the consolidation of a civil society. In the countries of Western Europe, the 4H organisations are particularly important in activating young people in rural areas.

85.       Young people wish to stress the international and global dimension in their activities.

6.2. Youth movements

86.       Certain youth organisations have been operating since just after the Second World War, whereas others, in the former communist countries for example, began to develop only in the 1990s. Their histories and traditions diverge. As they have evolved, Western European organisations have tended to unite and to co-operate at international level, whereas in Central and Eastern European countries co-operation is mainly local, or in some cases national. Co-operation between the various movements must, nonetheless, be extended at both regional and international level so that they can learn about one another and help to eliminate North-South and East-West divisions.

87.       Mention should be made of IMCARY and the ECYF 4HC, the rural youth organisations that took part in the October 1997 round-table conference in Budapest and the Strasbourg symposium on the theme "Youth participation in rural development" in March 1998.

88.       IMCARY15 is an international non-governmental organisation, an education and training movement and a rural development organisation run by and for young people. It operates on four continents. In pursuit of its aims in the spheres of sustainable rural development, agriculture and environment, IMCARY Europe organises study sessions and exchanges between rural youth groups, develops teaching methods and has set up the CERIL network of local initiatives on all aspects of rural development, which functions as an information centre for rural development projects. IMCARY co-operates with the Council of Europe, the European Union and other youth NGOs.

89.       The aims of the ECYF 4HC (European Committee for Young Farmers and 4H Clubs) are to develop and promote rural youth activities as well as education and training for young people, and to foster a sense of responsibility for the environment: to this end it runs meetings, courses and seminars and training sessions for young people in positions of responsibility. The ECYF 4HC has links with other international NGOs including the European Council of Young Farmers (CEJA), the European Confederation of Agriculture, IMCARY Europe and the International Association of Agricultural Students.

90.       One way of co-ordinating the work of the youth organisations would be to set up an international youth information centre. A database and website could provide information on how to contact the different organisations and on their work. The Council of Europe's European Youth Centre (EYC) in Strasbourg could be placed in charge of the project.16

6.3. Council of Europe

91.       The EYCs (Strasbourg and Budapest) already co-operate closely with the different youth NGOs and run a varied programme of activities including study sessions, courses, activities in Central and Eastern Europe and language training. In recent years various activities have involved rural youth, often in cooperation with IMCARY and ECYF 4HC. Thus, in 1997: Public relations of rural youth organisations, Round Table: “Mobilization of young people to address the critical situation in Central and Eastern European rural areas”. In 1998: Symposium on rural youth in Central and Eastern Europe. In 1999: “Facing change – European rural youth leaders of the next millennium”. In 2000: organising International Rural Youth Activities, Rural youth participation in European spatial development, Encouragement of competitiveness of rural areas.17

92.       Within the Youth Directorate, the Steering Committee for Youth (CDEJ), comprising senior civil servants from Council of Europe member states is responsible for promoting intergovernmental cooperation and serving as a framework for the examination of national youth policies and for advising the Committee of Ministers on the means of ensuring an appropriate follow-up to suggestions of common interest arising from the EYCs. Youth participation at local, regional, national and European level and the fight against the social exclusion of young people are the main aims of the CDEJ’s work. In November 1998 the Directorate General XXII of the European Commission and the Youth Directorate of the Council of Europe signed an agreement to cooperate in the field of training and youth.

93.       The Ministers responsible for Youth of the Council of Europe meet periodically (Oslo 1987, Lisbon 1990, Vienna 1993, Bucharest 1998) to exchange views and coordinate national youth policies and recommend joint action at European level.

7. Conclusions

94.       A number of serious problems confront young people in rural areas: relatively high unemployment, marginalisation, a lack of appropriate resources, a level of education below that available in towns and cities, and poor career prospects. Jobs in farming - formerly the main source of employment in the countryside - are becoming fewer and young farmers who want to take over a farm face many hurdles (financial, legal and administrative, among others). Given these difficulties, the question young people face is whether to stay in the countryside or to go in search of opportunities elsewhere.

95.       Rural areas nevertheless have a number of important functions in society. If society wants to see young people opting to settle in the countryside, then emphasis must be placed on its positive aspects - a healthy environment, wide open spaces, clear social structures and room for recreation, for example. Particular attention must also be paid to the improvement of rural infrastructure, and both small and large companies must be encouraged to transfer office or manufacturing operations to rural areas in order to generate new employment prospects and encourage rural young people not to move away.

96.       In order to respond successfully to the challenges of the future, young people in the rural areas of Europe will require self-assurance, knowledge, skills, creativity, flexibility, openness, ethical principles, co-operative skills, perseverance, determination, independent initiative and a spirit of endeavour. Society must provide the resources necessary to enable young people in rural areas to develop these qualities and thus take responsibility for their own future and that of their society.


The table is based on national statistics.

Figure 2a: Contribution of agriculture in the EU (% of total GDP)

Figure 5: Changes in the number of farms in EU-12 between 1987 and 1997

Figure 6: Utilised agricultural area per holding in 1975, 1987 and 1997

Figure7: Total value of EU agricultural production (million Euro)

Figure 8: Number of EU farmers split by age group

Figure 9: Young farmers as a percentage of total farmers in the EU

Figure 10: Proportion of full-time EU farmers (% of total number of farmers)

Reporting committee: Committee on the Environment and Agriculture

Committee for opinion: Committee on Culture, Science and Education

Reference to committee: Doc. 8011 and Reference No. 2256 of 18 March 1998

Draft recommendation unanimously adopted by the committee on 26 April 2001

Members of the committee: Mr Behrendt (Chairman), MM. Besostri (Alternate: Pingerra), Hoeffel, Hornung (Vice-Chairmen), MM. Adamczyk, Agius (Alternate: Debono Grech), Mrs Agudo, MM. Akçali, Aliko, Andreoli, Mrs Angelovicova, MM. Annemans, Bartos, Bockel, Briane, Browne, Mrs Burataeva, MM. de Carolis (Alternate: Robol), Carvalho, Sir Sydney Chapman, MM. Colla, Cosarciuc, Cox, Diana, Duivesteijn, von der Esch, Etherington, Frunda, Gonzalez de Txabarri, Graas, Grachev, Hadjidemetriou, Hajiyeva, Haraldsson, Ilascu, Kalkan, Mrs Kanelli, MM. Keuschnigg, Kharitonov, Kjaer, Kolesnikov, Kostenko, Kostytsky, Kurucsai, Kurykin (Alternate: Gaber), Lachat, Libicki, van der Linden, Lotz, Luczak, Manukyan, Mariot, Martinez Casan, Mrs Mikaelsson, MM. Minkov, Monteiro, Müller, Pisanu, Podobnik, Polozhani, Prosser, Radic, Rise, Salaridze, Mrs Schicker, MM. Schmied (Alternate: Ms Fehr), Skopal, Stankevic, Stoica, Tanik, Tiuri, Toshev, Truu, Vakilov, Zierer, Mrs Zissi.

N.B. The names of those members present at the meeting are printed in italics.

Secretariat to the committee: Mrs Cagnolati, MM. Sixto and Chevtchenko.

1 Statistics Finland (

2 Eurostat

3 Polska Statystyka Publiczna (

4 Bas-Rhin (France) Chamber of Agriculture, CDJA (Young Farmers’ Centre)

5 Eurostat

6 Eurostat

7 Jeunes Agriculteurs, No. 547, February 2000

8 Eurostat

9 Bas-Rhin Chamber of Agriculture, CDJA (Young Farmers’ Centre)

10 “Multiple farming activities as a formative factor in the local social setting. Analysis of a paradigm”. Ersi Zacopoulu (speaking at the International Colloquy on "New patterns of urban and rural development in Europe", 10-12 May 2000).

11 LEADER Magazine, No. 22, spring 2000


Website of the LEADER II initiative for rural development, (, "The repopulation of rural areas" (

13 Youth and rural development in Europe - Policy issues and responses in the European Community, Maria de Nazaré Oliveira Roca.

14 Youth and rural development in Europe - Policy issues and responses in the European Community, Maria de Nazaré Oliveira Roca.



17 The reports of most of these activities are available from the EYC