Monday

27th Feb 2017

Europe's rare youthful villages

  • In Germany, many move from villages to big towns like Cologne and Frankfurt in the west or Leipzig and Dresden in the east. Few return. (Photo: Valentina Pop)

Dorpen, Heede, Neulehe, and Wippingen. Few people have ever heard of them.

But the small German villages near the Dutch border in the Emsland district have policy experts scratching their heads.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • Reports of so-called ghosts towns are becoming increasingly common in Europe. (Photo: Balog János)

Unlike almost every other village in the EU, young people actually want to live there.

The average age in these villages hovers around 40, another anomaly when compared to other places where old people far outnumber the young.

Werlte, a larger town nearby of some 9,900, has an average age of 38.5, according to figures from 2014.

Theresa Damm from the Berlin Institute for Population and Development think tank, says good local infrastructure and an engaged community are among the factors for their apparent success.

"We often find that it is the people who are living there and how engaged they are in the matters of the town," she said.

A handful of other similar success stories are found in eastern Germany.

But overall, the German trend appears to follow the same pattern as everywhere else in the EU.

Ghost towns

Earlier this year, Italy's environmental agency, Legambiente, warned that some 2,500 Italian towns are at risk of emptying out entirely. Reports of so-called ghost towns are becoming increasingly common.

Last year, the mayor of Sellia, an Italian village in Catanzaro, even signed a tongue-in-cheek decree that banned people from dying.

Young people are moving away or have already quit villages, leaving behind elderly people, who die with no one to replace them.

In Germany, many move to big towns like Cologne and Frankfurt in the west or Leipzig and Dresden in the east. Few return.

As the population drops, investment in infrastructure gets cut and jobs disappear.

The east of Germany was hit hard following the fall of the Berlin wall. The youth went west, settled and had families, leaving behind a so-called diminished generation in the east.

The negative imbalance between the two halves has since more or less recovered. Cities in the east were well financed after reunification. Universities developed and living conditions improved.

But the future of villages in all of Germany remains precarious. Companies won't locate or set up shop in places where there is no skilled workforce.

And Germany's large migrant inflow last year is no replacement.

People seeking international protection gravitate towards large cities, attracted by jobs, and proximity to friends or fellow communities.

"The areas that are struggling now will continue to struggle with population decline and the migration flows won't change that," said Damm.

Wales, a farmer, and a pub

On his farm in central Wales, 66-year old Tom Jones tends to cattle and sheep.

His story and the story of a village pub show how EU funding can help combat the slow death of Europe’s countryside.

Jones employs two people full-time and another person part-time to help tend to the some 360 hectares he shares with his wife.

"I've been farming for 45 years," he says over the phone.

Like many of his peers, he receives payments from the EU's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

"Welsh farmers depend very heavily on the … payments," he said.

Farmers in Wales pocket around €240 million a year in EU money for their own businesses.

But another part of the CAP money goes to help rural development, with nearly €1 billion set aside for new projects between 2014-2020.

Jones is also the vice-president of the Wales Council for Voluntary Action (WCVA), a partly EU-funded group.

He said the EU money is a lifeline, and helps to “provide employment to advisers, support people, trainers, people who are sons and daughters of farmers who live in the countryside”.

Last year, locals saved a pub in the village of Bryngwran on Anglesey by securing a WCVA loan.

The pub is now being run as a non-profit enterprise.

Jones says it would have folded without outside expert help. He noted that similar investments, coupled with community action, are needed to protect Welsh villages.

"Empowerment is what the rural development scheme brings. That’s why it’s so valuable but it’s not always appreciated by politicians," he said.

EU funding gap

Jones, unlike many of his peers in Wales, did not vote for Brexit.

When Britain leaves the EU, probably at some point after 2019, the British government will have to find a replacement for CAP to keep other farms and pubs from dying.

But those who stay behind in the EU are also likely to face funding gaps.

Sixteen years ago, the EU divided the CAP into two pillars. One for farmers and another for rural development.

But Helene Moraut, a policy expert at the EU's body for sub-national authorities, the Committee of the Regions, says the move has had an adverse affect on villages.

Dwindling investment is a drain, she said, noting that some rural regions in Europe still lack internet access.

"As we have fewer and fewer farmers it is necessary to create other sorts of jobs, but there is no investment in this area," she said.

She says only 10 percent of the regional development fund is actually being used in rural areas.

"It is completely unfair for 90 percent of the territory, you have 10 percent of the budget," she said.

This story was originally published in EUobserver's 2016 Regions and Cities Magazine. You can download a free PDF version of the magazine here.

The stress hormone and EU garden cities

European town planners still borrow from the “garden city” ideals of the 19th century, but they might be doing more harm than good.

Student villages on the water

Students will soon be able to move into converted shipping containers in Gothenburg. Architects hope to spread their idea of cheap, waterside living across Europe.

Opinion

The young didn’t choose Trump or Brexit

Young people have been sold down the river by this year's political events, but it's not too late for Europe to safeguard the future for the world's youth.

Brussels 2030

The EU capital has had an awful year. Looking forward, the city needs to urgently make itself a better place for people to live in and visit, starting with its notorious problems with congestion, pollution and bureaucracy.

Dieselgate casts doubt over low emission zones

Many European cities use low emission zones, and some are considering to ban dirty cars. But there are limits to how well the EU standards can be used to determine which cars are clean.

News in Brief

  1. Trump and Brexit drew on same resources
  2. Romanian protestors form EU flag at anti-government rally
  3. Over 3,500 attacks on refugees in Germany: report
  4. Merger of London Stock Exchange and Deutsche Boerse in doubt
  5. Spanish court jails former IMF chief Rato
  6. Macron proposes Nordic-style economic model for France
  7. Germany posts record high budget surplus
  8. Labour ousts Ukip in Brexit homeland

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EURORDISJoin Rare Disease Day and Help Advocate for More Research on Rare Diseases
  2. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceStudents Who Are Considered Fit Get Better Grades in School
  3. QS World MBA TourMeet with Leading International Business Schools in Paris on March 4th
  4. Malta EU 2017Economic Governance: Agreement Reached on Structural Reform Support Programme for Member States
  5. Socialists & DemocratsWomen Have to Work Ten Years Longer to Match Lifetime Earnings of Men
  6. Counter BalanceTrans-Adriatic Pipeline Is a Major Risk for Banks, Warns New Analysis
  7. Martens CentreEU and US Migration Policies Compared: Join the Debate on February 28th
  8. Swedish EnterprisesTechnology and Data Flows - Shaping the Society of Tomorrow
  9. UNICEFNearly 1.4 Million Children at Risk of Death as Famine Looms Across Africa and Yemen
  10. Malta EU 2017End of Roaming Fees: Council Reaches Agreement on Wholesale Caps
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Innovation House Opens in New York to Help Startups Access US Market
  12. Centre Maurits CoppietersMinorities and Migrations

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Salzburg Global SeminarThe Child in the City: Health, Parks and Play
  2. UNICEFNumber of Ukrainian Children Needing Aid Nearly Doubles to 1 Million Over the Past Year
  3. Centre Maurits CoppietersThe Situation of Refugee Women in Europe
  4. Salzburg Global SeminarToward a Shared Culture of Health: Charting the Patient-Clinician Relationship
  5. European Free AllianceAustria Should Preserve & Promote Bilingual and Multinational Carinthia
  6. Martens CentreShow Your Love for Democracy! Take Part in Our Contest: "If It's Broken, Let's Fix It"
  7. CISPECloud Computing Leaders Establish Data Protection Standards to Protect Customer Data
  8. Malta EU 2017Landmark Deal Reached With European Parliament on Portability of Online Content
  9. Belgrade Security ForumBSF 2017: Building a Common Future in the Age of Uncertainty
  10. CESIEU Not to Revise the Working Time Directive
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsAzerbaijan: 76 NGOs Urge the EU to Use President's Visit to Insist on Human Rights Reforms
  12. UNICEFDeadliest Winter for Migrant Children Crossing the Central Mediterranean