The European Commission’s long-term vision for the future of rural areas is a promising start but making it a reality will require political will from every level of government, stakeholders and citizens alike, the European Committee of the Regions warned on Wednesday
Europe’s rural areas account for 80% of the territory and 30% of Europe’s population. They face a wide variety of challenges, from an ageing population and low income levels to an increasing digital divide and the impact of climate change, all of them further exacerbated by the pandemic and its broader impact on society and the economy. The European Commission’s strategy for supporting the development and recovery of these key regions is the Long-term vision for rural areas up to 2040 and the Rural Pact, an initiative that aims to engage citizens and political actors at EU, national, regional and local level to make rural areas and communities stronger, connected, resilient and prosperous.
As the institution that represents the million or more local and regional politicians across the EU, the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) is a key player in ensuring that the long-term vision becomes a reality, making rural territories stronger, better connected and more resilient for the benefit of the entire EU. But this will only be achieved by everyone working together – EU, national, regional and local authorities, stakeholders and citizens alike. This is the key message from the CoR’s contribution to the Commission’s proposals, set out in an opinion adopted by the plenary, drafted by the President of the Region of Andalusia Juan Manuel Moreno Bonilla (ES/EPP).
“Local and regional actors are essential to implement the Rural Pact. Agriculture, mobility, digital connectivity and renewable energy are the strategic areas that must support rural development, given their potential to provide practical solutions and means of support to curb depopulation, facilitate generational renewal, and generate social and economic opportunities linked to the Green Deal. Women and young people must be at the centre of this process. We also believe that there is a need for a simplification of European funds, improvements in the way they are combined and a change towards a multiple-funds model that integrates rural areas in all policies,” stated the rapporteur Moreno Bonilla.
The opinion adopted by the plenary highlighted the urgency of putting in place concrete proposals for immediate action – accompanied by resources and quantitative targets – to support the long-term vision and ensure its effective implementation. Moreover, CoR members called on all levels of government to align all future policy and legislative initiatives with rural needs and realities – a process called “rural proofing”.
Dubravka Šuica, the European Commission’s Vice-President for Democracy and Demography, joined the plenary debate on the future of rural areas in Europe together with Commissioner for Agriculture Janusz Wojciechowski. Vice-President Šuica underlined that the CoR is the first EU institution adopting a formal opinion on the long-term vision and pointed out that “it is only by acting together that we can create a new momentum for rural areas, as attractive, vibrant and dynamic places. The Long Term Vision for Rural Areas calls for solutions designed for their specific needs and assets, with the involvement of regional and local authorities and local communities. The Rural Pact that we’re building together will create the right framework for cooperation and contribute to achieving the shared goals of the long-term vision.”