The European Commission has proposed a long-term vision for rural areas in the EU, identifying the challenges and concerns they face, as well as highlighting some of the most promising opportunities for these regions. Based on foresight and broad consultations with citizens and other stakeholders in rural areas, today’s vision proposes a rural pact and a rural action plan, which aim to make our rural areas stronger, connected , resilient and prosperous.
To successfully respond to the megatrends and challenges posed by globalization, urbanization, aging and to reap the benefits of green and digital transitions, place-sensitive policies and measures are needed that take into account the diversity of the territories of EU, their specific needs and relative strengths.
In rural areas of the EU, the population is on average older than in urban areas and will slowly start to decline over the next decade. Coupled with a lack of connectivity, underdeveloped infrastructure, a lack of diverse employment opportunities and limited access to services, this makes rural areas less attractive to live and work. At the same time, rural areas are also active players in the EU’s green economy. and digital transitions. Achieving the goals of the EU’s digital ambitions for 2030 may offer more opportunities for the sustainable development of rural areas beyond agriculture, agriculture and forestry, by developing new perspectives for growth manufacturing industry and in particular services and by contributing to a better geographical distribution of services and industries.
This long-term vision for EU rural areas aims to address these challenges and concerns, building on the emerging opportunities of the EU’s green and digital transitions and lessons learned from the COVID 19 pandemic, and by identifying ways to improve the quality of life in rural areas, to achieve balanced territorial development and to stimulate economic growth.
A new Rural Pact will engage actors at European, national, regional and local levels, to support the common objectives of the Vision, promote economic, social and territorial cohesion and respond to the common aspirations of rural communities. The Commission will facilitate this framework through existing networks and encourage the exchange of ideas and good practices at all levels.
EU rural action plan
Today the Commission also presented an action plan to promote sustainable, coherent and integrated rural development. Several EU policies already support rural areas, contributing to their balanced, equitable, green and innovative development. Among these, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and Cohesion Policy will be fundamental in supporting and implementing this Action Plan, while being accompanied by a number of other EU policy areas which , together, will transform this vision into reality.
The Vision and the Action Plan identify four areas of action, supported by flagship initiatives, to enable:
- Stronger: focus on empowering rural communities, improving access to services and facilitating social innovation;
- Bound: improve connectivity both in terms of transport and digital access;
- Resilient: preserving natural resources and greening agricultural activities to combat climate change while ensuring social resilience by providing access to training courses and various quality employment opportunities;
- Prosperous: diversify economic activities and improve the added value of agricultural and agrifood activities and agrotourism.
The Commission will support and monitor the implementation of the EU Rural Action Plan and update it regularly to ensure that it remains relevant. It will also continue to liaise with Member States and rural stakeholders to maintain a dialogue on rural issues. In addition, “rural proofing ‘ will be set up to examine EU policies through a rural lens. The aim is to better identify and take into account the potential impact and implication of a Commission policy initiative on rural jobs, growth and sustainable development.
Finally, a rural observatory will be set up within the Commission to further improve the collection and analysis of data on rural areas. This will provide evidence to inform rural development policy making and support the implementation of the rural action plan.
Today’s announcement of the long-term vision for rural areas marks the first step towards stronger, better connected, resilient and prosperous rural areas by 2040. The Rural Pact and the Rural Action Plan of the EU will be the key elements to achieve these objectives.
By the end of 2021, the Commission will join forces with the Committee of the Regions to examine the way towards the objectives of the Vision. By mid-2023, the Commission will take stock of actions funded by the EU and Member States that have been carried out and programmed for rural areas. A public report, to be released in early 2024, will identify areas where increased support and funding is needed, and the way forward, based on the EU’s rural action plan. The discussions around the report will feed into the reflection on the preparation of proposals for the 2028-2034 programming period.
The need to design a long-term vision for rural areas was highlighted in President von der Leyen’s speech political orientations and in the engagement letters to Vice-president Šuica, Commissioner Wojciechowski and Commissioner Ferreira.
Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski said: “Rural areas are crucial for the EU today, as they produce our food, preserve our heritage and protect our landscapes. They have a key role to play in the green and digital transition. However, we need to provide the right tools to these rural communities to take full advantage of the opportunities ahead and address the challenges they currently face. The Long Term Vision for Rural Areas is a first step towards transforming our rural areas. The new CAP will contribute to the Vision by fostering a smart, resilient and diverse agricultural sector, strengthening environmental protection and climate action and strengthening the socio-economic fabric of rural areas. We will ensure that the EU’s rural action plan enables the sustainable development of our rural areas.
Article 174 of the TFEU calls on the EU to pay particular attention to rural areas, among others, when it promotes its harmonious overall development, strengthens its economic, social and territorial cohesion and reduces disparities between different regions.
A Eurobarometer survey was carried out in April 2021 to assess the priorities of the Long Term Vision for rural areas. The survey found that 79% of EU citizens supported that the EU should take rural areas into account in public spending decisions; 65% of all EU citizens believe that the local area or province should be able to decide how EU rural investments are spent; and 44% mentioned transport infrastructure and connections as a key need in rural areas.
The Commission organized a public consultation on the long-term vision for rural areas from September 7 to November 30, 2020. More than 50% of respondents said infrastructure is the most urgent need for rural areas. 43% of respondents also cited access to basic services and amenities, such as water and electricity as well as banks and post offices, as an urgent need Over the next 20 years, people respondents believe that the attractiveness of rural areas will largely depend on the availability of digital connectivity (93%), basic services and e-services (94%) and on improving the climate and environmental performance of agriculture (92%).
Vice-President for Democracy and Demography Dubravka Šuica said: “Rural areas are home to almost 30% of the EU’s population and our ambition is to dramatically improve their quality of life. We have listened to their concerns and, together with them, built this vision on the basis of the new opportunities created by the EU’s green and digital transitions and on the lessons learned from the COVID 19 pandemic. With this Communication, we want to create a new dynamic for rural territories, as attractive, lively and dynamic places, while of course protecting their essential character. We want to give rural areas and communities a stronger voice in building the future of Europe.
Elisa Ferreira, Commissioner for Cohesion and Reforms (on the picture) declared: “Although we all face the same challenges, our territories have different means, strengths and capacities to face them. Our policies must be sensitive to the various characteristics of our regions. The democratic and cohesive Union that we want must be built as close as possible to our citizens and territories, involving different levels of governance. The long-term vision of rural areas calls for solutions tailored to their specific needs and assets, with the involvement of regional and local authorities and local communities. Rural areas need to be able to provide basic services to their people and use their strengths to become anchor points for economic development. All these objectives are at the heart of the new cohesion policy for 2021-2027. ”
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