(Source: European Commission)
Why did the Commission launch the Long-Term Vision for Rural Areas?
The EU has experienced a series of trends which are reshaping its socio-economic and demographic landscape. Despite overall convergence at Member State level, regional and territorial disparities persist with regions and territories more exposed to changing trade patterns and industrial production, the climate and digital transitions, as well as demographic and migration movements. And today, the EU is faced with another global challenge: the COVID-19 pandemic.
To successfully respond to these trends and challenges, and to reap the benefits of the green and digital transitions, place-sensitive policies and measures are needed, that take into the account the diversity of EU’s territories, their specific needs and relative strengths.
The EU’s rural areas are home to 137 million people and cover 80% of the EU territory. We depend on rural areas for our food, many other products and a large part of eco-system services.
There is a growing understanding that rural areas face considerable challenges. Their role is often under-appreciated or not rewarded as it should be.
Recent studies have indicated growing disaffection in the democratic process and this trend is strong in many rural areas.
Remote rural areas in particular have experienced loss of population, structural changes in agriculture and forestry, ageing and erosion of services and infrastructure, dwindling employment and incomes, and a still significant urban-rural digital gap.
This needs to change and this Vision, building on the opportunities brought by green and digital transitions and on lessons learnt from COVID19, creates a new momentum for rural areas, while seeking to maintain and protect their essential character.
How were/are citizens and rural actors involved?
In shaping this long-term Vision, the Commission gathered the views of rural communities and businesses through public consultations and stakeholder-led events.
The views of rural communities, farmers and businesses were essential in shaping a coherent and comprehensive vision for the future of rural areas. From the outset, the Commission has worked with the European Network for Rural Development (ENRD), national rural networks and stakeholder organisations from all over Europe to provide opportunities for sharing views and information. The Long Term Vision for Rural Areas – which embeds the ideas and expectations of citizens living in or interacting with rural areas – was co-created with them.
The Commission ran an open public consultation, allowing citizens, civil society and stakeholders to share their views, experience and expectations in relation to the long-term Vision for the EU’s Rural Areas. The results of the consultation were presented during the Rural Vision Week, organised and supported by the ENRD. This week-long online event provided further opportunities for rural stakeholders – and all citizens who have an interest in contributing to a vibrant and viable future of rural areas – to participate, exchange views, and had their say.
This is not the end of their involvement because citizens and rural actors will continue to be our main partners in the implementation of this Vision through the Rural Pact, which will be the framework for continuous engagement and cooperation of a wide range of actors at EU, national, regional and local level, in line with the objectives of this communication and its participative approach.
How will EU funds contribute to achieving the Vision’s goals?
The new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and in particular its European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD), is one of the key sources of EU funding for rural areas, by fostering a smart, resilient and diversified agricultural sector, bolstering environmental care and climate action and by strengthening the socio-economic fabric of rural areas. Its new way of working, including the national CAP strategic plans, will allow Member States to implement CAP instruments in a targeted and adapted way to its local conditions and needs for a sustainable rural development.
Cohesion Policy is the other major source of support for rural areas, promoting and supporting the harmonious overall development of Member States, regions and territories. To reach these objectives the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), the Cohesion Fund (CF) and the European Social Fund (ESF) mobilise significant investments in people and infrastructure in rural areas. It also allows the design of tailor-made strategies to the needs of each territory through the new Policy Objective of Cohesion Policy in 2021-2027: “Europe closer to citizens”.
In addition, the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF), InvestEU, and other EU programmes, as well as of the European Investment Bank can contribute to covering existing investment gaps in rural areas.
What are the flagship initiatives to make rural areas stronger?
The Vision aims at making rural areas stronger by focusing on empowering rural communities, improving access to services and facilitating social innovation. To do this, the Vision will implement several flagship initiatives. Some examples:
Rural revitalisation platform: a one-stop shop platform for existing projects and funding possibilities for rural actors so they can access information and best practices. It will support in particular rural areas affected by population loss, ageing and a lack of economic opportunities, which will be able to access information and best practices on available tools and strategies.
Research and innovation: under Horizon Europe, rural-focused research and innovation activities will support the development of social and digital innovation for and by rural communities. The creation of an ‘expertise and training centre on rural innovation’ is an important part of this, together with actions targeting smart solutions for smart rural communities, women-led innovations in farming and rural areas, and innovations in the field of corporate social responsibility to improve health and safety at work in farming. The development of rural innovation ecosystems will be supported by the set-up of a yearly forum of start-up villages for rural innovation, connecting rural innovation actors across the EU.
“Rural proofing” will allow rural issues to be taken into account in the early stage of the conception of new policy initiatives/programmes while triggering a better monitoring of the situation of rural areas. Rural proofing will be applied to EU initiatives to make sure that rural areas and communities are not left behind.
The EU Rural observatory will further improve data collection and analysis on the situation of rural areas, providing evidence to inform policy making in relation to rural development and increasing our capacity to analyse the trends and dynamics in the development of rural areas.
What are the initiatives set out in the Vision to make rural areas connected?
A high number of rural areas in the EU lack proper accessibility in terms of transport while also lacking digital connectivity or at an adequate speed. Improving these two aspects will be crucial to achieving the Long-Term Vision for Rural Areas. This will be supported by the following initiatives:
Improving sustainability of mobility and accessibility of rural areas: the Commission will support rural municipalities in discussing and identifying mobility solutions for their territory, such as digital platforms to create multimodal real-time information, or ticketing or booking services, allowing people to easily reach their final destination through the most sustainable mode of transport.
The new EU Urban Mobility Framework will include specific actions to better integrate the urban, peri-urban and rural linkages. This will be done through further development of the Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans (SUMPs), where dedicated attention will go to better support connectivity via safe and sustainable mobility options between rural, peri-urban areas and metropolitan/urban areas.
Rural digital futures: this is an integrated set of actions to boost sustainable digital transformation of rural areas, including access to Gigabit connectivity, 5G and digital technology, as well as boosting digital competencies. Rural areas will be supported to uptake new technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics, IoT solutions. Digital Innovation Hubs established across the EU to contribute to the digital development of rural areas.
A strengthened support facility will help to improve rural broadband roll-out and facilitate investments in digitalisation.
What initiatives are put forward to make rural areas resilient?
The Long-Term Vision for Rural Areas aims at making rural areas resilient, both socially and in terms of climate change. It aims to do so by:
Supporting rural municipalities in the energy transition and fighting climate change by creating a rural work stream of the Covenant of Mayors for Energy and Climate Change.
Climate action in peatland through carbon farming:The CAP, Cohesion Policy and the LIFE programme can provide support to develop carbon-farming initiatives, as set out in the Farm to Fork strategy.
Benefit from the proposed EU Mission on soil health and food: This proposed Horizon Europe funded mission will contribute to tackling soil challenges in rural areas by implementing an ambitious research and innovation programme.
Social resilience and women in rural areas: the Commission will continue supporting Member States to provide quality education, early childhood education and care services, services for other dependant people and increasing women’s integration in the labour market.
How will the Vision make rural areas more prosperous?
The Vision aims at making rural areas more prosperous by diversifying economic activities beyond farming and forestry while improving the value added of farming and agri-food activities. This includes the following initiatives:
Entrepreneurship and social economy in rural areas: research and innovation funding activities with a focus on small and medium sized enterprises created by young people, women and SMEs already in or planning to move to rural areas. This will be complemented by actions to promote tourism, culture, circular economy and other activities where rural areas have a competitive advantage.
Capitalise on the Community-Led Local Development (CLLD) LEADER: Over the past 30 years, communities have been empowered to develop local strategies with CAP funding under the LEADER approach, which has been extended to other funds through the CLLD. Enhanced networking will promote these approaches, along with others such as Smart Villages, Energy Communities etc., and provide more advice to local communities, notably on access to funding and the conception of such strategies.
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