Reaping new opportunities from the digital transition: Speech delivered at launch event of the Startup Village Forum

(Source: European Commission)

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is my great pleasure to address you today at the launch of this important forum.

I believe that this initiative can contribute to the important work already being done to develop strong, prosperous, and resilient rural areas in the European Union.

It is clear that rural areas play a significant role in our economy and society, from accommodating our ecosystems to supplying our food systems.

However, it is also clear that rural areas in European Union face major challenges.

In our work on the Long-term vision for rural areas, the European Commission has identified – apart from the contuinuing transport exclusion –  also  the digital gap and the rural skills gap as two of the biggest challenges. :

These gaps remain significant, with lower  levels of connectivity, basic training, and education in rural areas.

By closing these gaps, we will  open opportunities for rural areas.

One of the first steps in closing these gaps will be to ensure widespread internet access, even in the most remote rural areas.

The European Commission therefore aims to ensure that all European households have access to high-speed internet by 2025.

Such access is essential for rural communities and businesses, and is a precondition for making critical services, such as e-health,  available for our rural citizens. 

Naturally, the expansion of internet access must be accompanied by investments in digital skills and entrepreneurship, to make sure that rural residents can capitalise on these new opportunities.

And we must make sure that innovation reaches all rural areas, even the most remote ones, so that they can play a full part in the green and digital transitions.

In this regard, the Startup village initiative can complement the important work already being done in the Smart Villages initiative.

“Smart Villages,” put rural citizens at the centre of constructing their own solutions, making the most of existing skills and helping to develop new ones.

Communities set out to improve their economic, social, and environmental conditions. Using a strategic and participatory approach, mobilising solutions offered by innovation and digital technologies. 

These technologies are also crucial in developing effective ways to connect local producers with the consumers thus shortening the supply chains and moving closer to the realisation of the Farm to Fork Strategy. The pandemic has shown how important the internet is to maintain our food security.

Smart Villages are now being realised. Supported by an allocation of over €7 million, two Preparatory Actions on Smart Rural Areas in the 21st Century are currently underway.

We plan to take these preparatory actions to the field through the national CAP strategic plans of Member States.

Member States can further support the achievements of Smart Villages by investing in rural areas, through the EU Recovery and Resilience Facility and other EU funds, notably the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development.

The Action Plan of the Long-term Vision for rural areas also includes two flagship actions, designed to address connectivity and employment:

Firstly, a flagship on Rural Digital Futures will help to improve the monitoring of broadband roll-out in rural areas, and help rural people to update their digital skills.

Secondly, the flagship action on Entrepreneurship and the social economy in rural areas will put together actions to enable industry entrepreneurs, SMEs, and social economy organisations to thrive in rural areas.

These flagship actions will be further developed and linked with other support to rural areas and initiatives.

For example, a rural revitalisation platform, planned to go live at the beginning of 2023, will provide a one-stop shop for rural communities, rural project holders, and local authorities to collaborate.

This platform promotes the Smart Villages initiative and links it with other important initiatives, such as the ‘Smart Rural 21′ project.

Implementing these flagship actions and reaching the goals of the Vision can only be achieved through collaboration: between authorities and actors at national, regional, and local levels.

The framework for this collaboration will be the Rural Pact, under which authorities and stakeholders of all governance levels can exchange ideas, experiences, and best practises to help achieve the goals of the Vision.

I look forward to the launch event for the Pact in 2022, and working together to implement and develop the Vision approach.

Our approach brings together a wide variety of actors and actions to meet the wide complexity of challenges and opportunities facing rural areas, and frames everything into one Vision.

The Startup village initiative can be one important piece of this jigsaw.

So I look forward to hearing the results of this forum, and what you can add to the work that is already being done.

I hope that this forum will inspire ideas and drive forward discussions, as we set out to on our journey to put smart and vibrant villages on the map, all across the European Union.

I wish you a creative and productive forum.

Thank you.

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