“Rural stakeholders no longer want useless declarations: they want real changes. It is time for the Commission to take responsibility: drawing up an operational action plan is essential to ensuring that the long-term vision for rural areas does not exist solely on paper,” said Leitrim County Councillor and Member of the European Committee of the Regions, Enda Stenson last week.
The comments came as members of the Council of Regions commission for natural resources and their counterparts from the Parliament’s Agriculture committee discussed ways to boost recovery in Europe's rural areas and to enable regions to continue to play their role in the preparation and management of future Common Agricultural Policy.
Cllr Stenson, who serves as rapporteur of the EU Strategy for Rural Agenda, told the meeting “This operational action plan should come with tools to evaluate its implementation. There is also an urgent need to simplify, coordinate and harmonise access to European funding for rural development.
“In the spirit of territorial cohesion and rural-urban equilibrium, it is important for all European policies and resources to ensure that the principles known as the three E's are complied with:
l Equivalent living standards for the rural and the urban areas which should be included as a basic principle in all European policies;
l Equal rights for all, whether they live in cities or in rural areas (ref. Charter of Fundamental Rights); and
l Equity in means and practices across all players and territories, in particular making use of exchanges and shared competencies to compensate for the specific needs of rural territories."
Cllr Stenson stressed the importance of adopting a real and tangible 'Rural Agenda'. He said that the empowerment of rural communities, effective market regulation tools and a fairer and more equitable trade policy will facilitate and speed up the development of rural areas without waiting for the next programming period.
The discussion pointed out problems rural areas are facing such as the inadequacy of public services, transport links, access to healthcare infrastructures, Internet and educational services. The growing gap between rural and urban areas was also highlighted along with the lack of support for young people starting farming and the lack of coherence of Cohesion Policy with the CAP rural development policy.
Agriculture MEPs and representatives of local and regional authorities stressed that the current pandemic crisis has only exposed and exacerbated the consequences of a number of long-standing threats faced by rural areas and has reemphasised the urgent need for a rural revival in regions across the European Union.
The funds available under recovery plans should be mobilised as a matter of priority for the benefit of rural areas said those present.
It was noted that recovery from the Covid-19 crisis in rural areas will only be possible if regional and local authorities are involved in the preparation of National Recovery and Resilience Plans (NRRPs) in line with the Green Deal, as it would enable them to facilitate a transition and diversification of the rural economy beyond agriculture.