The European Commission’s long-term vision for the EU’s rural areas is explored here, with a focus on identifying the challenges and concerns, as well as highlighting the most promising opportunities
In his role as European Commissioner for Agriculture, Janusz Wojciechowski’s has set out to ensure a modern and sustainable EU agriculture sector that adapts to changes in climate, demographics and technologies.
As part of the strategy to achieve this, the European Commission has now put forward a long-term vision for the EU’s rural areas which proposes a new Rural Pact and Rural Action plan.
Rural Pact and Rural Action plan
The Rural Pact will engage actors at EU, national, regional and local levels, to support the shared goals, foster economic, social and territorial cohesion and respond to the aspirations of rural communities.
The Rural Action Plan will prompt sustainable, cohesive and integrated rural development. The existing Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the Cohesion Policy will be fundamental in support this Action Plan.
Stronger, better connected, resilient and prosperous by 2040
Together they aim to make rural areas Stronger by focusing on empowering rural communities, improving access to services and facilitating social innovation;
Connected by improving connectivity both in terms of transport and digital access;
Resilient by preserving natural resources and greening farming activities to counter climate change while also ensuring social resilience through offering access to training courses and diverse quality job opportunities;
Prosperous by diversifying economic activities and improve the value-added of farming and agri-food activities and agri-tourism.
Challenges and opportunities
Rural areas are home to 137 million people, which accounts for almost 30% of the EU’s population, however, a public consultation revealed that almost 40% of respondents said that they felt left behind by society and policy-makers, despite the economic advantages that arise from farming and agri-tourism.
Furthermore, 50% of respondents stated that infrastructure is the most pressing issue for rural areas and 43 % said access to basic services and amenities, such as water and electricity as well as banks and post offices, is an urgent requirement. 93% believe the attractiveness of rural areas will depend on the availability of digital connectivity, 94% said it will depend on basic services and e-services and 92% stated it will rest on improving the climate and environmental performance of farming.
Due to limited connectivity, underdeveloped infrastructure and a lack of diverse employment, rural areas are less desirable for younger people to live in. The long-term vision seeks to address these challenges
by building on the emerging opportunities of digital services and the lessons learnt from the COVID-19 pandemic to boost the potential for them to become attractive places to reside, work and launch innovative businesses.
“While rural areas are at the heart of Europe, they have often been out of sight of policy-makers.”(2) Janusz Wojciechowski, Commissioner for Agriculture.
Sustainable food systems are also full of potential to meet consumer demand for safe, organic farming and local food systems, which will, in turn, create more jobs.
Commissioner for Agriculture, Janusz Wojciechowski said: “Rural areas are crucial to the EU today, producing our food, safeguarding our heritage and protecting our landscapes. They have a key role to play in the green and digital transition. However, we have to provide the right tools for these rural communities to take full advantage of the opportunities ahead and tackle the challenges they are currently facing. 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 diversified agricultural sector, bolstering environmental care and climate action and strengthening the socio-economic fabric of rural areas. We will make sure that the EU Rural Action Plan allows for a sustainable development of our rural areas.”