Supporting rural communities

EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development Phil Hogan believes rural areas hold many of the solutions for 21st Century challenges, and EU programmes are making this a reality

Rural areas cover some 80% of the EU’s territory and are home to about half of our 500 million citizens. The lives of people living in rural areas can vary greatly from village to village, region to region, country to country – but many of the challenges and opportunities facing those communities are the same. We cherish our rural areas in the EU, and we have been refining strategies for their development over many decades, evolving a vision where rural communities are key drivers of shared prosperity and sustainable growth.

Rural Development Programmes (RDPs) aim to support Europe’s vital agri-food sector, but they also seek to widen the type of quality jobs available in rural areas. They also seek to support and reward rural entrepreneurship. This is crucial if we are to incentivise young people to stay or move to rural communities. Total public spending on Rural Development Policy in the 2014-2020 period is €161bn, of which €100 bn comes from the EU budget.

Most of the support is grant-based, which means that certain projects will be prioritised and rewarded, in particular, those linked to actions on competitiveness, environment, climate, and the widening of the rural economy – to name but a few.

Every single programme is built on strategic priorities broken down into clear targets.

To give just a few examples of how this money will be invested, Rural Development Policy for the 2014-2020 period expects to achieve the following targets:

– Investment aid expected to be paid to 350 000 farmers;

– Start-up aid expected for 155 000 young farmers;

– Start-up and development aid expected for 58 000 rural SMEs;

– 3.6 million expected places on training courses;

– 18% of rural citizens expected to have improved access to broadband.

These may seem like impressive targets, but the mechanisms for achieving them are detailed, targeted and precise.

Take the start-up aid for young farmers. The overall goal is to support those willing to fully take the risk of running the business as ahead of the holding either solely or jointly with other farmers.

Payment is granted to a farmer in at least 2 instalments over a maximum of 5 years, with a maximum total aid of €70 000 available per young farmer.

This is a serious investment, but the conditions are serious too. Support is conditional on the submission of a business plan, which has to start being implemented within 9 months of the date of the decision approving the grant.

The business plan must ensure that, within 18 months of the date of setting up, the young farmer meets the definition of “active farmer” set out in EU regulations.

Finally, aid will be paid out only in the case of farms whose standard output falls between predetermined thresholds. In other words, the young farmer is incentivised to be productive, thereby boosting the conditions for growth and further job creation.

To further drive these changes, we will be prioritising the roll-out of high-speed broadband to rural areas. Providing genuine connectivity will be essential if we are serious about enabling rural areas to be full partners in achieving these goals.

It is also important to remember that Rural Development policies are not only for the benefit of those who live in the countryside: Rural areas provide much that is needed by our urban neighbours: food security above all, but also renewable energy, clean air and fresh water, and open spaces for renewal and refreshment.

Europe is fortunate to have some of the most beautiful rural areas on the planet, where human populations have sustained themselves for thousands of years. Our challenge as policymakers of the new century is to design blueprints for sustaining them in the years to come.

Broadly speaking, our goal has been to empower rural areas to meet the wide range of challenges and opportunities that face them in the 21st century: economic, social and environmental. With a continued commitment to enlightened and targeted policies, we believe EU funding can ensure that rural communities survive and indeed thrive in the coming years.


Phil Hogan

Commission for Agriculture and Rural Development

European Commission



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here