Belgium, (Brussels Morning Newspaper) On 15-16 June, over 450 participants representing EU, national, and regional policy makers along with local authorities, and social and economic stakeholders gathered for the first Rural Pact conference. They agreed on the governance of the Rural Pact and committed to achieving the long-term vision for the EU’s rural areas. Over these two days, the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) together with other participants and members of the Rural Pact community started making commitments to make the EU’s rural areas stronger, more connected, resilient, and prosperous by 2040. As the institution that represents the million or more local and regional politicians across the EU, the CoR is a key player in ensuring that the long-term vision becomes a reality, demonstrating that cohesion is a fundamental value of the European Union.
The Rural Pact is one of the main initiatives to achieve the goals of the long-term vision for the EU’s rural areas, adopted by the European Commission in June 2021. The Rural Pact is a framework for cooperation among authorities and stakeholders dealing with rural territorial development at the European, national, regional and local level. Its objectives are to amplify rural voices and bring them higher up the political agenda, to structure and enable collaboration and mutual learning, and to encourage and monitor voluntary commitments for action.
The CoR has been among the first institutions to call for a Rural Pact bringing together all rural stakeholders to boost the recovery and the twin transitions in Europe’s countryside. The Committee will contribute to the Rural Pact works by monitoring the impact of new legislative proposals on rural communities (rural proofing), by promoting the coordination on the ground of Common Agricultural Policy, cohesion policy, Recovery and Resilience Facility and other EU policies investments addressing rural challenges, as well as by supporting the participation of its Members and all relevant local and regional authorities to the Rural Pact platform and initiatives.
“In these difficult times, it is more important than ever that we all work together to make sure that no region is left behind. The rural world is looking at us and we cannot miss this chance. We need a European rural agenda to improve urban-rural integration and revitalize rural communities,” underlined Ulrika Landergren (SV/RE), Chair of the CoR’s Commission for Natural Resources (NAT) and Member of Kungsbacka Municipal Council, who took the floor during the high-level opening of the conference, along with the European Commission’s Vice-President Dubravka Šuica.
Following the call made by Vice-President Šuica, Commissioner Wojciechowski, and Commissioner Ferreira in December 2021 to express support for the Pact, over 1,000 representatives of public authorities, civil society organizations, businesses and research, innovation, and academic organisations joined the Rural Pact community.
“We need to bring Long Term Vision on Rural Areas and Rural Pact from the sky to the earth, we need to change talking into action. Therefore, it is crucial that we use a holistic horizontal policy approach, all the resources, i.e. all EU funds, and strong cooperation at all levels to fulfill this vision,” stated Radim Sršeň (CZ/EPP), second vice-chair of the NAT Commission and Mayor of the Municipality of Dolní Studénky.
“We need flexible solutions that ensure sustainable connectivity for every city and village, including small towns in rural areas. Transition from classic infrastructure and solutions to fully green and zero carbon emissions must be made on a step-by-step basis most especially in rural and remote areas with incumbent mobility poverty,” declared Adrian Teban (RO/EPP), Mayor of Cugir City.
The Rural Pact conference participants who took part in the participatory workshops, one of which managed by the CoR, submitted over 40 commitments building on those presented before the conference. These commitments address specific issues arising in rural communities and areas.
The European Commission will facilitate the setup and work of the Rural Pact and will help to monitor progress on the implementation of the commitments made under its auspices. In addition, the Commission will take further actions such as the launch a website by the end of this year to have a single entry point to all rural vision activities, including the rural revitalization platform, and the launch of the EU rural observatory to provide more detailed data on economic and demographic trends in the EU’s rural areas to inform policy making for rural development.
Last January the CoR adopted its opinion on the Long-term vision for rural areas, which underlines that the objectives of the strategy could only be achieved by everyone working together – EU, national, regional, and local authorities, stakeholders, and citizens alike. The opinion was drafted by the President of the Region of Andalusia Juan Manuel Moreno Bonilla (ES/EPP). Press release.
Over €60 billion is available for rural development under the Common Agricultural Policy for the period 2023-2027. Under the new CAP, at least 35% of these funds will be allocated to measures to support local development, climate, biodiversity, environment and animal welfare.
Over 25% of EU cohesion policy investments for the 2014-2020 period also helped keep rural areas strong. Cohesion policy will continue to invest in rural areas through the partnership agreements and operational programs of the new programming period. This will notably take place through the new cross-cutting policy objective dedicated to sustainable, place-based territorial and local development: “Policy Objective 5 – Europe closer to citizens”.
Rural Pact conference webpage – presentations available next week