Vision for Stronger, Connected, Resilient, and Prosperous EU Rural Areas by 2040 (2024)

In response to the challenges posed by globalisation, urbanisation, ageing, and the imperative need to embrace green and digital transitions, the European Union (EU) has unveiled a groundbreaking Long-Term Vision for Rural Areas. This visionary initiative is designed to address the unique needs and strengths of diverse EU territories, fostering policies that are sensitive to the nuances of each region.

Challenges Faced by Rural Areas

Rural areas in the EU face a demographic challenge, with an ageing population and a slow decline expected in the coming decade. Factors such as limited connectivity, underdeveloped infrastructure, and a lack of diverse employment opportunities further contribute to the declining attractiveness of rural living and working.

Seizing Opportunities in Green and Digital Transitions

The vision recognizes that rural areas are pivotal players in the EU's green and digital transitions. By aligning with the EU's digital ambitions for 2030, rural areas can unlock opportunities for sustainable development beyond traditional sectors like agriculture, farming, and forestry. This includes the potential for growth in manufacturing and services, contributing to a more balanced geographical distribution of industries.

The Rural Pact: A Collaborative Framework

To support the shared goals of the Vision, the EU introduces a new Rural Pact, engaging stakeholders at EU, national, regional, and local levels. This collaborative framework aims to foster economic, social, and territorial cohesion, addressing the common aspirations of rural communities. The Commission will facilitate this through existing networks, encouraging the exchange of ideas and best practices.

EU Rural Action Plan: A Blueprint for Sustainable Development

In tandem with the Vision, the Commission presents a comprehensive EU Rural Action Plan. Leveraging existing policies such as the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and Cohesion Policy, this plan emphasizes sustainable, cohesive, and integrated rural development. The CAP, in particular, plays a fundamental role in supporting and implementing the Action Plan, complemented by various other EU policy areas.

Four Areas of Action Supported by Flagship Initiatives

The Vision and Action Plan identify four critical areas of action, each supported by flagship initiatives:

1. Empowering Rural Communities

  • Focus on improving access to services.
  • Facilitate social innovation for sustainable development.

2. Enhancing Connectivity

  • Improve both transport and digital access in rural areas.

3. Building Resilience

  • Preserve natural resources and promote green farming practices.
  • Ensure social resilience through access to training and diverse job opportunities.

4. Fostering Prosperity

  • Diversify economic activities in rural areas.
  • Enhance the value-added of farming, agri-food activities, and agri-tourism.

Implementation and Future Steps

The Commission commits to supporting and monitoring the implementation of the EU Rural Action Plan, regularly updating it to ensure relevance. A "rural proofing" mechanism will be established, reviewing EU policies through a rural lens to identify potential impacts on rural jobs, growth, and sustainable development. Additionally, a rural observatory will be set up to enhance data collection and analysis on rural areas.

Roadmap to 2040

The Long-Term Vision for Rural Areas sets the stage for stronger, better-connected, resilient, and prosperous EU rural areas by 2040. The Rural Pact and EU Rural Action Plan are pivotal components in achieving these goals.

  • By the end of 2021: Collaboration with the Committee of the Regions to examine the path towards Vision goals.

  • By mid-2023: Assessment of actions financed by the EU and Member States for rural areas.

  • Early 2024: Public report publication, identifying areas requiring enhanced support and finances, based on the EU Rural Action Plan.

Public Support and Consultation Insights

Public support for the Vision is evident, with 79% of EU citizens emphasizing consideration for rural areas in public spending decisions. A Eurobarometer survey highlighted priorities, indicating that digital connectivity, basic services, and environmental performance are key factors for rural attractiveness over the next two decades.

Voices from the EU College

Vice President for Democracy and Demography, Dubravka Šuica, emphasizes the ambition to significantly improve the quality of life in rural areas. Commissioner for Agriculture, Janusz Wojciechowski, highlights the crucial role of rural areas in the green and digital transition, with the new CAP contributing to smart, resilient, and diversified agricultural sectors. Commissioner for Cohesion and Reforms, Elisa Ferreira, stresses the importance of tailored solutions for diverse regions, involving regional and local authorities.

Conclusion

The Long-Term Vision for Rural Areas is a landmark initiative, aiming to transform rural areas into attractive, vibrant, and dynamic places. It leverages the opportunities presented by the EU's green and digital transitions and draws lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic. Through the Rural Pact and EU Rural Action Plan, the EU charts a course towards a future where rural areas thrive as essential contributors to the overall development of Europe.

Vision for Stronger, Connected, Resilient, and Prosperous EU Rural Areas by 2040 (2024)

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