The need to update the European Union’s vision for rural areas was to the fore at the recent European Conference on Rural Development hosted in Cork by EU Agriculture & Rural Development Commissioner Phil Hogan. Tom Bermingham from Wexford Local Development’s LEADER programme was among three hundred rural development stakeholders from throughout Europe who participated in a series of workshops to consider and devise policy responses and a common vision for the future of European agriculture and rural communities.
At the conclusion of the two-day conference, twenty years on from the 1996 Cork Declaration -“A Living Countryside”, the new Cork 2.0 Declaration – “A Better Life in Rural Areas” was adopted by Commissioner Hogan and his predecessor, Dr Franz Fischler. Taking into consideration the evolving needs and realities of rural areas in the 21st Century coupled with the fact that the EU rural population has grown by >50% since 1996, ten new policy orientations were agreed as follows:
1. Promoting Rural Prosperity
2. Strengthening Rural Value Chains
3. Investing in Rural Viability and Vitality
4. Preserving the Rural Environment
5. Managing Natural Resources
6. Encouraging Climate Action
7. Boosting Knowledge and Innovation
8. Enhancing Rural Governance
9. Advancing Policy Delivery and Simplification
10. Improving Performance and Accountability
While delivering on these policy orientations is the next challenge, Commissioner Hogan assured those present of his full commitment to their implementation by the EU Commission during his tenure, outlining that while sustainable urban development depends on prosperity of rural areas, “the rural voice will only be heard if it’s loud!”
Meanwhile, Dr Franz Fischler who was instrumental in shaping EU Agricultural Policy for nearly a decade (1995 to 2004) remarked that “the bottom-up approach works best and must be improved” adding that “we must invest in rural viability with a major emphasis on rural culture being crucial for success in the future”.
Both Hogan and Fischler questioned the very existence of the so-called second pillar of the current CAP encompassing rural development programmes. Hogan confirmed that Brexit will mean a smaller European budget and more scrutiny of EU spending, adding that: “Resource efficiency needs to work hand in hand with economic efficiency and policy has to deliver in a cost-efficient way by targeting operations to local needs, while ensuring ambitious contributions to EU objectives”.
Among a range of impressive speakers at the conference was European Investment Bank director Werner Schmidt, who outlined that “new financial instruments are required to make up for a shortfall in direct rural development payments, as further cuts are very likely after 2020”. This could mean using small amounts of public money to provide seed capital or secure loans for rural development projects. This may attract other sources of funding from banks or private investors who would not otherwise support such projects.
Throughout the conference, there were repeated calls to simplify rural development programmes, “restore trust” in European policy and involve local people in its elaboration. European politicians must now answer these calls by allocating appropriate funding and keeping bureaucracy to the minimum as work gets under way to get the next Common Agricultural Policy prepared for post 2020.
Full details of the conference are available at: