Future rural policy within the European union - statements

Draft, 26.05.2010

European Rural Alliance

Rationale

Current European Union rural development policies, being still called the second pillar of the Common Agriculture Policy, are implemented via four axes - competitiveness, sustainability, quality of life and the Leader approach. The 4th axis, enabling the support of integrated actions, covering the first 3 axes in single, territorially based development strategies.

Though having this opportunity, for the first time, to harmonise accessible EU rural development policy instruments towards the principles of the Rio Agenda 21, and encourage balanced economic, environmental and social development of rural areas within the EU, the reality shows that, in practice at the EU, national and regional levels these three pillars of sustainable development (expressed also by three axes of the EC Regulation 1698/2005) are not balanced in terms of financial allocations, institutional and legal support.

The EU Leader approach – the only territorial, inter-sector instrument supporting balanced economic, environmental and social development, based on endogenous resources and tailored to specific self-identified rural areas, is still marginal to the interests of responsible authorities at all levels. It is obvious that the current political framework for mainstreaming the Leader approach does not encourage authorities to favour it for the benefit of the entire rural population.

This is happening despite the fact that it is obvious that there is a need for change in the way of looking at rural areas as the living space for many different social groups, and in the way of dealing with rural development policy within the EU.

The OECD has coined the expressions ‘old’ and ‘new’ paradigms for rural development to illustrate this desired change. The old, now dominating, paradigm is looking at rural development from a sectoral point of view, with a strong emphasis on the role of agriculture in it. It acts rather as a redistribution policy than a development policy, the keyword being subsidies.

The new paradigm is more place-based than sector-based. It is trying to develop all industries according to their weight and potential, based on the different forms of capital in the region or place in question. The new paradigm is supporting the development of strengths and opportunities of places thereby creating a diverse countryside instead of one created by a “one-size-fits-all” policy. The keyword here is investments. Infrastructure for communications and ICT, public service, small business and the application of the “added value” principle in the utilisation of human, natural and cultural resources are important in the new paradigm.

Rural development needs this new paradigm and the new policy approach, introducing the third pillar!, with its own regulation and a separated financial instrument/fund established on the basis of its own logic, not as a compromise between agricultural and environmental policies, balancing between the first and second pillars!

This third pillar shall perceive and support rural areas as individual and specific territories and the high quality living space for many various social groups, sectors and stakeholders. It shall enable implementation of various measures via integrated and place based governance respecting the uniqueness of every rural area, formed by its assets; natural, man-made, human and social capital, and by its history, based on local autonomy and equal power division, within and among various decision making levels.

It shall introduce a new multi-level and multi-sectoral governance approach to the development and implementation of rural policies, giving equal opportunities for all stakeholders of the public, private and civil sectors at local, sub-regional, national and EU levels in the decision making process, via the creation and development of genuine partnership – within and across various decision levels.

In preparation and implementation of this new third pillar, the existing and very positive EU LEADER approach shall be utilised at the broad scale.

LEADER is a child of the new paradigm and the first step to the future shape of the new rural policy to be supported within the third pillar. It has proven that it can be a good tool for place-based policy at local and sub-regional level. It is a cross-sectoral tool, involving governmental as well as the business and the voluntary/civil sector stakeholders. It also offers the opportunity for the LEADER partners to write their own program and thereby use the strengths and possibilities in the specific rural area/territory.

The existing experience from initiatives and development programs in EU shows that LEADER, though being a small-scale “soft” instrument, has been an effective tool, showing good results, taking into account the limited funding. The same can be said about many other initiatives like URBAN, EQUAL and Interreg. These programs and initiatives have been able to involve new groups in development work, including the European level, and explore new methods.

We are now progressing from the “laboratory” era of the Community initiatives and incorporating them in the mainstream programs. In the case of LEADER it was the “second pillar” of the rural development program.

Therefore we suggest that integrated and territorially place-based rural development, building on the experience of LEADER within the EU, shall be given common rules that better fit their purpose, and be introduced as the third pillar of rural development policy in the EU. It is not acceptable that these important activities are “mainstreamed” under big programs and regulations where they don’t fit, They need structure and rules in their own.

Overall goal and development priority areas and measures of the future “ third pillar” rural policy

Under this new paradigm, represented by the “third pillar“, ERA believes that in future rural areas shall be empowered, sustainable, vital and cohesive.

In order to achieve this overall goal, the following priority areas shall be developed and incorporated into the future rural development policy supporting integrated and territorially/place-based development of rural areas:

  • COMPETITIVENESS of rural areas in their broad variety within the entire society
  • COUNTRYSIDE as living space and resource base for rural people
  • COMMUNITY GOVERNANCE as tools to govern rural communties and regions
  • COMPETENCE building the knowledge and skills of rural stakeholders for the development of rural areas
  • CIVIL SOCIETY as a strong player in rural development

COMPETITIVENESS

We want rural areas to be competitive space for living and working for many different social groups (not only, but also farmers). It is important to prevent depopulation of rural areas, loss of brains and young people, who are their future capital. We also believe that rural settlements, which do not damage environment, are an important feature of sustainable development and we need to maintain them. For that we need the best utilisation of rural resources in favour of job and income generation via support for added value activities.

Specific objective: to achieve local and regional competitiveness of rural areas through an empowered, diversified and added-value oriented rural economy, based on local resources, strengths and opportunities

Examples of Measures:

• Sustainable development of natural, material and social/human capital

• Local entrepreneurship and know how, encouraging diversified jobs and income generation activities (on farms but also within rural communities), via the creation and development of micro, small and medium size businesses producing added value products (secondary and tertiary processing of local resources (including agriculture producers),

  • Service development for local people and visitors
  • Local and regional “internal market” development (e.g. timebanks and LETS)
  • Internal (rural) and external (urban) direct marketing opportunities for rural goods and services
  • Local, regional, national and international networks of rural businesses (including farms), increasing their competitiveness
  • Access to local finances, micro-credits and rural development policy instruments/measures

COUNTRYSIDE

We want a vital and healthy countryside as an attractive, sustainable and high quality living space for the rural population, but also for visitors. Maintaining and developing traditional landscapes, which provide good conditions for fauna, flora and human being and attractive and healthy environment of rural communities are priorities.

Specific objective: to maintain/ improve a vital and healthy rural countryside, environment and natural resources, providing the high quality of life for rural people.

Examples of Measures:

  • Strong legal policy framework for delivering environmental sustainability including measures encouraging carbon reduction.
  • Support frameworks which enable community actions to e.g. tackle environmental decline, climate change and the long-term sustainability of ecosystems and resources
  • Local renewable energy generation for local benefit
  • Land reform and other mechanisms to enable local access to / management of local natural resources
  • Maintenance and improvement of countryside, rural landscapes and community environments – e.g. green zones, recreation areas
  • Support the development of accessible infrastructure
  • Support for alternative activities in environmental protection areas.

COMMUNITY GOVERNANCE

We want integrated and territorial/place-based governance of rural areas based on cross-sectoral partnership at each level, in which civil society participates fully and plays an important role in the decision-making process. We want local autonomy and decentralised budget decisions, which would allow wise distribution of resources in the places where they are created. We want effective and efficient use of public and private finances in favor of the social, economic and environmental development of rural areas.

Specific objective: to enhance the effective and efficient governance of rural areas.

Examples of Measures:

  • Place-based policy instruments, supporting integrated territorial actions, based on partnerships and local strategies - an extended LEADER approach
  • Strong, effective and high quality management structures for local governance at local level
  • Fiscal decentralization in favor of local communities with a higher share of taxes remaining at local level
  • Local autonomy – strong, small municipalities or villages with mechanisms for local governance (e.g. initiatives and referendums)
  • Empowered human scale communities with greater involvement in decision making processes at local level.
  • Effective community development processes

COMPETENCE

We want skilled, educated and informed rural people, who are able to govern and manage rural areas, but also use and develop rural resources in favor of job and income generation, service provision and maintaining a high quality rural countryside for the whole society.

Specific objective: to enhance knowledge and skills of rural society – internal and external - in order to enhance local autonomy

Examples of Measures:

  • Support for place-based knowledge and research for undertaking local development
  • Access to tertiary education, life-long learning and training opportunities in rural areas
  • Direct and appropriate access to and dissemination of information in rural areas
  • Access to appropriate technical assistance, participative feasibility studies, programs and plans
  • Use of existing knowledge and skills, including involvement of elderly people for life-long learning in rural areas
  • Measures to attract educated people and youth to live in rural areas

CIVIL SOCIETY

We want strong civil society, prepared to take an active role in the decision making process and able to participate in public matters.

Specific objective: to develop vital, active, self-supportive rural communities, with active citizens able to support and develop their rural areas

Examples of Measures:

  • Enhancement of social capital
  • Stregthening and empowerment of local community institutions for local autonomy.
  • Development of social enterprise
  • Improvement of the demographic balance in rural areas
  • Retention of young people in rural areas
  • Improvement of the built fabric of rural communities
  • Supporting local innovation in communities.
  • Improved systems for rural network creation and development
  • Provision of essential public services and facilities
  • Provision of affordable housing