Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR)
European section of United Cities and Local Governments

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Sustainable territorial and local development

Rural areas - 10.11.2020

How to revitalise Europe’s countryside
It’s a common pattern: many of Europe’s rural areas are in demographic decline as a result of aging and youth emigration towards urban centres. In many cases, the desertification of the countryside and the decline of public services are driving alienation and political discontent across our continent.

It doesn’t have to be this way. At a time when the European Commission is preparing its vision for the long-term future of rural areas, CEMR wants to make the case for how we can restore vibrancy to the countryside. This is a matter of rights as well as prosperity: all citizens, wherever they live, should enjoy a similar quality of life and equal opportunities.

Our vision for a vibrant countryside

New technologies and work practices, as well as dedicated policies, can create the opportunities to revitalise rural areas like never before. In particular, economic diversification and the building of high-quality infrastructure, notably for broadband and transport, would help each territory fulfill its potential.

There is no longer a hard split between urban and rural areas, but rather a continuum between them. As such, rural areas can increasingly be connected if there are fluid transportation networks. What’s more, with the new practices of teleworking, working from home in the countryside may become a reality for more and more people.

We need to make the most of each of territory’s assets by raising awareness on each area’s unique opportunities for tourism and culture. Local cuisine and foodstuffs should be promoted, particularly in the context of the EU’s Farm-to-Fork Strategy for a healthy food system.

Finally, we need to leverage our efforts and make sure that policies across levels of government, both horizontally and vertically, are coherent. As such, we need to work within common frameworks such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the EU’s Territorial Agenda 2030 and OECD’s principles for rural development.

What the EU can do

Local and regional governments must be recognised by both the EU and national governments as the key players of territorial development. Municipalities and regions know their own local conditions best and how to make the most of their territorial assets.

As such, the European Commission should target rural municipalities and regions for the implementation of EU projects. Smaller municipalities should have access to EU projects through simple administrative procedures and technical support for more complex proposals. In particular, the EU could support educational, cultural, sports and professional training projects for rural youth, allowing them to flourish in their territory.

Dedicated EU cohesion and agricultural programmes should support rural areas, as should other European funds for innovation (Horizon 2020), the post-COVID recovery (NextGen EU), Erasmus+ and infrastructure (CEF). EU rules should enable the combined use of funds by local and regional governments in a particular territory to have a coherent use of resources.

The EU should have a holistic approach to rural development, assessing the combined impact of all policies, including the internal market, the European budget and competition policy. In particular, European policymakers should recognise that the free market alone will not support territories in demographic decline. Local and regional public procurement should enjoy flexibility in order to unleash investment in rural areas.

People will not stay in rural areas if these do not have high-quality public services. This is also a right which every citizen should enjoy. As such, national and European investments should support local and regional public services where necessary.

Next steps

CEMR will be refining these messages before sharing an official response with the European Commission, which will also be published on this website. The EU executive is expected to publish its communication on rural areas in the second quarter of 2021.
Have your say
We encourage rural municipalities and regions, as well as their associations, to reply to the European Commission’s consultation on the long-term vision for rural areas. The EU institutions want to know about your experiences and situation on the ground. You have until 30 November to make your voice heard. The documents are available in all official EU languages. The more of us respond, the stronger our voice will be!
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