Josep Puxeu Rocamora is a member of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) from the Employers' Group, representing the Spanish Food and Drink Industry Federation (FIAB). He is currently one of the Vice Presidents of the NAT Bureau and his work focuses in particular on balanced territorial development.
What drives you to be an active and committed member of the EESC and the NAT section?
Being a member of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), and more specifically the Section for Agriculture, Rural Development and the Environment (NAT), is an honour and a consequence of my professional career always linked to the agri-food sector and the rural world, both in the public administration and in the private sector. I define myself as a farmer, entrepreneur, pro-European and progressive.
I participate in the EESC on behalf of FIAB, the federation that brings together the Spanish food and drink industry, the leading manufacturing sector and one of the first in terms of number of businesses, employment, invoicing and exports, responding to the requests of an increasingly demanding consumer.
Given that we are on an increasingly global stage, it is essential for the Spanish food industry to be represented in the main consultative body and forum for social dialogue in the European Union. Let us not forget that the EESC is at the heart of the construction of the EU itself, which was established in 1957 with the Treaty of Rome, in order to involve and give a voice to the various economic and social actors.
How do you make the link with your work (and your life) back home?
It would be very difficult to play my role as an EESC Member without any real connection to the needs of the sector in my country. I am connected to it day by day as Director-General of the Association of Drinks (Asociación de Bebidas Refrescantes - ANFABRA), which in turn is part of FIAB (Spanish Federation of Food and Drinks Industries), which I am representing at the EESC in Brussels. I also maintain my Mediterranean farms, mainly fruit, olive oil and wine.
In the current situation caused by COVID, as in many other areas, the development of the EESC’s activity is more difficult because of the restrictions on mobility and personal distance imposed by the pandemic, which we try to compensate by telematic means and with the best possible will.
Recently, you have been the Rapporteur for an EESC own-initiative opinion on "An integrated approach for rural areas in the EU, with a particular focus on vulnerable regions". What are the main challenges facing rural areas and vulnerable regions in the EU? What approaches and policies are needed to promote the development of these areas?
It is a fact that European territories do not evolve evenly. There is a disconnect between the urban and rural areas, which, on the other hand, need each other. It is essential to curb this trend and promote population rebalancing, by enhancing the digitalisation of rural environments and combating the loss of biodiversity.
In the opinion on An integrated approach for rural areas in the EU, with a particular focus on vulnerable regions, we stressed the need to reduce the development gap between different territories and to support those currently threatened by stagnation, depopulation or desertification, making them particularly vulnerable to climate change or natural disasters.
We call for action in five dimensions:
- Space: fostering balanced development that rationalises flows between rural and urban hubs in each territory;
- Economic: encouraging decentralisation and diversification in order to promote the rebalancing of income;
- Social: ensuring access to essential services such as education, health, transport or culture;
- Environmental: defending biodiversity
- Institutional: creating a supporting ecosystem that facilitates progress on the other dimensions.
To develop these areas, we propose a “territorial contract” between urban society and the rural world, which should be participatory, adapted to the characteristics of the territories and preserving their historical, cultural and natural heritage.
On the basis of the opinion, one of the NAT section’s priorities in the 2020-2023 term of office is to develop a comprehensive strategy for sustainable urban and rural development. Why do you think this strategy is necessary, especially in the context of the Post-Covid recovery and the transition towards a more sustainable and resilient future of Europe?
The coronavirus crisis has intensified many of the debates we had on the table, including the imbalance between different European regions and the need to build a more sustainable economic and social model. The rural world must be a key part of this new European context that focuses on social cohesion and sustainability, in line with the European Commission’s European Green Deal and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The increase in teleworking provides new arguments for a more balanced population distribution. It also opens up new opportunities for economic activities with high added value to be relocated in rural and mountain areas.
From the NAT Section, we have defended the great potential for innovation and the opportunities these areas offer if sufficient resources are provided. Infrastructure and digitalisation need to be further promoted, with better access to connecting networks. We are now planning to further develop all these ideas, which we already highlighted in the above-mentioned opinion An integrated approach for EU rural areas in a new document entitled Towards a comprehensive strategy for sustainable urban and rural development.