EESC and CoR call for a plain territorial approach to policy making
Exactly 20 years since the first Cork Declaration, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) and the Committee of the Regions (CoR) organised a joint conference on balanced territorial development under the title "Cork+20: leaving rural areas behind is no longer an option". At stake was the European Commission's new rural development strategy, set with the Cork 2.0 Declaration, which according to the two Committees is not concrete enough and fails to address some of the vital needs of rural areas.
Lack of perspectives in rural areas
EESC NAT President Brendan Burns and CoR NAT Vice-President Tony Buchanan opened the conference.
When we don't give perspectives for young people by investing in infrastructure and stimulating economic growth and job creation, we lose our most precious capital, namely our youth, and this is the start of the dying of rural areas, said Mr. Burns.
I welcome the adoption of the Cork 2.0 declaration and the focus now needs to be on implementing the conclusions reached to ensure that we have vibrant rural areas where people can live and work in an environment which is prosperous, which is innovative and which offers opportunities which currently may not exist. It is clear that local government needs to be part of the real sustainable development of our rural communities. The CoR's keys messages and opinions need to be taken into consideration in this regard, added Mr. Buchanan.
A strong territorial approach is needed
In their closing speeches, CoR first Vice-President Karl-Heinz Lambertz and EESC President Georges Dassis underlined their commitment to more vibrant rural territories. Mr. Lambertz referred to a CoR study underlining:
The European budget dedicated to rural development shows that it is insufficient given the weight of rural areas in Europe but more worryingly there is a significant decrease compared to the previous programming period. We go from 32.6% of the budget of the Structural Funds to 21.3% in current programming period (MFF 2014-2020). Mr. Dassis added:
Rural areas have a critical role to play in achieving the goals of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. The EESC has high hopes on the proposal that the Commission will adopt on 21 November to streamline and integrate its policies to achieve more effectively this long term strategy.
The two Committees call for immediate action
Both Mr. Lambertz and Mr. Dassis want the Commission to substantiate the new concept of rural proofing that is part of the new Cork 2.0 declaration. There needs to be clear reassurance that this concept will mean an actual improvement in how the assets and weaknesses of rural areas are integrated in the EU policy-making and implementation. EESC President Dassis said that
It was high time to form a strategic alliance between all stakeholders who promote a better tapping of rural areas' potential and that this alliance must not only include the CoR and the EESC but also the European Parliament, which was represented at the conference by MEPs Mercedes Bresso and Czesaw Siekierski.
Background - economic differences between rural and urban areas increase
Rural and intermediate areas account for 91% of the EUs territory and 60% of its population; they provide 56% of the jobs and generate 43% of the gross value added, however, with a constant tendency towards a deterioration of the situation. Already in 2014, the 6th report on economic, social and territorial cohesion confirmed that the gap between rural and urban areas is still growing. The study on "Evolution of the EU budget dedicated to rural development" confirms this trend that the well-being and interests of the rural areas are less considered nowadays - despite of the fact that the Cork Declaration requested 20 years ago "a fairer balance" of public spending and investments between rural and urban areas (the so-called "rural preference"). The share of funding for rural areas has decreased and inequality has increased. Thus, the objectives of the declaration have not been achieved successfully.