On the invitation of Staffan Nilsson, a former president of the EESC (currently Co-President of the Swedish Rural Parliament, a civil society movement), Istvan Komoroczki, a member of the Employers’ Group and EESC sections NAT and REX, attended the three day meeting in Örnsköldsvik, 440 km north of Stockholm. This event, organised every second year, coincided with the start of the election campaign and so all Swedish political party leaders – facing elections on September 9, 2018 – gladly accepted a call to express their views about the need to develop areas of the Swedish country-side and the ways and means of doing so. A brief report by Istvan Komoroczki will follow.
Despite current advanced methods of transportation, it is not easy to get to Örnsköldsvik, however, the great environment, nice weather and a hearty welcome by the Rural Parliament organisers compensated for all the difficulties. The first day involved bus trips to visit local projects, in order to listen to ideas and observe local tangible efforts to develop the country-side. Local NGOs, sports' club representatives, enthusiastic activists from NGOs and local cultural bodies, as well as business leaders from companies expressed their intention to mobilise ideas and efforts, in order to find local financing and community support to design residential spaces, create and modernise work places and provide schooling opportunities for families who are willing to live or settle there. Both businesses and municipalities are aware that the exodus of people from rural areas to big cities has to be slowed down or stopped in order to maintain a sustainable, normal life and on-going business. As several political party presidents attended on the second day to discuss key issues concerning rural life and the country as a whole, the event received considerable media attention and the headlines in the week-end papers reflected some of these events. Seminars in the morning and afternoon enabled participants to look into concrete development projects by NGOs in areas which had benefited less from central government efforts. (However, there are also plans to invest huge amounts into a complete digitalisation of the country, which shows a real readiness to support and empower everybody to take advantage of the e-society.)
A further increase in global urbanisation has quickly resulted in a widening gap between bigger cities and rural areas, as big crowds are settling down in these cities thus gradually making it impossible for local farmers and employers in the food processing industry and elsewhere, to find skilled labours, customers for local commerce etc. The Rural Parliament, established more than 30 years ago, has become aware of this problem at an early stage and tried to showcase examples, interesting projects and ideas that might help to solve it. These efforts have not been in vain, apparently: participants learned much about how to come up with new ideas and bring them to fruition, how to involve and/or mobilise others to visit these regions. A group of enthusiasts invited from northern regions, Finland, Poland and Estonia were honoured during a gala dinner with diplomas, grants and lovely gifts because of their tangible and daily contributions to improve rural development.
The major message I took from this event was that despite mounting difficulties, organised civil society is both willing and able to find ways to meet the needs of the country-side and develop it in a sustainable way. This is the place where our national culture had its beginnings, where the wonders of nature can and should be visited, where our daily food, raw materials and energy resources are sourced for our societies and businesses. Lessons from the Örnsköldsvik meetings, especially those linked to the continuous activities of CSOs, can and shall be learnt by other countries, too.