The EESC welcomes the Cork 2.0 Declaration and the conference in September 2016 that led to it. The declaration offers strong ongoing support for a rural policy at EU level.
It is evident that rural regions in the EU are not homogeneous and that situations vary between and within Member States. The EESC believes that these differences mean there is a need for focus and a strategic approach when using available EU funds.
Rural development is a horizontal issue that affects practically all policy areas. A more coherent policy for rural and regional development is needed, as is a robust budget for the ESI funds. The EESC notes that the ESI fund with the greatest focus on rural development is the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, and stresses that the other ESI funds should increase their share.
Many parts of Europe, particularly in rural areas, still lack reliable internet solutions. Broadband access can be a factor influencing the extent to which above all young people choose to stay in an area or move away. Broadband is a must for businesses and entrepreneurs.
Agricultural production is both an indispensable feature of rural areas, in order to meet society's demand for sustainable food products, and a driver of rural development. It is therefore only natural, in the EESC's view, that most of the resources available under the EAFRD are earmarked for agricultural activities.
The EESC points out that regional and local authorities that operate in rural areas must play an active role in implementing the international commitments under the UN SDGs and COP21.