The EESC welcomes the continuing commitment of the EU, Member States and regions to address some of the challenges facing rural areas through a wide ranging Rural Development Programme (RDP). There is disappointment at the delay to submission, approval and start of the programme across several states and regions.
The RDP depends for its success on the effectiveness of the Partnership Principle. The EESC notes that there have been improvements in engagement over previous programmes, but partnership is still variable across the EU.
The breadth of programmes based on local needs and priorities is welcomed, as is an increasing use of the Community-led Local Development (CLLD) model for inclusive community involvement. The well-established LEADER model is respected and the EC funded Rural Development Networks are encouraged to further disseminate good practice.
There is a serious concern that the RDPs will be unable to deliver improved territorial cohesion. Further targeted resources, for longer periods are required, including cross border mentoring, twinning, capacity building for advisory structures and innovative private and social enterprise loans and investments.
Fifteen Member States have transferred funds from direct payments to RDPs, while in five other Member States the transfers have gone from the second to the first pillar. Both options are legitimate but they have not the same value: RDPs serve the objective of a more balanced territorial development within each EU region. A study of the coherence and effectiveness of this flexibility is recommended, including its impact on competition within the Single Market.
Strong emphasis on keeping jobs and creating new employment opportunities in rural areas is clear across programmes. Measures to incentivise young people to seek a future in rural areas are important, along with measures to facilitate the integration of all people with special needs or with physical or mental disabilities.
The contribution of women to the success of the programme should be specifically targeted and supported. Their role is crucial to ensuring that people can continue living in rural areas.
Village economic and community renewal is essential and the RDPs should also be tested for their inclusiveness of all rural citizens. Civil society involvement and entrepreneurship are vital to the sustainability of rural areas.