The EESC is convinced that the future of Europe will depend on how we deal with rural areas and that more cooperation with urban areas is needed to ensure that no area or citizen is "left behind" in the just transition to a climate-neutral, sustainable and prosperous European Union. This would be in line with the objectives of the European Green and Social Deal, the Next Generation EU recovery package, the Territorial Agenda 2030 and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
The EESC believes that the EU should reduce disparities between regions by promoting policies that ensure a just and sustainable transition in all spheres and guarantee a good quality of life in rural areas.
Due to the challenges relating to climate change and pandemics, the EESC emphasises the urgent need to act now and to implement a paradigm shift to demonstrate the added value of working together and of promoting mutual respect and understanding, for the benefit of all citizens.
The EESC therefore calls on policymakers to develop and implement a comprehensive and holistic EU strategy for balanced, cohesive, equitable and sustainable rural and urban development, by leveraging the role of local communities, boosting traditional industries and creating new economic activities and job opportunities in rural areas, while fostering synergies with urban areas.
In order to level the playing field between rural communities and the urban environment, the EESC makes the following recommendations:
rural policies need to be adequately resourced, and technological communication, transport infrastructure, and quality and efficient education and healthcare delivery systems must be provided. These should be fully aligned with the relevant urban services ("equal health");
the supply of jobs, training and housing should reflect and harness rural natural resources, while also creating innovative business opportunities;
rural parliaments and Community-led Local Development (CLLD), as models of participatory democracy, should be supported by political leaders and should involve all rural citizens, including the social partners, women, older people, people with disabilities, minorities and, especially, young people;
cultural heritage assets should be protected and promoted.
The EESC makes the following recommendations for rural/urban development:
governments must be transparent and fair when providing services to citizens in all areas;
civil society organisations, including LEADER and local action groups, should develop local rural and urban partnerships to create economic, social and environmental opportunities and foster a better understanding of interdependencies;
the governance model of Food Policy Councils could serve as an inspiration for effective cooperation between all stakeholders at the local level. Opportunities for home working, the need for rural housing and access to land use have all been disrupted by new environmental impacts and challenges and by the pandemic;
encouraging and supporting the exchange of good practices and risk cases between regions is to be welcomed;
access to high-quality education in rural areas can be one of the contributing factors to local economic development and can help rural communities adapt to a fast-changing environment.
In particular, the EESC makes the following recommendations to the European Commission and national and regional governments:
the Commission's recently adopted long-term vision for rural areas needs to be further developed to ensure a rural and urban commitment to a fair approach. It is important to show the added value of rural and urban organisations working together, as in the Farm to Fork Initiative and a socially inclusive Green Deal;
the European Commission should commit itself to creating a group of rural and urban stakeholders, building on the Smart Villages Initiative, to develop good practices in partnership models;
to support engagement, there should be investment for local pilot projects and pan-European incentives/conditionalities and prizes for progressive examples that demonstrate inclusive agreements.
The EESC further commits to collaborate with the European Parliament and the Committee of the Regions through commissioning research, consulting organised civil society and promoting a Europe-wide Charter of rural/urban rights and responsibilities.
The EESC will incorporate a holistic vision into its future opinions on territorial, urban and rural policies. By way of example, this opinion was discussed among different EESC sections before its adoption.