On 15–16 June the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) officially joined the Rural Pact community during the first Rural Pact Conference. The EESC, as one of the organisers of the conference, participated in different panels to promote the application of a truly holistic approach to sustainable rural/urban development. The 450 participants of the conference representing EU, national and regional policy makers along with local authorities and social and economic stakeholders, exchanged and endorsed the governance of the Rural Pact.
The Rural Pact, a framework for enhanced cooperation to mobilise public authorities and stakeholders to act on the needs and aspirations of rural residents, is one of the main initiatives to achieve the goals of the long-term vision for the EU's rural areas.
The EESC is confident that the Rural Pact will help to achieve a more comprehensive approach by bringing together urban and rural areas, local communities, stakeholders and levels of governance, said Peter Schmidt, president of the EESC's Agriculture, Rural Development and the Environment (NAT) Section.
Structured engagement of civil society is essential to make the EU's rural areas stronger, more connected, resilient and prosperous by 2040.
The objectives of the Rural Pact are to amplify rural voices and to put them higher up on the political agenda, to structure and enable collaboration and mutual learning, and to encourage and monitor voluntary commitments for action. These commitments can be submitted online by individuals or organisations (academic/research, business, consumer, environmental, non-governmental, public authorities, trade union organisations).
The European Commission will facilitate the set up and work of the Rural Pact (the launch of an EU rural observatory, a toolkit on access to EU funding opportunities for rural areas, monitoring of how EU funds are used to support rural areas in the 2023–2027 period, rural proofing, a dedicated website including the rural revitalisation platform) and help to monitor progress on the implementation of the commitments made under its auspices.
The sustainable development of rural and vulnerable areas needs a holistic approach because it touches upon every single existing EU policy (employment, access to services, transport, digitalisation, urban development, etc.), as well as a participatory approach at local level explains Josep Puxeu Rocamora, vice-president of the NAT section and rapporteur of a previous opinion on the topic. Piroska Kállay, co-rapporteur of the opinion on the long-term vision for rural areas, adds that
the EESC with its 329 members representing organised civil society has a role to play to deliver the Rural Pact and the Rural Action Plan.
The EESC has therefore decided to officially join the Rural Pact Community that was launched on 20 December 2021, with the aim of bringing together stakeholders who endorse the ten shared goals of the long-term vision for the EU's rural areas, and to commit to further support the Rural Pact.
More precisely, the EESC committed to mobilising its 329 members representing organised civil society in the 27 Member States, to further contributing to the facilitation process of the Rural Pact by participating in the co-design of the Rural Pact and of the next Rural Pact conferences, to promoting and implementing the Rural Pact within and outside the EESC, to organising EU interinstitutional debates to maintain the momentum at EU level, and to possibly organising an EESC civil society prize on rural areas or a "Your Europe Your Say Event" with a focus on youth in rural areas.