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A vision for rural Europe

A Web Conference of high value to PREPARE was held in 7 July – organised by two men who are our close friends, with a keynote speech by a remarkable women.

The event was jointly organised and chaired by Dacian Cioloş and Hannes Lorenzen.  Dacian is now a MEP, and President of the Renew Europe.  6 years ago, as European Commissioner for Agriculture, he funded PREPARE’s series of traveling workshops and conferences on Empowering Rural Stakeholders in the Western Balkans.  Hannes was founder Chairman of PREPARE from its start in 2000 until December 2016.  He retired last year after more than 30 years on the staff of the European Parliament, and is now a freelance consultant, President of Forum Synergies (a PREPARE partner), and President of ARC2020.

The Conference, attended by several hundred people, was hosted by the Renew Europe Group and ARC2020.  Its guiding document, to be found on the ARC2020 website, is “A Long-term Vision for Rural Europe”, written jointly by Hannes Lorenzen and Paul Soto (former head of the European Network for Rural Development), with inputs from many others.  This document, widely circulated among the European institutions, appeals for “a transition towards a more resilient, sustainable and fair Europe”.  The subtitle of the webinar was “Harnessing the potential of rural areas to contribute to a sustainable & prosperous Europe”.

Highlight of the event was a remarkable keynote speech by Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission.  Standing bolt upright, and apparently speaking without notes, she made a long and passionate statement of support for the people of rural Europe.

The countryside – with its landscape, cuisine, tradition and culture is part of who we are.  It is now facing severe change, because of climate change, foreign competition, the loss of bright young people, and poor infrastructure.  The tide can be turned, if we work together, using nature and our rural roots as brand new opportunities.  The new Common Agricultural Policy will be designed to work for all people in all corners of rural Europe.  We must go ‘green and digital’ : it will pay off.  We must seek high-quality food, and be willing to pay for it.

“The Commission will set ambitious targets for organic farming, animal health and protection of the environment.  Rural development cannot be micro-managed from Brussels, but we in the Commission will offer the vision, set the direction and make the resources available.  The new vision for rural communities must be shaped from and by the rural communities.  The Commission is at your side, with support through the new CAP and the European Green deal, to make the ‘next generation EU’.  A strong and healthy Europe begins with the fruit from rural Europe.”

Ursula von der Leyen announced an EU wide public consultation on the future of rural areas.  This will be a “participatory process” which will be “a great opportunity for rural communities all across our continent to have their say”.  The consultation is expected to begin in the Autumn.  A major conference organised by the Commission is foreseen in the Spring of 2021 for around 500 people.

Contribution by PREPARE partners. The webinar included a range of presentations from civil society, including two platform speakers from PREPARE’s own network

Katrina Idu (Latvian Rural Forum and European Rural Youth Parliament) said that rural areas are facing loss of young people and therefore an ageing population.  We need to attract young people, in order to bring in new energy and promote intergenerational cooperation in rural areas.  Many people are interested to move into rural areas, including newcomers, others returning to their rural roots, some with both rural and urban homes.  Rural areas must adapt to the complexity of needs, providing resources for high-quality lives.

Petar Gjorgievski (Rural Development Network of North Macedonia and Balkan Rural Development Network) spoke of the western Balkans.  He said that the accession states have much to offer, not only food from large-scale farms but also traditional food, tourism and services from the small family farms which occupy most of the rural land.  These rural households manage beautiful and very diverse landscapes, with many opportunities for economic and social growth.  Petar pleaded for breaking the deadlock in the EU integration process, which itself impedes the development of rural areas.  The pre-accession process and LEADER measures are good prerequisites but more is needed.

A fuller report on the Webinar can be found on the Arc 2020 Website https://www.arc2020.eu/a-vision-for-rural-europe-event-report/
ARC2020 pleads for our active involvement
Also on the website is the text of the ARC 2020 document “A long-term vision for rural Europe”. ARC 2020 seeks to stimulate discussion among rural networks and stakeholders, so that there is a widespread and effective response to the opportunity for consultation which has been opened up by Ursula von der Leyen.
“Let’s work together on Building a Vision and Strategy. ARC2020 cannot forge ahead and lead on this work alone. All interested rurally-focused organisations and initiatives must come together to build a real, genuine, inclusive and empowering consultation process. We call on our colleagues and rural partners to build upon the Vision and Strategy for Rural Europe which ARC2020 has initiated. We must, together, find a way to support this process, in parallel to but also informing the more formal process of consultation.”

The report was prepared by Michael Dower

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