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Special LEADER Symposium

Towards a new Initiative for rural development:
800 leaders give their views

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One symposium, one context:
Agenda 2000, new perspectives for rural development in Europe

The President of the European Commission,
Jacques Santer, presented the Members of
the European Parliament the "Agenda 2000"
Communication which examines three major
themes: reinforcement of the Union's policies,
future enlargement, and the new financial
framework for the period 2000-2006. These
proposals, which often served as a reference
framework for the debates of the LEADER symposium
in November, will have a major impact on the future
European policy for rural development.


The Commission's "Agenda 2000" Communication opens up new perspectives for European rural development policy, primarily around three themes: reaffirming of the political priority of economic and social cohesion, deepening of the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy begun in 1992 and enlargement of the Union.


Continuing the cohesion effort:
three Objectives, three Community Initiatives

The effort for economic and social cohesion is maintained in financial terms: financial solidarity remains at its current level of 0.46% of the Union's GNP, which for the period 2000-2006 corresponds to a budget of ECU 275 billion, or ECU 210 billion for the Structural Funds per se for their intervention in the 15 Member States. Greater efficiency of Community structural actions is also being sought.

A reduction of the number of Objectives to three is being proposed, with high priority being given to Objective 1:

  • regions eligible under Objective 1 will be those having the most serious difficulties with employment, the productive system and infrastructures and whose per capita GDP is less than 75% of the Community average. About two thirds of the Structural Funds would be allocated to this Objective. Special procedures are envisaged for the current Objective 1 regions whose per capita GDP exceeds 75% of the European Union average. Ultra-peripheral regions will be specifically included in Objective 1. In addition, the sparsely populated northern regions, currently eligible under Objective 6, will benefit from special arrangements;

  • a new Objective 2, devoted to economic and social reconversion, will cover the action in favour of the other regions with structural difficulties. These are areas undergoing economic change, declining rural areas, areas in crisis dependent on fishing or urban neighbourhoods in difficulty. The percentage of the population of the EU's regions eligible under Objectives 1 and 2 should be reduced from 51% to a figure between 35% and 40%;

  • a new Objective 3 will be created to cover regions outside Objectives 1 and 2 in order to help the Member States adapt their educational, training and employment systems.

The Commission also proposes reducing the number of Community Initiatives to three fields where the value added to the Community appears most obvious:

  • cross-border, transnational and interregional cooperation aimed at stimulating harmonious and balanced regional planning;

  • human resources in a context of equal opportunity;

  • rural development.

5% of the resources of the Structural Funds would be allocated to the Community Initiatives.

The Commission proposes that the Cohesion Fund be maintained in its current form; Member States whose per capita GNP is less than 90% of the Community average and which are part of the third phase of Economic and Monetary Union remain eligible for assistance from the Fund. This Fund, which will have to have an annual budget of about ECU 3 billion, will continue to be used to carry out projects in the field of the environment and transport infrastructure projects for trans-European networks.


Rural policy for all the regions of Europe

As far as agriculture is concerned, the Commission proposes deepening and extending the reform of 1992, substituting more direct aid for price support measures and introducing a coherent rural policy for this process. The reforms will be undertaken or continued in most of the European organisations of the market (major crops, beef, milk, olive oil and wine) with a view to strengthening the competitiveness of Community agriculture, the respect and protection of the environment and consumer safety.

It is a stronger and renewed rural policy that the Commission is proposing, with greater importance given to agri-environmental instruments to contribute to the sustainable development of rural areas:

  • the accompanying measures currently financed by the EAGGF-Guarantee Section, complemented by the scheme for disadvantaged regions, will be applied horizontally and implemented in a decentralised manner;

  • the current approach of the integrated development programmes will be maintained in the regions eligible under Objective 1;

  • in the rural areas eligible under the new Objective 2, the measures (former Objectives 5a and 5b) will be financed by the EAGGF-Guarantee Section as accompanying measures. These measures will apply, together with those financed by the ERDF, the ESF and any measures of the FIFG in the same programme, at the level of the region eligible under Objective 2;

  • in all the rural areas not covered by the new Objectives 1 and 2, rural development measures to accompany market policies and complement them will be co-financed by the EAGGF-Guarantee Section. They will encompass all the types of measures to support structural adaptation and rural development currently co-financed by the EAGGF-Guarantee Section. They will apply horizontally and will be implemented in a decentralised manner at the appropriate level according to the Member State.


Finally, as far as enlargement is concerned, the Commission recommends that the Council begin membership negotiations with Cyprus, Estonia, Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovenia. These negotiations will be wrapped up with a specific candidate country when the country has made the additional efforts requested of it in the related notice. Of the ECU 275 billion (1997 prices) earmarked for the Structural Funds and the Cohesion Fund, the European Commission proposes allocating ECU 45 billion to the new Member States. Pre-accession aid, to be taken from this budget, would be available from the year 2000 at a steady rate of ECU 1 billion a year. For all these countries, rural problems will clearly be a major focus of the Community intervention.

source: LEADER Magazine nr.16 - Winter, 1997/98

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