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Challenges for rural areas

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type of document: interview
key word: methodology and development
source: LEADER Magazine n12
date of publication: 10/96

Interview Dr Fischler, Member of the European Commission, in charge of Agriculture and Rural Development


"If the countryside dies, towns will also suffer"

Commissioner Franz Fischler on the Conference on Rural Development in Cork, Community structural policy and the essential modernisation of rural areas. He spoke to Gregor Kreuzhuber.

LEADER Magazine: Dr Fischler, the Conference on Rural Development will be held in Cork, Ireland from 7 to 9 November. What are your expectations? "Conference" sounds more like expense accounts and wordy speeches than positive action.

FF: Decisive action can only be taken if the substance and objectives have been discussed beforehand. That is what Cork will be about. But you are right. I have not invited the hundreds of experts, Commission and Member State representatives and above all those directly involved in rural development to Cork just for a cosy chat over coffee.

LM: What then do you think the conference can achieve?

FF: Two things, I think. Firstly, because this is such an important area, a new policy must be prepared in sufficient time. If we are to be ready, we must decide now what the main thrust of our policy is to be post-2000. Various working parties will be discussing how rural areas can be revitalised in a time of increasing urbanisation. The outcome of the conference will then be summarized and publicized in a "Cork Declaration". Secondly, Cork will be the signal for a rethink of our entire policy on rural development. It is intended to be a vehicle for creating an awareness of the problems.

LM: An awareness that at present only insiders possess.

FF: Yes. There is a paradox here: rural development is important for all of us, but people do not realise it. Regrettably, most people think rural development is a subject only for agronomists and folklorists. In fact it is all about recreational areas, local communities, living traditions, and above all jobs. About rural areas as a thriving biotype without which the citizens of the Union cannot survive. If the countryside dies, towns will also suffer. I think the main task of the Conference will be to get this message across.

LM: What are the major challenges for rural areas as we approach the 21st century?

"What I am trying to achieve is an integrated policy that takes account of all these facets of rural development, from the soil to the Internet."

FF: The main challenge will be to find a way of giving rural areas a more modern air, because although farming continues to be a major element for them, it is not the only one: rural development is not just an appendage to the CAP or social policy! It is a Community policy in its own right, founded on modernity, equal opportunity and an integrated approach. By this I mean a new policy covering all rural areas with the active involvement of the local population.

The employment potential is enormous - just think of the services sector. All we have to do is create the necessary conditions: with no modern infrastructure, businesses will not invest, tourism will lose its appeal, and with no jobs the exodus from the countryside will continue. What I am trying to achieve is an integrated policy that takes account of all these facets of rural development, from the soil to the Internet.

LM: Much of what you say refers to the future. But a structural policy for rural areas has been around for a long time. Have development opportunities been missed?

FF: I think the reform of the structural policies in 1988 and of the common agricultural policy in 1992 already set the course. Nevertheless, we had to stand back and analyze changes in society and ask how Community programmes can take account of new criteria such as environmental compatibility, sustainability, job creation and innovation. With this in mind, we are trying to make efficient use of the almost ECU 30 billion provided by the Union under the Structural Funds and the LEADER programmes, to give rural society the modernisation boost it needs to survive.


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