Ladies and gentlemen,

 

It is a pleasure to join you today. In these COVID19 times, we can still see the power of people to connect, to exchange ideas and support each other. This reflects the key characteristics of the launch of the Global EU Campaign for Rural 5.0 Strategy. What a wonderful occasion for creativity and innovation in our European Union, through the lenses of our rural areas. How important this initiative is for connecting all relevant partners with each other, across the European Union and indeed around the world. You met my friend and colleague earlier today, Commissioner Mariya Gabriel, and we work closely together to lend our support to those making our vision of rural areas a reality; the Smart Villages, the Startup Villages, who help put us on track for a European Innovation Area by 2021.

 

GLOBAL EU CAMPAIGN FOR RURAL 5.0 STRATEGY

One of the lessons we have learnt from the COVID19 pandemic is that it does not matter where you live anymore. You can work from anywhere if that city, town or village offers you the basic services and connectivity you need. For those living in rural and remote areas, and young people especially, this connectivity is a path out of isolation, towards education and wider opportunities. It opens doors onto their future. This is a key feature of the Global-EU campaign and its strategy.

 

LONG TERM VISION FOR RURAL AREAS

This Global-EU Rural 5.0 campaign aims to inform citizens about the challenges of rural areas and demonstrate that progress is possible if we know where to look. The initiative is linked to the Commission’s upcoming Long-term Vision for Rural Areas not least due to the valuable contributions from the Global Start-Up Cities Initiative of Spain. The ambitions of your campaign resonate very strongly with us and our work on the Vision.

I want to outline the importance of addressing demographic change, which is key to building a fairer and more resilient society. The Long-Term Vision is designed to help rural Europe deal with issues such as depopulation, connectivity, economic development and limited access to services. I encourage all of you to contribute to the ongoing public consultation in this regard. All stakeholders and citizens can put forward their views on the role and future of rural areas. All details are online and it is open until 30 November. I speak directly to you, the young entrepreneurs and innovators. We want you to be at the core of our vision because we need creative ideas and pragmatic solutions to address the challenges and opportunities faced by rural areas that aspire to have a vibrant future.

After the public consultation, we will organise several events, including a stakeholder conference, because we want those most closely involved with these issues to play a part in how they are addressed. We plan to adopt the long-term vision by the middle of 2021. It will present a clear view on what kind of rural areas we want to have in 2040. First of all, we want rural areas to remain rural; to maintain their unique character. The Vision will be concrete and operational. We want to unlock the potential of the rural areas. It should pay particular attention to young people and the gender dimension.

This is important because many people in rural areas feel left behind and this is not acceptable in a democratic Europe that should respond to the needs of all its people. Knowing the aspirations and concerns of citizens, communities and stakeholders is key to a successful and shared long-term vision. So let’s work together to make this campaign a success and achieve our shared goal of a brighter vision for the future of rural areas.

 

 

R IS FOR RESOURCES

If R is for Resources in this campaign, then we must look at the economy of rural areas, especially remote rural areas which depend so much on primary and manufacturing activities related to the resource base of the region. Agriculture is of course a key component in this, but we need to go beyond farming. A key resource is of course our young entrepreneurs and here we need the private sector to get involved. Companies can work closely with these young entrepreneurs on creating added-value for rural areas. This is vital when we think about rural connectivity. Not all rural communities have the same levels of connectivity as urban areas. The Commission recognises this and has launched a number of actions to improve access to broadband in rural communities. But let’s be clear. The private sector is the main investor in broadband infrastructure, and will carry out the bulk of the investment required for the roll out of new networks so we call on them to collaborate with the local entrepreneurs and innovators.

 

DEMOGRAPHIC CHANGE, AGEING AND GREEN PAPER ON AGEING

And if A stands for Ageing, then this campaign supports the work of the Commission because aaddressing demographic change is key to building a fairer, more resilient society. Our recent report on the Impacts of Demographic Change shows a clear trend: Europe is ageing. Older people make up a growing part of our economy. The contribution of the European Silver Economy to GDP is projected to reach EUR 6.4 trillion and 88 million jobs by 2025. It is creating innovative business, growth and jobs. Here we see an opportunity for intergenerational solidarity. Young entrepreneurs can analyse the needs of older people and help provide technological and practical solutions to serve their needs. This is an opportunity I invite you to harness.

 

In early 2021 we will present a Green Paper on Ageing which will take a life-cycle approach at issues like social protection systems, intergenerational solidarity, the care sector and impacts on the labour market. Pensions, long-term care and healthy and active ageing will be discussed.

 

IF L IS FOR LEADERSHIP –CONFERENCE ON THE FUTURE OF EUROPE

Finally if L is for Leadership then the European Union can also lead the way in providing a space to listen to the needs of our young entrepreneurs. As Vice-President for Democracy and Demography, I am also responsible for the Conference on the Future of Europe. I want this deliberative democracy exercise to provide a space for entrepreneurs and innovators to self-organise, to come together in events and make their voice heard, all under the umbrella of the Conference. I invite you to engage directly with us in the European Union through the Conference and in this way, you can lead in bringing local ideas to the European level, through your feedback and by using our online, multilingual digital platform. We expect to launch the Conference very soon, so watch this space.

 

To conclude, let me tell you a story. Before COVID19 stopped me, I was on a listening tour of the European Union visiting not only capital cities but also rural areas. I have seen how the young and the elderly are the drivers of innovation in the green and digital transition. With the right support and the help of digital and green transformation, rural communities can act. I know this because I have seen it in action. I think of the Spanish village of Villahoz that has seen a steep decline in its population, especially its young people. But Villahoz takes another approach and has become a Start-Up Village through strengthening digital connectivity and creating innovative ecosystems. Villahoz looks to the future and welcomes its entrepreneurs and innovators. We are thinking of them in our work on the Conference on the Future of Europe and our work on Demography. This shows what can be achieved in rural areas through connectivity and innovation, through solidarity.

 

CONCLUDING REMARKS

 

Dear Ladies and gentlemen,

We have an opportunity here to nurture the heart of the European Union by connecting with each other in our vision of the future – to build that future together. StartupCities, StartUpVillages, entrepreneurs and innovators and of course SMEs and educators now have their own innovative tool as a basis for their projects and initiatives. I admire the enthusiasm, vision and energy behind this Global-EU Campaign for RUral 5.0 strategy and I will follow its progress closely and wish you the very best of luck in your ambitions.

Thank you.