A vision for rural areas towards 2040

Rural areas are the fabric of our society and the heartbeat of our economy. They are a core part of our identity and our economic potential. We will cherish and preserve our rural areas and invest in their future.

Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission

The long-term vision for the EU’s rural areas is a European Commission initiative to develop a common European vision for 2040.

In shaping this long-term vision, the Commission gathered the views of rural communities and businesses via public consultations and stakeholder-led events. Through this collaborative process, the Commission created a wide-ranging vision and a comprehensive rural action plan to help rural communities and businesses reach their full potential in the coming decades.

Four complementary areas of action emerged, embodying a long-term vision from, by and for stronger, connected, resilient and prosperous rural areas by 2040.

Stronger rural areas

Rural areas should be home to empowered and vibrant local communities. Enabling both women and men to take active part in policy and decision-making processes, involving a broad range of stakeholders and networks as well as all levels of governance, is key to developing tailor-made, place-based and integrated policy solutions and investments.

Innovative solutions for the provisions of services should be developed, making the most of the possibilities offered by digital tools and encouraging strongly social innovation.

Connected rural areas

The further development of rural areas is dependent on them being well connected between each other and to peri-urban and urban areas. This makes them easier to reach while improving access to a wider range of services for local communities.

Maintaining or improving public transport services and connections, as well as deepening digital infrastructures, are essential to ensure better-connected EU rural areas.

More resilient rural areas that foster well-being

The preservation of natural resources, the restoration of landscapes, including cultural ones, the greening of farming activities and shortening supply chains will make rural areas more resilient to climate change, natural hazards and economic crises.

As providers of services that protect ecosystems and solutions for carbon neutrality, rural areas have a key role to play in the sustainable bio- and circular economy.

Prosperous rural areas

Rural areas can become more prosperous by diversifying economic activities to new sectors with positive effects on employment, and improving the value added of farming and agri-food activities.

The diversification of economic activities should be based on sustainable local economic strategies including measures that make their environment attractive to companies and extend digital literacy. This will contribute to retaining a fair share of the value generated by agriculture in rural areas.

The Rural Pact – strengthened governance for EU rural areas

A Rural Pact will be developed with all levels of governance and stakeholders supporting the shared goals of the vision which are proposed in this Communication.

The Pact will provide a common framework for the engagement and cooperation of a wide range of actors at the EU, national, regional and local level.

EU Rural Action Plan

Testifying to the Commission’s renewed commitment to rural communities and the development of rural areas, this communication proposes a Rural Action Plan articulated around flagship initiatives.

Each one of them will bring different EU policy areas together to deliver on the vision, and its shared goals.

Creating an innovation ecosystem

Rural areas will benefit from support to empower communities and have access to services to facilitate social innovation.

Flagship initiatives

This community-led approach involves every strands of the population in rural areas:

  • a rural revitalisation platform will be set-up as a one-stop shop for rural communities, rural project holders and local authorities alike to collaborate;
  • research and innovation for rural communities will contribute through the development of a strong ecosystem bringing together public and private players for rural communities to thrive and be an attractive place for innovators to work and live.

Boosting sustainable transport links and digitalisation

In order to improve existing transport connections, sustainable multimodal transport solutions and connections should be optimised making use of digitalisation.

Flagship initiatives

The infrastructure to overhaul rural mobility will be established to overcome current challenges:

  • sustainable multimodal mobility best practices for rural areas will be developed to support rural municipalities in identifying best practices and replicating them in their territory;
  • rural digital futures will address digital connectivity issues by closing the gap between rural and urban areas, encouraging digital innovation and the use of new technologies, boosting new competencies needed for the digital transformation and measuring the progress towards closing the digital gap.

Increasing environmental, climatic and social resilience

The green and digital transitions should be fair and take the needs of all rural community members into account, including those from disadvantaged groups to strengthen the social resilience of rural areas and improve people’s well-being.

Flagship initiatives

For the benefit of rural areas, different activities should be able to coexist:

  • rural municipalities will be supported in energy transition and fighting climate change through the dissemination of best practices and the provision of guidance to access EU funding to consolidate the green transition;
  • building up carbon sinks by investing into rewetting wetlands and peatlands will offer great potential in terms of climate benefits;
  • the EU mission on soil health and food will contribute to tackling soil challenges in rural areas as well as in urban settings, building connections between rural and urban practices;
  • the work of EU countries on the inclusion of women and vulnerable groups in rural areas will be supported to improve the availability, accessibility and affordability of quality education and care services for children and other dependents in rural areas, as announced in the Commission’s Gender Equality Strategy 2020-25.

Supporting economic diversification

Developing short supply chains, promoting rural tourism and making use of labelling schemes acknowledging the quality and variety of local and traditional food products will have a positive impact on local economies.

Flagship initiative

The important economic role played by agriculture should be preserved:

  • entrepreneurship and social economy in rural areas will be promoted to address challenges and make the most of opportunities through social enterprises innovations, pooling business resources in rural areas, and providing support to social economy stakeholders in innovation, quality job creation and social inclusion.

Background

Commission priorities

The long-term vision for the EU’s rural areas is part of the Commission’s political priority ‘a new push for European Democracy’ and is set against the backdrop of the a Europe fit for the digital age (digital transition) and a European Green Deal (green transition), as well as the recovery plan for Europe.

The EU’s rural areas are home to 137 million people representing almost 30% of its population and over 80% of its territory. Social and economic changes in the last decades are effecting rural areas. The aim is to address the challenges and concerns arising from those changes, by also building on the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic. The plan identifies means to improve the quality of life in rural areas, achieve a balanced territorial development and stimulate economic growth.

Engaging with stakeholders and citizens

The views of rural communities, farmers and businesses are essential in shaping a rounded vision for the future of rural areas. From the outset, the Commission has worked with the European Network for Rural Development (ENRD), National Rural Networks and support units, and stakeholder organisations to provide opportunities for sharing views and information with rural stakeholders.

The Commission has also undertaken an open public consultation, allowing citizens, civil society and stakeholders to share their views, experience and expectations in relation to the long-term vision for the EU’s rural areas. It also provided a workshop package to encourage groups of rural citizens to explore their ideal vision for the future of their own rural area and feed their views into the process. 170 contributions were received from workshops organised in 19 EU countries involving over 3 000 rural citizens. The outcomes are summarised in the ENRD's Rural Voices report of June 2021.

The results of the consultation were presented during Rural Vision Week, organised and supported by the ENRD. This week-long online event provided further opportunities for rural stakeholders – and all citizens who have an interest in contributing to a vibrant and viable future of rural areas – to participate, exchange views, and had their say.

Results of the Eurobarometer surveys

Several questions of the Special Eurobarometer survey 504 carried out between 3 August and 15 September 2020 referred to the situation in rural areas, to how things had changed from 2009 to 2020, and the to the objectives of rural development, and 95% of respondents indicated that agriculture and rural areas are important for the future.

The Flash Eurobarometer survey 491 was carried out between 9 and 18 April 2021 assessing the priorities where the long-term vision for the EU’s rural areas should focus on. The key findings can be summarised as follows

  • 79% of EU citizens support the EU giving consideration to rural areas in public spending decisions
  • 65% of EU citizens think that the local area or province should be able to decide how the EU investment in rural is spent
  • 44% of citizens mentioned transport infrastructure and connections as a key need of rural areas

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