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

What is the Rural Pact?

The Rural Pact is a framework for cooperation among authorities and stakeholders at the European, national, regional and local level. It contributes to achieving the shared goals of the long-term vision for the EU’s rural areas by facilitating interaction on rural matters between public authorities, civil society, businesses, academia and citizens.

How the Pact was conceived

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The Rural Pact is being developed with the Rural Pact community, which was launched in December 2021. It is composed of all stakeholders who support the shared goals proposed in the Communication. The Commission acts as a facilitator.

The key partners in developing the Rural Pact proposal have been the Committee of the Regions, the European Economic and Social committee, the European Rural Parliament and networks under the common agricultural policy and cohesion policy. The European Parliament and the Presidency of the Council also contributed to the preparatory steps.

The Commission consulted the Rural Pact community on the first proposal through a survey (16-31 May 2022) and a webinar for European stakeholder organisations from the civil dialogue group on rural development and the common provisions regulation group (20 May 2022).

The final version was sent to all participants in the Rural Pact conference on 15-16 June 2022 and endorsed there after the community discussed how the various participants can translate the vision into concrete actions.

The framework is still general and details of how the Rural Pact will work in practice still need to be discussed during autumn 2022. Stakeholders are free to join this process at any time.

Objectives of the Rural Pact

The Rural Pact has three objectives:

  • amplify rural voices to put them higher on the policy agenda;
  • structure collaboration and mutual learning;
  • encourage voluntary commitment to act for rural areas.

Participants in the Rural Pact

Five main types of participants can take part in the Rural Pact:

  • public authorities
  • civil society organisations
  • businesses
  • citizens
  • academic and research and innovation organisations.

Benefits of participating in the Rural Pact

Participating in the Pact means:

  • contributing to keep rural areas high on the political agenda;
  • sharing promising initiatives and learning from others;
  • getting priority access to collaborative platform and events;
  • being informed on developments on all themes of interest to rural life, including consultations.

How to take part in the Rural Pact

The first step is to join the Rural Pact community to get the latest information on the Rural Pact. Over 1000 organisations and individuals had joined by the summer of 2022.

The second step is to take action. All Rural Pact community members are encouraged to explain how they want to act for rural areas. The idea is to identify actions that are specific and time-bound and can help achieve one or more of the Rural Pact objectives. A monitoring system will be designed to follow up on their implementation.

Information relating to privacy can be found in the privacy statement for the Rural Pact community and the privacy statement for the commitment canvas.

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. It will:

  • foster territorial cohesion and create new opportunities to attract innovative businesses;
  • provide access to quality jobs;
  • promote new and improved skills;
  • ensure better infrastructure and services;
  • leverage the role of sustainable agriculture and diversified economic activities.

It is 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 strand 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 which brings 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 by 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 in 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 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 affecting 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 ways 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 have their say.

Results of the Eurobarometer surveys

Several questions in the Special Eurobarometer survey 504 carried out between 3 August and 15 September 2020 referred to the situation in rural areas, how things had changed from 2009 to 2020, and to the objectives of rural development. 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 what priorities 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 EU investment in rural areas is spent;
  • 44% of citizens mentioned transport infrastructure and connections as a key need of rural areas.

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