On March 19th, 2018, the Commission for Natural Resources (NAT) of the European Committee of the Regions and the Rurality-Environment-Development network (RED) organised their fourth public meeting to discuss rural development post 2020, focusing this time on “financing the integrated development of rural areas”.
During this session, participants discussed the necessity of a European interfund for rural territories (EIFRT) to ensure an efficient, equal, and sustainable rural development through a simpler and harmonised functioning. From Urszula Budzich-Tabor (LDnet): “An interesting example from Brandenburg was quoted, by the president of PURPLE, with a single priority axis of “Integrated development of rural and urban areas”, where project funding can be drawn from ERDF, EAFRD and ESF, for a total of 100 M€; a similar initiative is emerging in Brno with ITI and CLLD under a single OP from different funds.” Each speaker reminded the audience of the multiple challenges that rural territories are already facing (also the occasion to stress the need for an immediate action): depopulation, ageing, lack of connectivity (broadband), attractiveness for skilled people, masculinisation (when women are a source of stable development emphasised by C. Quintanilla, Deputy and President of AFAMMER), … But also how they have so much potential as more than just a space defined in contrast to urban areas.
Throughout the day and the various topics broached, the clear and strong need for a well-defined and asserted political philosophy, that could be in turn translated into a consistent political framework (like in a rural agenda) for the next programming period, appeared. That political will also need to emerge from the cooperation between the different stakeholders (EU institutions, organisations, regions, member states, urban territories, citizens, …). A cooperation and coordination which could compensate the impending budgetary loss. They are hoping that such a drive would be able to reveal the added value that rural territories represent. To create such a vision, there is the necessity of looking beyond the figures as important as they are, they do not mean much without goals. In that sense M. Dumitru (Deputy Director General, DG AGRI, European Commission) quoted President Juncker at the Conference “EU Budget focused on Results” in September 2015: “We need a budget aimed at results, rather than rules. A road to nowhere built according to the rules, is still a road to nowhere. We should not spend money just to obey the rules. It is important. But we should invest it with results in mind.”
Another common understanding among the participants of the conference was the requirement of a territorial approach, especially after the proven success of the LEADER program and the very beginning of some CLLD feedback on some project. In this regard, G. Peltre (President of the Rurality-Environment-Development network (RED) and the European Countryside Movement (ECM)) reminded the audience of the major role that regions have to play considering the knowledge they have of their territories: their specificities and how they are already tackling some of their challenges.
Worries were voiced out regarding the political orientation already drafted by various EU actors (the draft legislation for EU funding post-2020 is to be finalised and published by 26 May 2018). The new delivery model of the CAP (in M. Dumitru’s presentation based on the CAP communication) inviting each member states to define some basic but key requirements by themselves according to the territories is enhancing subsidiarity under the impression of simplifying some really complex and bureaucratic policy. Focusing on the results of a policy does not mean ignoring the method of implementation, key to ensure a fair development across Europe. Simplification disregarding some safeguards would just lead the way to disparities among territories, increasing national specificities and thus go against the ambition of territorial cohesion asserted by the EU. Therefore, participants called for some rural and CLLD proofing (already brought up in a previous meeting) at the EU level, indeed reasserting the potential of a rural agenda as a defined common policy.
To make sure of the right use and the efficiency of an integrated funding, in a result based view, the question of which criteria for which monitoring (at the EU level) arise. The necessity for it to go beyond the number of job created (as it is currently the case for the Leader program) was agreed by all, considering the tools (LEADER, CLLD, ITIs, …) for a place based development usually go further and involve social, environmental, health benefits to be attributed to those projects.
The stake of providing the right answers to rural development in order to prevail a peripheral Europe (and another populist vote) was at the forefront for many speakers. G. Peltre and G. Cros (Vice-President of the Regional Council of Occitanie, rapporteur for the European Committee of the Regions opinion on “The CAP after 2020”) concluded by acknowledging the need for funding but also by reasserting the necessity of a political will and an active integration dynamic (surpassing “national egoisms”) just as important to prevent failure. According to him, civil society needs to put their states under pressure despite the very tight timeline with which they are working.