Open days: Structural funds of great help to Finland
Finland has many sparsely populated areas and needs to continue receiving regional development funds to help them, says Hannu Takkula.
Finland has been a member of the EU for 20 years. Looking back, there have been many positive developments. However, others have not been as welcome. Finland's largest daily newspaper, the Helsingin Sanomat, recently reported that over the next 15 years, hundreds of thousands of people will be moving out of the country's rural areas.
20 of Finland's largest cities were asked for their population forecasts to 2030, and collectively they predicted considerable growth of over 400,000 people.
While a small portion of this amount can be attributed to immigration and natural birth, the main reason for this increase will be the continuous flow of people moving out of rural communities and into urban areas.
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And though 400,000 people may seem rather insignificant, it is actually very significant in a country with a total population of 5.5 million, and whose land area is the fifth largest in the EU.
Finland's accession treaty clearly recognised the country's specific challenges; sparse population, long distances and a harsh climate. The country has certainly benefited, and still benefits, from structural fund support, which has helped advance its competitiveness.
Some of the more successful projects supported by EU structural funds can be found in the sparsely populated eastern and northern parts of Finland.
These include: research on printed intelligence - 'PrintoCent'; the development of international particle research - 'Laguna Research Centre' in the Pyhäsalmi municipality; the pilot concentrator project supporting the mining industry in the University of Oulu; the mining education unit - 'Oulu mining school'; and the international geopark network activities in Rokua National Park.
One of the most significant structural fund projects has been the establishment of the northern start-up fund in Oulu in the north Ostrobothnia region. The European regional development fund has provided substantial investment, supporting dozens of start-up companies with potential for growth, and has played a major role in boosting the business sector in this region.
Looking ahead, it is essential that Finland's unique and challenging features continue to be taken into account for future structural funding. The network of northern sparsely populated areas, with which I work closely, is actively involved in this field.
Finland is remarkably rich in terms of its natural resources and its natural environment. Maximising these resources, in an appropriate and sustainable manner with little to no impact on the environment, needs active support from decision-makers, including the EU, particularly in the field of R&D, and also in the improvement of existing industrial and logistical infrastructure.
For example, the trans-European transport network (TEN-T) could look at improving connections for northern sparsely populated areas with the rest of the EU.
Additionally, the Bothnian corridor, a strategically important link within the transnational transport system of goods in northern Europe (Sweden, Finland, Norway and Russia) could be included in the larger European core corridor network. A mid-term review of TEN-T will commence next year, and I will be paying close attention to proposals for better connectivity in the north.
Finally, whenever regional development is being discussed - whether it concerns Finland or any other norther countries, the Arctic should not be forgotten.
The Commission and the European external action service are currently preparing a communication on the Arctic, which Finland is eagerly awaiting.
The current state of the country's economy is not at its best. Combating high youth unemployment and updating industrial infrastructure mean that economic recovery will take some time.
It is vitally important for Finland, and, in particular, the sparsely populated areas, that regional policy funding continues to be available, that the paperwork and red tape to request funding is simplified, and, most importantly, that the available funding is utilised in the most effective manner.
My priority during this legislature, as the Finnish member of the European Parliament's regional development committee, will be to ensure that the share of structural funds apportioned to Finland, which has been on the decline over the years, is increased during the mid-term review process.
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