We spoke to MEPs from across Parliament about how the EU can better support rural communities.
REFLECTING RURAL REALITIES - Franc Bogovič (SL, EPP), chair of the RUMRA and Smart Villages intergroup
Rural areas must have good access to education, infrastructure and connectivity, where young people and young farmers feel they can live vibrant and fulfilling lives with the same opportunities as their urban counterparts.
As the OECD stated in its Rural Policy 3.0 mechanism, we should focus on delivering a comparable level of wellbeing for Smart Village dwellers as those living in urban areas expect. Quality of life has three main dimensions that we should take into account.
First, an economic one, where household incomes rely on working with productive and competitive companies.
The second is social, with households able to access a broad set of services and where local society is cohesive and supportive.
The last is a local environment, that is a pleasant place to live.
Our SMART Villages for Rural Communities Intergroup initiative tries to take account of both technological and social innovation. When technology and innovation become tools of human cooperation, then the synergies sought by merging technologies can be achieved.
Sparsely populated, mountainous and rural areas are diverse, but they offer opportunities that we should seize.
We should remember that these areas provide food, service or ecosystems that help maintain our landscapes.
BRINGING DIGITAL BENEFITS - Clara Aguilera (ES, S&D) is a vice-chair of the RUMRA and Smart Villages intergroup
Rural depopulation is probably the most accurate indicator of the degree of success - or failure - of rural development policies.
In my country, Spain, it has erupted into the political and media agenda, after much effort to make it visible to those who suffer from the consequences.
This has become known as “empty Spain”, a challenge that we Socialists take very seriously. It is why we have welcomed, with interest, the possibilities offered by the sustainable use of new technologies and more specifically the Smart Villages model.
The Smart Villages project brings together ideas, good practices and innovative case studies for tackling rural challenges.
This is a project that I am pleased to support and promote as a Vice-President of the SMART Villages for Rural Communities Intergroup. I wish to inform, exchange experiences and disseminate the possibilities offered by the sustainable use of new technologies in rural areas.
This will reinforce the actions of the second Pillar of the CAP and reverse the abandonment suffered by large parts of our rural territories.
REDUCING RURAL POVERTY - Engin Eroglu (DE, RE) is a vice-chair of the RUMRA and Smart Villages intergroup
In many respects, Germany is a flourishing country by European standards. Unemployment is below five percent; the average income is €45,000 and GDP is €4 trillion.
All this while we sustain the famous ‘black zero’ (government revenues are even marginally higher than expenditures).
Yet under closer scrutiny, the picture changes. Rural areas are becoming increasingly impoverished.
There are a lack of services including medical care and training, and poor transport connections.
Those who want a good school for their children, or are chronically ill, increasingly move to the city.
This rural exodus aggravates the situation, with bakeries, butchers and pubs closing and adding to social impoverishment.
Spurring this negative development is the growing digital divide between rural areas and cities.
It is unacceptable that one of the richest regions in the world, Bavaria (which would independently be the six richest EU Member State), lacks proper internet coverage.
People are hungry for digitisation and innovation because they offer the opportunity to improve the quality of life in rural areas; people in cities are thirsty for free roads, good air and beautiful landscapes.
Smart Villages offers a concrete opportunity to meet these needs and close the digital divide between cities and villages.
REVERSING RURAL DEPOPULATION - Niklas Nienass (DE, Greens/EFA) is a vice-chair of the RUMRA and Smart Villages intergroup
The share of people working in agriculture across the EU has dropped from around 50 percent in the 1800s to 4.4 percent in 2015.
Increased urbanisation has shaped Europe’s infrastructure and thus living conditions in our countryside.
Much of Europe lacks basic public transport, internet access, common spaces for social interaction, and other services such as health, childcare, education as well as job opportunities.
Many people choose, or would choose, to live in the countryside, but this is not easy under current circumstances.
The question that we have to ask, as legislators for European politics, is how do we improve living conditions in rural areas?
How can we leverage existing potential? How can we make the countryside so appealing that young people want to live there? What role can the countryside play in tackling climate change?
Technological advancements in big data processing, AI, blockchain or resource usage self-regulation can be a major help to work on the rural future.
Policymakers should support rural areas and see how smart our villages can be.
This is why we wanted to establish the SMART Villages for Rural Communities Intergroup.
European plant scientists are hindered by an outdated regulatory framework that is at odds with recent scientific evidence, writes Dirk Inzé.
Ignoring scientific consensus and expelling an entire technology is a high price to pay for political convenience, argues Beat Späth.
Continuing to deny the benefits of GM crops is unfair and counterproductive, argues Pedro Narro Sanchez.