Under the heading, ‘A better life in rural areas’, the Cork Declaration 2.0 lays the groundwork for how we are currently developing our expectations and aspirations for rural areas in Europe. It places the emphasis on the need for integrated approaches, and the interaction between di-fferent policy fields to increase complementarity, coherence and leverage the advantage of large-scale synergies.
We believe ‘smart villages’ offer the best way forward for a sustainable realisation of the ‘Cork vision’. This concept is currently being carved out in the European Parliament.
As a continent, Europe needs to create a political climate where we see opportunity and potential in innovation rather than focusing on dangers and threats.
Europe has traditionally been an exemplary smart model, investing heavily in human resources and innovation and development, which has continually placed life quality before rapid economic gain and made up for missing natural resources with superior economic and living strategies.
With this in mind, there is a clear need for the new integrated, innovative approach described as ‘smart villages’ in European rural areas.
We have actively been pushing this concept forward via a pilot project in the 2016 EU budget titled ‘special EU Action for smart villages’, which received the full commitment of the European Commission in 2017. The approach has also been mentioned in official publications and was the subject of a preparatory action programme for this year’s budget.
These strategic, financial pillars of the project are continuously supported by a series of events such as the next high-level meeting in Bled, Slovenia on 13 April, in the presence of three European Commissioners and their Slovenian ministerial counterparts as well as the Slovenian Prime Minister. This demonstrates their political support for an initiative that could change the way we live in Europe.
As politicians, we need to recognise the needs that are important for future development. There are many innovations here in Brussels that were the results of feedback from our constituencies. Brussels has the potential to kick-start a ‘European Silicon Valley’ and not only at legislative level. Rural areas face a real and complex challenge, which needs to be tackled by a smart approach.
The ‘smart cities’ concept has already borne fruit throughout Europe. It is a logical consequence for us to now develop a ‘smart village’ to add to what is already working in cities. We have an in-depth strategy and the suitable technologies to revitalise rural areas, reverse the trend of depopulation and protect people against rural poverty.
When we talk about European villages and rural areas, we do not solely mean the 22 million European farmers and people working directly in the agricultural sector. More than half of the EU’s land area is within regions classified as predominantly rural; these areas are inhabited by more than 112 million people.
In order to ensure that the CAP remains an EU success story, we need adjustments and a change of focus.
Rural areas face specific challenges that need specific solutions. Ageing populations, lack of services (medical, postal, health, transport and energy) and limited broadband must all be addressed. Ensuring digital access can help sustain a healthy agriculture sector that in turn can help rural areas stem themselves against depopulation and help them retain young people.
Our new ’smart village’ approach is holistic and designed for implementation Europe-wide. The concept sets out to create liveable European villages where people can and want to be based, because innovative, digital solutions improve their lifestyle. New business models and platforms based on the shared economy, which are currently concentrated in urban areas, are great examples.
The ‘smart village’ projects wants to extend the opportunities these models bring to rural areas and complete the digital single market. In other words, we want to provide digital opportunities for people and businesses.
High-speed internet connectivity and adequate digital knowledge could attract new employment opportunities and create a business-friendly environment in European villages. Education in remote areas could be revitalised using digital platforms.
Quality education in small villages could bring opportunities for children that they never have previously enjoyed, thereby allowing them to stay in their respective villages while the world could open up for them.