- The need for designing a long term vision for rural areas was underlined in President Von der Leyen’s political guidelines and in AGRI Commissioner Wojciechowski’s announcements during his EP hearings (1 and 8 October 2019), where he committed to come forward with specific proposals on the future of rural areas and agriculture.
- Following the roadmap published by the EC on 22 July 2020, the upcoming Commission’s Communication (due in mid 2021) will aim to support a debate at European level on the future of rural areas by 2040.
- Its Action Plan will list the legislative and non-legislative actions (Rural Agenda) to be developed for agriculture and rural development (DG AGRI), climate action (DGS CLIMA and ENVI), employment (DG EMPL), connectivity and digital transformation (DGS GROW and CONNECT), cohesion (DGs REGIO and REFORM), education (DG EAC), research and innovation (DGs RTD and JRC),
- The implications for the CAP will be manyfold, as many rural development measures shall be implemented under this new Rural Agenda. This could possibly pave the way for a mid-term review of the CAP before 2024, which might include these “rural axis” legislative actions as well as measures linked to the Farm to Fork strategy/Green Deal/Recovery Plan and corrective actions to the new CAP delivery system.
- The coordination between policies and in particular the coherence between the Cohesion Policy and the CAP rural development policy will be key to ensuring the implementation of the Rural Agenda and avoid overlaps.
- The main features of EU rural areas explain why they are faced with economic, demographic, social and spatial challenges. They are summarized in a table attached to this in-depth analysis, which also lists the rural areas’ assets and opportunities and the relevant EU policy tools.
The Upcoming Communication on the Long-Term Vision of Rural Areas
Context and objectives
The need for designing a long term vision for rural areas was underlined in President Von der Leyen’s political guidelines and in the mission letters to Vice-President Suica (Democracy and Demography), Commissioner Ferreira (Cohesion and Reforms) and Commissioner Wojciechowski (Agriculture).
Furthermore, AGRI Commissioner stated his commitment to come forward with specific proposals on the future of the rural areas and the agriculture during the EP hearings of 1 and 8 October 2019.
On 7 September 2020, the European Commission (EC) launched a public consultation on its initiative for a long-term vision for rural areas. During the feed-back period (7 September – 30 November 2020) the EC services aim to collect views on current opportunities and challenges in rural areas, their specific aspirations and, last but not least, the actions needed to achieve them. This public consultation should be the first step towards an EC Communication on the topic, to be published mid-2021.
Following the roadmap published by the EC on 22 July, this Communication will aim to support a debate at European level on the future of rural areas by 2040 and the place they should have in the 21st century European society. It should be remarked that the launch of this initiative indirectly confirms
- the ineffectiveness of the Cork 2.0 Declaration ‘A Better Life for Rural Areas’ organised by the former AGRI Commissioner Hogan in September 2016;
- the lack of a suitable response to the rural challenges of the CAP reform proposals presented by the Commission in 2018 as well as of the foreseeable outcome of the on-going colegislators’ negotiations;
- the unique approach of the on-going CAP reform primarily focused on the CAP governance (‘new delivery model’), relegating the update of agricultural and rural development tools;
- the inconsistency of the European Council Summit of 21 July 2020 agreement reducing the rural development co-financing rates (10 points) and cutting the total amount of the Pillar 2 / EAFRD budget for the 2021/2027 period (see §2.2.2.); and
- the absolute need for clarification of the relationship between the ‘Rural Agenda’ to be presented by the Communication and the CAP; this need of clarity is particularly evident as regards the modalities of insertion of future rural actions within the CAP Strategic Plans to be adopted in 2021.
The roadmap published by the EC in July 2020 summarises briefly some guidelines of the future ‘Rural Agenda’. The Communication should design a holistic vision for the future of rural areas with 2040 as horizon and it should cover challenges such as
- demographic change;
- digital gap;
- low income levels;
- limited access to services; and
- specific climate change and COVID-19 crisis impacts.
As it is possible to deduce from the (brief) declarations of the roadmap,
- The first priority is attached to demography, based on the outlook and conclusions of the recent EC report on the demographic change and the future Green Paper on Ageing (foreseen for Q1-2021); this element is confirmed by the leadership attributed to the EC Vice-president in charge of the Democracy and Demographic portfolio.
- The long-term vision for rural areas will pursue an integrated approach involving several fields and EC DGs: agriculture and rural development (AGRI), climate action (CLIMA and ENVI), employment (EMPL), connectivity and digital transformation (GROW and CONNECT), cohesion (REGIO and REFORM), education (EAC), research and innovation (RTD and JRC), among other.
- Following the structure of past EC Communications (F2F Strategy, 2030 Strategy), the Action Plan accompanying the Communication will list the legislative and non-legislative actions (Rural Agenda) to be developed by the different DGs concerned under the umbrella of the EC Vice-president Suica.
- DG AGRI will focus its action on the rural development measures capable
- to fight the income differences between urban and rural areas;
- to create jobs in farming, cooperatives and primary processing industries;
- to improve installation of young farmers and new entrants;
- to prevent the adverse effects of the concentration;
- to implement innovative, inclusive and sustainable farming solutions in the light of climate and digital transitions; and
- to support mobility of farming land and to prevent its abandonment.
- Relevant challenges of rural areas (i.e. digital gap, negative demographic trends in particular in remote rural areas, access to basic services, or economic diversification outside agriculture), should be left to other EC DGs; thus, the coordination between different policies involved will play a central role in order to ensure the success of the Rural Agenda.
- Policy coherence of Cohesion Policy with the CAP rural development policy is in particular challenging after the proposed abandon of the EAFRD of the Structural Funds Framework for the next financial period 2021/2027. Whether this proposal is adopted by the colegislators, the single point of contact between the future Cohesion Policy and the new CAP should be the Initiative LEADER (competence of DG REGIO but financed by the EAFRD). However, CAP Strategic Plans should not be an obstacle to improve specific strategies for rural areas within the Cohesion Policy, as it already exists for the ‘urban areas’.
Implications for the CAP and the Conference of the future of Europe
The Rural Communication of 2021 has to be followed by legislative proposals and this process might end up with a mid-term CAP reform before the expiration of the Commission von der Leyen term (2024). Formally, the next CAP reform should be before the end of MFF period 2021/2027. However, Commissioner Wojciechowski can be tempted to launch a mid-term review before 2024 under the excuse of
- to deploy the new rural axis / legislative actions defined by the Communication on the long-term vision for rural areas and its Action Plan;
- to implement the legislative actions of the Farm to Fork Strategy attributed to the DG AGRI and to be presented before 2023;
- to improve the new CAP delivery system in the view of the designing and implementing experiences of the Strategic Plans by Member States and/or the results obtained;
- to fine-tune the targets and other elements of the European Green Deal Package; and
- to conclude the implementation of the Recovery Plan measures within the CAP (2021-2022)
Furthermore, the discussion process of the Communication would be overlaid on the debates and organisation of the Conference on the future of Europe, taking place in the first semester of 2022 under the French Presidency of the Council. In this context, the Rural Agenda could contribute to the reflection on the future of the European integration as well as to suggest innovative approaches for the CAP and its rural development policy.
The fact that the Vice-president Suica leads the Rural Communication and is at the same time the responsible of the Conference on the Future of Europe strengthens the links between both EC initiatives.
 ‘The Farm to Fork Strategy implications for agriculture and the CAP’, Policy Department B briefing, European Parliament, May 2020.