AEIDL policy statement for the new EU Term

Overview

As the EU embarks on a new term, we face a mix of persistent and emerging challenges, all underscored by a growing urgency. Social, economic, and environmental threats are impacting citizens across all sectors, risking discord and fragmentation that could undermine the European project.

Yet, these challenges also present opportunities. At AEIDL, we envision a Europe that thrives on sustainability, inclusivity, and unity, powered by local and citizen-led initiatives. We believe local communities are the heartbeat of Europe's societies, economies, and environments, and are uniquely placed to address these challenges.

As we approach the 2024-2029 EU policy cycle, setting the stage for 2028-2034 priorities and funding, AEIDL calls on the new European Commission, Parliament, and Member States to champion innovative, sustainable, and inclusive local actions to achieve broader European goals.

In response to three pivotal challenges, we present 23 crucial appeals for the upcoming European Parliament, Commission term, and the forthcoming 2027-2034 EU policies and funds, in response to 3 critical EU challenges, in order to shape a brighter, more cohesive future for Europe.

Context

As outlined in our Strategic Plan 2024-2028, AEIDL’s vision is of a sustainable, democratically driven, inclusive, cohesive, and neighbourly Europe, revitalised by policies and practices that support and are inspired by local and citizen's initiatives. AIEDL intends to continue addressing the gaps and promoting local solutions in the following areas of tension:

  • Economic and territorial divide: the widening economic gap between rich and poor in the EU, leading to poverty traps, restricted access to essential resources, and more competition for scarce resources, and ultimately greater polarisation.  This also highlights the territorial divide, with increasing spatial inequalities between Northern and Southern Europe, and a shift from Eastern to Western Europe.
  • Threats to biodiversity, climate, and natural resources: urgent environmental concerns stemming from shortsighted decisions, over-consumption and unsustainable production models pose significant threats to our climate, biodiversity, and natural resources, evident by the increase in floods, fires, droughts, and the loss of biodiversity, negatively impacting people worldwide.
  • Social and labour exclusion: employability and skills gaps are pressing issues, with many regions experiencing high unemployment rates and a mismatch between the skills of the workforce and labour market demands. In addition, a growing societal divide is being exacerbated by globalisation, impeding individuals’ ability to maintain their traditions and values. Increasingly, digitalisation is also posing barriers to social inclusion, an indication of the importance to ensure access to information technologies and digital skills for all people in all regions.

These emerging dynamics are taking place against the backdrop of a noticeable decline in confidence in the EU and related political structures in general. This erosion of trust undermines democratic processes and the implementation of effective policies.

These challenges are highly interconnected and have significant impact at the local level, where they are often most observable, but also where solutions can be designed innovatively to address multiple issues simultaneously. AEIDL aims to promote and support the scaling of innovative local initiatives and solutions, contributing to the continuous improvement of public policies for sustainable development in Europe.

Safeguarding existing EU building blocks

AEIDL wants to reaffirm the importance of existing EU frameworks:

  • The Long-Term Vision for Rural Areas 2040: as the key EU initiative to revitalise and enhance sustainability by fostering collaboration among stakeholders across Europe, focusing on areas such as mobility, services, education and social inclusion.
  • The European Rural Pact as the framework for multilevel and multi-actor collaboration to achieve a common European vision for the year 2040.
  • The Territorial Agenda 2030: A framework promoting territorial cohesion and ensuring no place is left behind.
  • The European Green Deal: An interconnected, innovative and systemic goal with an urban-rural angle, where cities play a pre-eminent role. In particular, legislative proposals and initiatives such as the Fit for 55 Package (with the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Directives), the Circular Economy Action Plan, the Biodiversity Strategy to 2030, the Zero Pollution Action Plan and the Farm to Fork Strategy.’
  • The New European Bauhaus: An approach toward affordable, inclusive, sustainable, and beautiful living spaces in cities and metropolitan areas.
  • The New Leipzig Charter: A common framework for EU urban policy, guiding efforts toward greener, more productive, and more just cities.
  • The Urban Agenda for the EU: A unique multi-level governance approach that engages cities as key partners in addressing urban and territorial matters.
  • The Social Economy Action Plan: enhance social investment, support social economy actors and social enterprises to start-up, scale-up, innovate and create jobs.
  • The Industrial Transition Pathways: set of measures to achieve swift green & digital transition of EU industry and its ecosystems.
  • The European Pillar of Social Rights: sets out 20 key principles Guiding the EU towards a strong social Europe that is fair, inclusive and full of opportunity in the 21st
  • The EU Gender Equality Strategy: sets out policy objectives and actions to make significant progress by 2025 towards a gender-equal Europe.
I. Smart, innovative, sustainable and inclusive communities

Echoing some of the views from the “Together for a Smart Rural Europe” declaration1, the Brussels CLLD Declaration2, the European Rural Parliament manifesto3, the Sigüenza Rural Pact conference results4 and the “Time for Collective change” manifesto5 which AEIDL contributed to, we want to see reaffirmed and upheld the following principles: 

Structured dialogue and integration: A paradigm shift towards a more sustainable model requires the increased involvement of local communities in European governance, regulation, programmes and funding.  

  • AEIDL calls for a systematic and structured, binding dialogue between European institutions, national, regional, local and community organisations, as exemplified by the EU Rural Pact.  
  • Integration of urban rural and territorial dimensions whiting all relevant European Policies is essential. In this regard, AEIDL endorses the principle of Do Harm to Cohesion first formulated in the 8th Cohesion Report6. 

Citizen engagement: Citizens are the heart of rural and urban communities. Their active involvement is essential for sustainable development. 

  • AEIDL calls for participatory processes that engage citizens in finding solutions. By integrating their voices, we can co-create policies that truly serve the people. 

Gender and diversity: This is a cross-cutting principle that must permeate all EU policies, programme and funds at legislative, programming, delivery, implementation and evaluation stages and all levels. 

  • AEIDL calls for gender and diversity principles being applied consistently and robustly in all EU policies and programmes and at all levels of implementation. 

Holistic and evidence-based approaches: Rural and urban development must be interconnected, with evidence-based decision-making being crucial for their success 

  • AEIDL advocates for holistic approaches that consider economic, social, environmental, and cultural dimensions and encourage the use of data-driven insights to design effective policies, programmes, and projects that address territorial challenges comprehensively. 
  • AEIDL welcomes in this regard the work caried out over the last mandate on Better Regulation, Territorial Impact Assessment and Rural Proofing and therefore urges the generalisation of participatory rural proofing processes in the new EU term.  

Integrated territorial development: We insist that Community Led Local Development (CLLD), also known as LEADER, is a powerful tool for empowering local communities. It enables citizens to actively participate in decision-making processes, ensuring that development initiatives align with their needs and aspirations. 

  • AEIDL calls for the integration of CLLD and Integrated Territorial Investments (ITI) and other forms of empowering local communities into both EU-funded and domestic territorial development policies and programmes. 

Smart villages: Smart villages leverage digital technologies and social innovations to enhance the quality of life, economic opportunities, and environmental stewardship. Smart villages, as engines of innovation and resilience, should be at the forefront of future efforts. 

  • AEIDL urges EU policymakers to prioritise Smart villages as integral components of territorial development strategies, as they are vital hubs of creativity, connectivity, and sustainable practices. We further encourage investments in digital infrastructure, education, and entrepreneurship within rural areas, as this is essential for the success of Smart villages. 

 Climate-smart common agricultural policy: Recent mobilisations from the agricultural sector confirm the need to reduce the regulatory burden for farmers. Alignment with EU environmental targets, however, should still be very much considered to guarantee healthy and resilient agricultural systems while ensuring a fair payment distribution towards more environmentally friendly farming practices. 

  • AEIDL urges managing authorities, advisors and beneficiaries to boost capacity building in sustainable agricultural practices. Plus, it is necessary to align EU digitalisation and environmental objectives, including farm-centred policy solutions, smaller-scale, diversified and environmentally friendly agriculture, and ending perverse incentives.  

 Sustainable and climate-resilient communities: Promoting renewable energy communities and energy efficiency measures in older buildings; embracing the circular economy through waste reduction targets, eco-design, bio-based industries and sustainable local production; encouraging biodiversity-friendly agricultural practices such as agroecology, organic farming or agroforestry; and improving green spaces and infrastructure, are all concrete examples of measures that would help urban and rural communities become more resilient and sustainable. 

  • AEIDL calls for the next European Commission to put an emphasis on sustainability and climate resilience for rural and urban areas, particularly by continuing to work on legislative proposals and initiatives that encompass key guidelines, targets and measures to ensure a localised green and energy transition that leaves no one behind.  
II. Strong EU Territorial Cohesion post-2027

AEIDL recognises its key role in promoting economic, social, and territorial cohesion across all European territories and therefore endorses the views of the Cohesion Alliance declaration post 2027 Cohesion policy7. In so doing, we are advocating the following:   

 Eligibility for all European territories:  Cohesion Policy must continue to prioritise economic, social, and territorial development across the entire EU. No region should be left behind.  

  • AEIDL emphasises that all European territories should remain eligible for EU funding.  

 Multilevel governance and local involvement: the success of EU Cohesion and Rural Development policies lies in involving local actors. By engaging local partners in shared growth strategies, the EU’s presence and benefits becomes visible and tangible in every community.  

  • AEIDL calls for a robust commitment to multilevel governance in implementing Cohesion policies, urging all stakeholders to actively involve local actors in decision-making processes and policy execution. 

 European Partnership Pact: A unified approach ensures efficiency consistency and simplification in utilisation of shared management funds. 

  • AEIDL supports the proposal of a European Partnership Pact, which would define a single set of rules and goals for all shared management funds, including the European Agriculture Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) and new instruments like the Social Climate Fund.  

 Green and digital transition: Investments in sustainable practices, circular economy, and digital infrastructure will drive Europe’s future. 

  • AEIDL commits to promoting the green and digital transition through Cohesion Policy, CAP, promoting the Green Deal, Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals, and contributing to a just transition and the other place-based EU policies. 

 Social Innovation: AEIDL welcomes the increased emphasis on social innovation within the European Social Fund+ (ESF+), which calls for supporting social innovation through specific actions tailored to national and regional contexts. 

  •  AEIDL urges the EU to continue investing in the development, experimentation, and scaling of social innovations, particularly those that are community-led and locally driven.  

 Defending European democratic values: EU Cohesion Policy, Common Agricultural Policies and the other place-based EU policies are not just about funds; they are also about defending European democratic values.  

  • By bridging disparities, fostering inclusion, and empowering local communities, with the EU funding instruments, AEIDL contributes to strengthening the foundation and vision of the EU. 
III. A stronger EU Single Market

Inspired by Enrico Letta’s report for the European Council, “Much More Than a Market – Speed, Security, Solidarity”8, we reaffirm our commitment to a dynamic and sustainable Single Market that empowers EU citizens to move freely and choose where to reside. 

 Freedom to move: AEIDL recognises and values the right of free movement and residence for people within the EU, the cornerstone of EU citizenship, established by the Treaty of Maastricht in 1992. We also welcomed the gradual phasing-out of internal borders under the Schengen agreements following the adoption of Directive 2004/38/EC on the right of EU citizens and their family members to move and reside freely within the EU. However, since then the political situation has changed, and persistent obstacles are interfering with upholding this right.  

  • AEIDL urges the EU and national authorities to ensure this right remains intact and protected. The ability for EU citizens and residents to choose for themselves where to reside within the Single Market is vital. 
  • AEIDL also supports enhanced cooperation to reduce undue cross-border friction and in achieving seamless, multimodal and seamless mobility across the EU 

 Freedom to stay: At the same time, AEIDL recognises the importance of the freedom to also remain, to stay where one is and not be forced to leave. EU Internal Market and Competition policies must be put at the service of ensuring the freedom to stay principle: 

  • AEIDL strongly supports the Letta report proposals calling for all EU policies, i.e. such as Cohesion Policy and the Common Agricultural Policy, to contribute to the principle of the “Freedom to Stay”. 

 SMEs, proximity and social economy: The EU’s industrial strategy and economic health heavily rely on the growth, vitality, and innovation capacity of SMEs, as well as the contributions of proximity and social economy actors. These sectors are central to achieving the twin transition. In that respect, AEIDL welcomed the EU’s Transition Pathway on proximity and social economy.  

  • AEIDL supports the need for EU procurement and state aid rules to favour social economy initiatives, SMEs, and local community providers, ensuring they have the support and opportunities necessary to drive sustainable and inclusive economic development. 

 Social protection, social inclusion and employability: The Single Market's social dimension must be reinforced to promote fair working conditions, bridge skills gaps, and enhance employability and social inclusion. Active inclusion entails enabling every citizen, particularly the most disadvantaged, to fully participate in society, including securing employment. 

  • AEIDL urges the EU to promote labour market activation measures to increase the employability of the most vulnerable individuals. Additionally, the provision of essential Services of General Interest in all areas should be actively promoted and protected by EU law and domestic policies, ensuring equitable access and support for all citizens. 

 The Fifth Freedom: enhancing research, innovation and education: By fostering collaboration across borders, we unlock the potential of European universities, research centres, and entrepreneurs. 

  • AEIDL supports the idea of the Fifth Freedom within the Single Market: the freedom to enhance research, innovation, and education.  

 Leveraging the Single Market for green and digital investments: The Single Market must drive green and digital transformations. 

  • AEIDL stresses that the Single Market and the European Semester must be put to use to support circular economy practices, efficient public procurement, and enhanced administrative capacity.  
Conclusion

AEIDL commits to engaging with the EU institutions in the next EU term to pursue these goals and advance local development in Europe. Working together across borders and sectors, we will build resilient, vibrant and future-ready communities.