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The Rural Pact High Level Rural Policy Forum in Sigüenza points towards the future of Rural and Cohesion Policies

Nov 8, 2023 | News

On 26-27 September the small town of Siguenza in central Spain was the epicentre of future rural policy thinking, gathering 200 key EU experts and decision-makers, experts and stakeholders from across Europe.

The Commission is working with the Spanish presidency of the Council of the European Union to adopt Council conclusions on the long-term vision for EU’s rural areas at the end of 2023, building on lessons learnt from the first two years of the implementation of the rural vision, in particular the stocktaking on actions carried out and programmed under the common agricultural policy and cohesion policy for 2021-2027.

The Spanish Agricultural Minister Luis Planas confirmed that the Spanish EU Presidency aims to agree with the other Member States Conclusions at the November General Affairs Council. This is seen as a vital step for designing the post 2027 Common Agricultural Policy, including Rural Development and EU Regional Policy.

Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski opening speech highlighted that 30 of the actions planned in the Long Term Vision for Rural Areas have been carried out only two years since it was launched. The results show that CAP strategic plans will allocate 24 billion euro directly to rural communities and the Rural Pact is key to delivering the Vision. In her own contribution Regional Policy Commissioner Elisa Ferreira, highlighted the value of EU Cohesion Policy in delivering the Rural Pact and addressing deep seated problems such as rural depopulation.

Despite the fact that the present CAP and Cohesion Programmes are being launched only now, due to the COVID-19 delays, a mid-term review of the EU budget 2021-2027 is ongoing. In fact, in view of the European elections in June 2024 and the new Commission mandate starting later next year, there is a flurry of activity to try to shape the priorities of post 2027 rural and cohesion policies. DG AGRI and DG REGIO officials Mario Milouchev and Wallis Goelen presented in Siguenza the first findings of their respective stocktaking exercises.

DG AGRI has just published their study on contribution of CAP Strategic Plans to the long-term vision for the EU’s rural areas. The study shows that 8% of expenditure is going towards non farming rural development. President Von der Leyen, in her recent State of the Union address, announced the launch of launch a strategic dialogue on the future of agriculture in the EU, given the great sensitivity around the relationship between food production and nature protection. Mr Milouchev confirmed that a set of proposals for the future of CAP will be unveiled early 2024.

EU Cohesion Policy is immersed in an equally intense debate not only about its future but about its very soul. The emergence of Next Generation EU in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis has prompted much soul searching about the relevance and added value of the policy as we have known it for over 30 years. A High Level Group has been convened and will report end 2023.

To influence this process the EU Committee of the Regions have just agreed their respective proposals (AEIDL contributed to the Boc-Cordeiro Opinion) whereas the EESC has agreed its proposals on the Recovery and Resilience Facility and cohesion policy: towards cohesion policy 2.0. That is precisely the title of the discussion held the day after Siguenza, a few hundred kilometres away in Murcia at the Cohesion Informal Ministerial meeting. The EU recovery plan has been a conceptual shock that risks centralising post 2027 EU funding and weakens the multilevel, local development and partnership elements that are the DNA of Cohesion and Rural Development policies. Still Wallis Goelen pointed out that the present 16% of investment that has been programmed for rural areas is a provisional figure, as the total for 2021-2027 will be several times more.

This is why the many national and regional ministers, OECD experts, CoR and EESC Rapporteurs, MEPs and national and pan European rural networks that gathered in Siguenza discussed how to boost the Long-Term Vision for Rural Areas and the EU Rural Pact.

In the findings of the various discussions held, there was agreement that more coordination is needed among the different EU and national funds and organisations. Participants also called for a stronger focus on local needs and local demands, as well as capacity building, perhaps with a Local Capacity Support Action to provide for one-stop-shop support for local communities accessing and managing EU funds and to ensure that these help provide basic services, including Digital connectivity for all. Going further, some speculated for the need of a dedicated Rural Pact fund. If anything, this shows the extreme dynamism about the present debate of the future of rural areas in Europe.

For AEIDL the High Level Policy Forum was a particularly happy event as, in addition of being responsible for the organisation of this High Level Policy Forum, AEIDL staff took an active speaking role throughout the programme. Furthermore among representatives from the projects were key partners of projects such as MOVING, GRANULAR, CODECS and SHERPA were also part of the agenda. AEIDL will continue engaging on this vital issue, only a few days before Siguenza, we held the policy inception meeting of our BEATLES project were we unveiled our base report on the roadmap for post 2027 CAP, which will be published shortly. Work on post 2027 Cohesion is also ongoing.

If you missed the Siguenza meeting, you can still watch it here.