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The Council of the EU adopts its conclusions on the rural vision

Ministers for agriculture have adopted conclusions on the long-term vision for rural areas. The conclusions include crucial elements that aim to steer and inform upcoming political discussions on the ways forward for rural policies.

Guided by the compromise of the Spanish Presidency of the Council of the EU, ministers for agriculture have formally adopted the Council's conclusions on the long-term vision for rural areas during the ‘Agriculture and fisheries’ Council (AGRIFISH) meeting that took place on 20 November 2023 (Read the conclusions here). This comes after a long process of consultations between Member States and with all stakeholders, giving them the opportunity to voice their priorities and their concerns on the future development of the EU's rural areas. The process started in 2021 with a first political discussion on the rural vision, held by the Slovenian presidency. Subsequently, a conference on the Rural Pact was organised by Sweden, and a ministerial discussion took place during the September 2023 AGRIFISH Council meeting. Last, the High-level Rural Policy Forum organised by the Spanish presidency, with the European Commission in Sigüenza (Spain) at the end of the same month stressed the most important concerns and demands (find highlights report of the forum for more information, available in both English and Spanish). 

The Council welcomes the vision and its holistic approach. Highlighting the imperative of integrated territorial development, economic diversification, and the pivotal roles played by SMEs and cooperatives, the Council supports the prioritisation of investments in green and digital transitions. It calls for addressing the lack of public services and infrastructure, and boost skills and innovation to combat depopulation and foster generational renewal in farming and beyond. Recognising the vital role of women, the Council advocates for enhanced employment opportunities and gender equality, fostering their active participation in farming and rural development. 

The role of the Local Action Groups are indispensable to bring Europe closer to citizens.  Enhanced citizen engagement and fair rural-urban relationships and just transitions are also highlighted. 

The Council stresses the imperative of implementing the rural vision in collaboration with rural citizens, employing place-based and territorial approaches, such as community-led local development or LEADER, and the development of smart villages. It welcomes the EU rural action plan, emphasising the importance of continuous monitoring. Enhanced coherence and synergies among policies are demanded, advocating for the implementation of rural proofing at all levels, urging its encouragement on national, regional, and local fronts. The importance of data through an expanded rural observatory is also stressed, along with the valuable contribution of the rural revitalisation platform. 

The Council acknowledges the pivotal role rural areas play in addressing EU challenges and outlines the importance of aligning funding accordingly. To ensure its effective utilisation, the Council asks for the establishment of a monitoring system to assess EU funding supporting rural areas. Additionally, it calls for a procedural framework at the onset of each programming period to ensure complementarity, coherence, and synergies among policies. In a proactive stance, the Council urges the Commission to produce a comprehensive report on the long-term vision for rural areas. This report should delineate options for enhancing support, improving synergies, and incorporating targeted monitoring mechanisms. In addition, the Council's call for the Commission to translate the vision into a measured EU strategy illustrates its commitment to ensuring a sustainable and prosperous future for rural communities. 

Finally, the Council invites all administrations and Member States to engage in the Rural Pact. The latest Policy Briefing ‘Making the Rural Pact happen in Member States developed by the Rural Pact Support Office outlines the ingredients needed to foster concerted action towards implementing a thriving Rural Pact at national and regional levels and contribute to the vision. 

 

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