Shaping the future of Rural and Mountain policies: Insights from Sigüenza High-Level Policy Forum 

by | Oct 3, 2023 | European stakeholders

Author: Serafín Pazos-Vidal (AEIDL) 

Editor: Miranda García (AEIDL) 

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 from across Europe.  This high-level rural policy forum was organised by the Spanish presidency of the Council of the European Union and the European Commission with the Rural Pact Support Office.

Setting the Stage for EU Rural Policy Vision 

The European Commission is working with the Spanish Presidency of the Council of the European Union to adopt conclusions on the EU’s Long-Term Vision for rural areas by the end of 2023. This vision builds upon lessons learnt from the first two years of the implementation of the Vision, particularly 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 General Affairs Council in November 2023. This is a vital step for designing the post 2027 Common Agricultural Policy, including Rural Development and EU Regional Policy.   

Progress and insights 

In his opening speech, Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski’s highlighted that 30 of the actions outlined in the Long-Term Vision for Rural Areas have already been executed within two years of its launch. The results show that CAP Strategic Plans will allocate 24 billion euro directly to rural communities and the Rural Pact is key to deliver the Vision. In her own contribution, the Regional Policy Commissioner Elisa Ferreira, emphasised the value of EU Cohesion Policy in delivering the Rural Pact and addressing deep seated problems such as rural depopulation.  

Although the current CAP and Cohesion Programmes are just beginning due to the COVID-19 delays, a mid-term review of the EU budget 2021-2027 is underway. In fact, in view of the European elections in June 2024 and the new Commission mandate starting later next year, there is a concerted effort to shape the priorities of post-2027 rural and cohesion policies.  

Exploring the path forward 

Officials from DG AGRI and DG REGIO, Mario Milouchev and Wallis Goelen, presented in Siguenza their initial findings of their respective stocktaking exercises.   

DG AGRI recently published a study on the contribution of CAP Strategic Plans to the long-term vision for the EU’s rural areas, indicating that 8% of expenditure is allocated to non-farming rural development. President Von der Leyen in her recent State of the Union address announced the launch of a strategic dialogue on the future of agriculture in the EU, given the delicate balance between food production and nature protection. Mr Milouchev revealed that a set of proposals for the future of CAP will be unveiled in early 2024. 

EU Cohesion Policy is immersed in an equally intense debate not only about its future and core principles. The emergence of Next Generation EU in response to the COVID-19 crisis has prompted re-evaluation of the policy’s relevance and added value. A High-Level Group is expected to report its findings at the end of 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 risk centralising post 2027 EU funding and weak the multilevel, local development and partnership elements that are the DNA of Cohesion and Rural Development policies. 

Despite ongoing discussions, Wallis Goelen pointed out that the present 16% of investment programmed for rural areas is provisional, with the final figure for 2021-2027 expected to be significantly higher. 

Towards stronger coordination and local focus 

In Sigüenza, national and regional ministers, OECD experts, CoR and EESC Rapporteurs, MEPs, and rural networks explored ways to enhance the EU’s Long-Term Vision for Rural Areas and the Rural Pact. Discussions emphasised the need for greater coordination among EU and national funds and organisations. Additionally, a stronger focus on local needs, capacity building, digital connectivity for all, and potential Local Capacity Support Actions to facilitate local communities’ access to and management of EU funds were discussed. Some even suggested the need for a dedicated Rural Pact fund. 

These deliberations underscore the dynamic nature of the ongoing debate surrounding the future of rural areas in Europe. 

Contributions from the MOVING project 

Representatives from the MOVING project made significant contributions during the forum. Teresa Pinto Correia, Work Package 3 leader from the University of Évora, actively participated in the session titled “Strengthening rural areas’ contribution to food systems and the bioeconomy.” She brought to light the multifaceted challenges confronted by the MOVING Reference Regions, which encompassed issues such as climate change, environmental degradation, skill shortages, and geographical remoteness, among others. Mrs. Pinto also underscored the pivotal role that value chains (VCs) play in fostering recovery within these regions.  

Moreover, she emphasised the pressing need for a new generation of multi-level governance mechanisms tailored to effectively address the growing vulnerability of mountain areas to multiple drivers of change. To achieve this, she advocated for enhanced data disaggregation, specifically focusing on economic, social, environmental, and meteorological aspects related to mountain regions, thereby supporting evidence-based policy and strategy formulation. 

Additionally, Mrs. Pinto highlighted the importance of more targeted and integrated territorial development strategies specifically designed for mountain areas. Such strategies should not only meticulously address the unique nuances of local and regional contexts, even at the level of massifs, but also facilitate broader access to a diversified range of funding opportunities, both from the EU and other sources. 

If you missed the Siguenza event, you can find its key messages in the highlights report.