3 mins

Policy Brief on rural areas: More than just a publication

Fatima Bacharel
Andreea China

Since the first days of the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of European Union, ESPON and the Portuguese team have met regularly, expecting to bring and exchange, for the following six months, a multitude of experiences. But the way we communicate has changed radically during the pandemics, replacing face-to-face meetings with virtual ones, making everybody aware of possible constraints that could appear. However, confidently using smart technologies to overcome the distance, the teams were able to establish a strong connection, even virtual, in order to share ideas and communicate.

From an initial shy contact, at institutional level, the way we communicate got easier in our search for finding an innovative process and outcome of the collaboration between ESPON and a member state's presidency to the Council of the European Union.

The process for developing a Policy Brief was started, and the first foundational layer was created by using the big pool of data and territorial evidence provided by ESPON. Actually, looking within this significant amount of data, we chose to focus on thefuture of rural areas and attend the priority of the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of European Union. But one question arose: how to match rural areas needs and the evidence, calling on board relevant partners and stakeholders twork on a territorial approach?

Looking back, we think that that was the trigger question that created theopportunity / motivation / action trilogy.

If the emergence of theopportunity was obvious, this was also supported by the context created by the European Commission, which is developing the Long-Term Vision for Rural Areas (LTVRA). A vision that is pursuing an integrated approach looking at several critical thematic fields such as agriculture, climate action, employment, connectivity and digital transformation, cohesion, education, research, and innovation.

Thus, by aligning our visions we have set our main motivation: recognizing and illustrating the prosperous future that rural areas could have, focusing on the territorial dimension,and going beyond usual approaches like demographic shrinkage, investing in agriculture, or sustaining basic functions for living (water, raw materials, and food supply).

We felt that raising the awareness on the cultural and natural capital so necessary for sustainable ecosystems services, biodiversity patterns, landscape identity and Europe's cultural diversity, history, and attractiveness, is vital for the LTVRA and could make the difference for these.

But how to put this into action?

The answer was simple: using the Territorial Agenda 2030 (TA 2030) structure,putting priorities into action and advice policies into recommendations. After listing relevant ESPON evidence under Territorial Agenda 2030 framework, we then searched for policy responses for the long-term development of rural areas, policies that indicate the distinct territorial dimension and lead to action, translating the TA 2030 in the political debate on the future of rural areas.

The first step and the main challenge was to prepare a structured working paper, demonstrating the connections and linkages between ESPON territorial evidence and European objectives and TA2030 priorities, all to be discussed within an intersectoral debate.

Presented as a draft version, the Policy Brief was one of topics up for discussion within the Territorial Agenda Working Groupmeeting, involving European Institutions, as DG Agri and DG Regio. We can now say that was forcefully one of the key factors that contributed to the success of our mission.

That was really the kick-off of a true and dynamic debate, which produced several interactions, reactions, resulted in the endeavor to harmonize all the important contributions received.

Then, two more important milestones were hit: meetings of the National Territorial Cohesion Contact Points and of Directors-General,where the subsequent drafts of the Policy Brief were presented, fuelling national level debates. Within these contexts, a required bottom-up approach was provided by the, relevant for rural areas, TA2030 pilot actions, which have presented their plan in demonstrating, testing, and developing new practices and initiatives to achieve territorial development.

With this process of building up the ESPON - PPEU Policy Brief on Territorial evidence and policy advice for the prosperous future of rural areas, we believe that a common path for European rural areas was developed and laid before, a path that can be continued by other presidencies.

Actually, from this experience, the result - the Policy Brief, is neither's ESPON, nor of the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of European Union but is the joint creation/product of what we have built together, with important contributions of all member states and European institutions that care about the future of rural areas.

This is a call for reaching a common understanding as base for long-term cooperation and coordination on all levels, because only together we can make the new future of rural areas happen!

Fatima Bacharel is a Senior Officer at the Directorate for Territory Portugal  Andreea China is Senior Project Expert at ESPON EGTC

This article appears in Rural areas: an eye to the future

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