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Salzburg, 12 November 2003

Salzburg rural development conference:"Less Brussels and more Salzburg, Savoy and southern Slovenia"

At a press conference opening the conference on the future of rural development policy in Salzburg, Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischler announced that local actors and the regions would be given a greater role to play. "I want to discuss with the conference, which is being attended by more than 1 000 people, how I can bring our rural development programmes closer to the regions and local actors. We need less Brussels and more Salzburg, Savoy and southern Slovenia," he said. Mr Fischler stressed that the Salzburg conference was about broadening rural development policy as one of the main pillars of agricultural policy. "Vibrant rural areas are essential for sustainable environmental, social and economic development in Europe. Our beautiful scenery and the accessibility of the countryside as a recreation area for city-dwellers, from mountain-bikers to outdoor enthusiasts, safeguarding our traditions and helping to hold society together, cannot be taken for granted. There is a price to be paid. If we cannot develop a workable, modern policy to meet these challenges, I am afraid that Europe's rural areas will fall prey to flight from the land, ageing, depopulation and unemployment. We can already see this happening today. Therefore my hope is that this conference will send out a strong signal, showing the way for the future shape and funding of rural development policy post-2006."

Mr Fischler wanted to see the conference participants put forward suggestions as to how present policy could be simplified. "Our present system is too complicated and inflexible. We need to open up rural development policy further. Rural development can no longer be geared solely to agriculture. Of course we need restructuring and diversification in the agricultural sector, but we also need sources of alternative employment outside farming - we need infrastructure, from child care to schools, if we are to keep the countryside alive. A good start has already been made. Finland, for example, has a project to reduce rural youth unemployment and another promoting information technology," Mr Fischler said.

Funding will be one of the main issues at the conference. "We also need to talk about money. The debate about the distribution of EU funding in a Union of 27 countries has already begun. It is all the more important for the conference to send out a clear political signal to policy-makers. At present we spend over €17 billion every year on rural areas at EU and national level. That is a lot of money, which we are already using to implement a whole series of custom-made programmes, ranging from the promotion of organic farming, investment aid for young farmers to promoting the marketing of quality regional products."

"Salzburg must address the following issue: Do we need more money? And if so, what for? I am convinced that there is broad support in our society for a better resourced rural development policy. But if we are to succeed in these times of budget cutbacks and the stability pact, we will need very good arguments," the Commissioner concluded.

More information about the Salzburg conference is available on the Internet:

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