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Member of the European Commission responsible for Agriculture, Rural Development and Fisheries

Closing remarks

European Conference on Rural Development

Salzburg, Austria, 14 November 2003

Ladies and Gentlemen

It is a difficult but deeply encouraging task to summarise the work of the last two days.

  • Difficult because I can in no way do justice to the richness, diversity and commitment that I have heard from many of you.

  • Deeply encouraging because it is this richness, diversity and commitment that is the strength of our rural areas and communities.

The Commission came here to listen and to learn from your experience of rural development over the past years. However, as I said in my introduction yesterday, we must look ahead and decide on the direction we want rural development policy to take, on the symphony we want to play in the years to come. To do this, we need the input of all key stakeholders, of all the instruments of our rural orchestra, the violins as well as the trumpets and the triangle. I think we have heard them all during our conference in Salzburg.

Here, I would like to thank the experts, panellists and all of you who participated in our discussions for having brought your knowledge and expertise. In particular, I would like to thank the chairmen, speakers and the rapporteurs for ensuring that the productive work of the panels brought clear and relevant conclusions.

Of course, discussion and debate do not take place in a vacuum. We have enjoyed the excellent atmosphere and the spirit of musicality here in Salzburg which allowed such a smooth running organisation. I think you would all join me in thanking our Austrian hosts, as well as all those involved in making our conference function so well. Finally, can I thank both the Austrian and German authorities for ensuring that we will keep our feet on the ground. The field trips of this afternoon will show us the wide range of what rural development is really about.

Now, let me summarise in a few words the messages I have heard from you here:

  • Europe's rural areas are special. We value them for their contribution to our food, our landscape, our environment, our heritage and our recreation. We value them for their diversity and for the communities they sustain.

  • We share a clear view of what is needed to ensure the future of our rural areas - a competitive agricultural sector, the preservation and enhancement of the rural landscape and the reinforcement of the social fabric a living and diverse countryside.

  • We can be proud of what we have achieved over recent years with our rural development policy, but we know we can do better. We need a simpler, more flexible policy that builds on partnership. We must also take account of the lessons we have learnt from LEADER, our laboratory for new ideas in rural development.

  • We are all aware of the challenges that face us in the new Member States. But we can only be heartened by what has already been put in place by SAPARD, and by the enthusiasm and commitment to rural development that we have heard over the past days.

Many important debates lie ahead of us in the coming months as the European Union shapes its policies for the next financial perspective. We will all need to work to ensure that the shaping of the new rural development policy meets the needs and expectations of rural areas and communities.

Ladies and Gentlemen

I would like to explore in greater detail what needs to be done, particularly from the perspective of the Commission. Let me start with the aims of our policy, which we must clarify and strengthen.

Future EU rural development policy must promote the sustainable development of our rural areas. And it is the development of the broader rural economy and rural communities which is essential for a living countryside. This will be essential to increase the attractiveness of rural areas, promote sustainable growth and generate new employment opportunities, in particularly in the new Member States but also in the old Member States.

To achieve this we must build upon the full range of development potential of our rural areas and communities and take into account their specific needs. We will need to think at the level of the Commission, the Member States, regional and local authorities as well as local groups about how we can do more and do better in the next programming period.

Your contributions were quite clear about that preserving the diversity of our countryside is of ever growing importance. The sustainable development of over 80% of the EU's territory is, of course, not possible without the essential contribution of agriculture and forestry. And this is right as I said yesterday our farmed areas are not a theme park, or a nature reserve, they are places where men and women work the land. This we must say loud and clearly. They will have to continue to make a vital contribution to our rural landscapes and we will have to provide the right incentives that they continue to deliver this service to the society as a whole and that they take into account the ever growing environmental concerns.

Here we will find ways of strengthening the contribution of our policy. This will be of particular importance in more remote rural areas with their sites of high value.

We have heard from many delegates that the competitiveness of the farming sector must remain a key aim of our policy. Restructuring of the farm sector is of particular importance for the new Member States, given the significant further agricultural restructuring anticipated in these countries. But in both new and old Member States the opportunities for growth will come increasingly through diversification and the production of the high quality products demanded by society. In this way our policy must better contribute to the sustainable growth that is Europe's ambition for all sectors of activity.

Finally, our goal must be to see the sustainable development of all rural areas. Society expects all farmers regardless of where they are to take on new roles and responsibilities. The on-going restructuring of the agricultural sector, the effects of CAP reform and changing patterns of agricultural trade affect all rural areas across the EU. Rural development policy is the key Community instrument to help all farmers and other rural actors face these challenges.

We have had many excellent contributions from representatives of the new member states. We have heard a clear message that I think we should all take to heart - we must avoid sterile debates that set rural development against cohesion policy. Our enlarged union needs both a strong rural development and a strong cohesion policy the two are mutually supportive.

Ladies and Gentlemen

As I said in my opening speech yesterday, it is not enough to know what we want to, we must also think carefully about how best to achieve our aims. The aims of our policy are closely inter-linked. Only an integrated policy can deliver effectively the wider goal of revitalising the economic, environmental and social fabric of Europe's rural areas. We will reap the full benefits of our policy only if we can make use of what we have at hand in a simple and effective manner. Let me start with the most important ingredient in the successful delivery of our programmes people:

  • Farmers must continue to occupy a central role in and be significant beneficiaries of Community rural development support. But rural development policy also serves the needs of broader civil society in rural areas. Strengthening the links between the agricultural sector and the wider rural community will promote the sustainable development of rural areas sought by all rural stakeholders.

  • I hope that many of you will have taken the opportunity here in Salzburg to make new contacts and discover new ideas and approaches, particularly as regards projects aimed at rural communities. We can certainly do more to foster these types of projects at a local, national and EU level. I am certain that we can all strengthen our commitment to learning from each other and encourage the exchange of experience and good practice through networking.

  • To respond effectively to local and regional needs, it is essential to bring in a broad range of rural stakeholders with their expertise in the drawing up and subsequent implementation of programmes. Capacity building continues to be a key challenge. As we have learnt over the last days there are many ways of involving the public and private organisations and civil society. Here again, I hope this conference gives a new impetus to the sharing of good practices.

  • In this context, future policy must include wider and improved possibilities to encourage bottom-up local partnerships. We have learned from LEADER that the bottom-up approach is an excellent tool to mobilise local actors. We must use this experience for our future programmes.

Turning now to the question of the nuts and bolts of our programmes. Here, in my view the conference has provided us with a clear message about how we run rural development. And it is a simple message - we must ensure that the work of those involved in our programmes is not frustrated by unnecessary complexity and bureaucracy. Here perhaps more than anywhere, we need to take forward a positive agenda.

  • Clearly, a significant simplification of the delivery system for Community rural development policy is required. This means one programming, financing and control system tailored to the needs of rural development. In my view, we also need to reflect on the balance of responsibilities between the Commission and Member States, so that we can all do our job better.

  • Europe's rural areas and their needs are becoming more diverse. We need to work out how to balance European priorities, such as maintaining multifunctional agriculture in all parts of Europe, and local needs. Taking the principle of subsidiarity seriously, we need more flexibility and freedom for partnerships, but with flexibility comes responsibility and accountability.

  • When we really want to shift from controlling expenditure to verifying outcomes, we need better rural development strategies with clearer aims, better targets and monitoring and evaluation. I know we are confident enough to set ambitious targets for our policy, we should also be confident enough to put these down on paper and stick to them. This will help us to show that the money invested in rural development is well spent.

Ladies and Gentlemen

We need a strong and forward-looking EU rural development policy to mobilise the full potential of all rural areas and communities. Thanks to your contributions, the seeds of a new approach have been sown here in Salzburg, of a policy focused on a diverse and living countryside and firmly grounded in our rural communities and heritage.

The aspirations for our rural development policy were born in Cork, let us all ensure that the Salzburg Conference signals the coming of age of a rural development policy a “symphonie rurale” - for the 21st century.

Thank you

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