Smart Villages: overcoming the divide between rural and urban areas
Participants at the event took part in interactive thematic discussions and explored practical examples of how to pursue the transition to Smart Villages, with regard to:
· renewable energy: led by experts from the European federation of renewable energy cooperatives who presented how this business model, where citizens jointly own and participate in renewable energy or energy efficiency projects, can help revitalise rural areas.
· digitalisation: led by experts from the Politecnico di Milano and Laposte net who focused on the potential of digital technologies to help tackle important and urgent economic, social, climate and environmental challenges facing rural areas.
· social innovation: with experts from Social Innovation in Marginalised Rural Areas (SIMRA), a project funded by the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme. Social innovation can bring new solutions to problems in rural areas - especially marginalised rural areas -, which must re-invent their role and their capacity to innovate.
· mobility: led by experts from the SMARTA project. The discussions focused on rural public transport services in Europe that are under stress, due to a combination of factors including austerity measures, demographic change and poor connectivity in terms of transport and telecommunications infrastructure.
Representatives from the EP, DG AGRI and DG REGIO discussed policy evolution and expectations regarding Smart Villages with stakeholders from the mountainous (Euromontana) and rural areas (RED) of Europe. MEP Franc Bogovic outlined the initiatives taken within the European Parliament to support Smart Villages through the future CAP and talked about the launch of an Intergroup on Smart Villages to further share knowledge and experience.
A DG AGRI representative underlined that in the future CAP Managing Authorities will have the opportunity to support Smart Villages through the CAP Strategic Plans. In this context, Member States will have the flexibility to decide on the type of interventions needed for their specific local context.
A representative of DG REGIO focused on how Smart Villages can address the urban-rural divide and analysed how the future post-2020 Cohesion Policy tools like Community Led Local Development (CLLD) and Integrated Territorial Investments (ITI) can help to overcome this challenge.
From a grassroots perspective, Euromontana discussed opportunities for social innovation in the most remote and isolated mountainous areas, as a solution to help boost their potential.
Ruralité-Environnement-Développement (R.E.D) stressed that different places have different starting points and it is important to base action on where people are. Many places need capacity building but also they need a local vision of where they want go and what they want to achieve.
The visions of the Smart Village Vuolijoki, located in the middle of Finland on the south coast of Lake Oulujärvi, and the ecovillage in Cloughjordan, in County Tipperary in Ireland, were presented.
Take away message
Smart Villages are a new concept that can be instrumental for the development of rural areas. EU rural areas are places with great assets and they can become even more attractive if we enable local actors to unlock their potential. Fostering urban-rural links and creating synergies can help Europe to achieve more cohesive and balanced development.
· "The CAP proposal for the future includes very flexible funding opportunities for Smart Villages – for example support for cooperation, investments, broadband, training, and through LEADER. Member States should design interventions that complement existing initiatives, according to the needs of local people"– Stefan Jensen-Ostegard, DG AGRI
· "The CAP proposal for the future includes very flexible funding opportunities for Smart Villages – for example support for cooperation, investments, broadband, training, and through LEADER. Member States should design interventions that complement existing initiatives, according to the needs of local people" – Stefan Jensen-Ostegard, DG AGRI
· "We have come to a key question: how to build human capital where it is lacking? We have seen many different examples. But this local capacity needs to be helped to emerge and sometimes this needs to be supported by professionals. This is where policy could help" – Marie Cloteau, Euromontana
"It is important that we have a European Rural Agenda. RED has been calling for this for a long time in partnership with the European countryside movements and national associations. The European Rural Agenda will give a framework to rural development in a broad sense" – Marie Noel Neven, RED