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Effective mechanisms to address new governance challenges in European rural areas

BLOG – 21/11/2022
by Carla Lostrangio

On 8th November, the EU-funded projects SHERPA & POLIRURAL held a webinar on “Effective mechanisms to address new governance challenges in European rural areas”. The webinar was organized as a side event of the European Week of Cities and Regions, a yearly event organized by the European Commission and the European Committee of Regions.

From crisis to opportunities in rural areas

In its opening address, Mr Samuel Vlcan, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development of the Slovak Republic underlined that rural areas are more vulnerable to current challenges – e.g. climate and energy crises, economic disruption, biodiversity collapse – than urban areas. Rural areas should look at these challenges as moments of opportunities and make full uptake of the EU Long-Term Vision for Rural Areas. He mentioned that projects like SHERPA & POLIRURAL projects can serve to go in this direction. Therefore, Ms Anita Seļicka, Executive Director of the Latvian Rural Forum and member of ELARD council, briefly introduced SHERPA & POLIRURAL projects and how they put into place a new governance approach to empower rural areas in tackling governance challenges, as further explained by four case studies.

Lessons learnt 1: foresight for rural envisioning

Ms Marieta Okenkova, Researcher at the Slovak Agricultural University and Leader of the Slovak Pilot at POLIRURAL, underlined that foresight is the perfect model to demonstrate rural actors that they can influence policies affecting them and the space they live in. In Slovakia, a 17-phases foresight exercise was held and involved over 1,700 people as part of the POLIRURAL project. This foresight exercise resulted on a Slovak definition on rural attractiveness as well as on a legally binding vision for rural areas, expected to be adopted by means of a constitutional reform in 2024. In addition, a committee was created in June 2022 and it aims advocate for permanent foresight activities in the future, where local people are engaged at all stages.

Lessons learnt 2: multi-actor platforms to empower rural actors

The following speaker was Mr Samuel Féret, mayor of the French village Arzal and coordinator of 2 French Multi-Actor Platforms within the SHERPA project. He underlined that EU-funded project can serve to reinforce dialogue, multi-stakeholder engagement and create common visions. This happened in the Multi-Actor Platform in the South French region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, where a rural network consisting of 15 people from science-society-policy co-designed their own rural vision. SHERPA MAP’s experience teaches that it is important:  i) to cultivate sense of ownership on rural policy, ii) make rural actors part of decision-making process, iii) suggest new approaches and methodologies to co-design rural policies.

Lesson learnt 3: bottom-up actions and technical support

Inclusion of rural people is a matter also in the county of Monaghan, Ireland, where approximately 63% of population live in rural areas. Rural people often feel excluded from policy decisions, claimed Mr Gabriel O’Connell, CEO at Monaghan Integrated Development and lead on a POLIRURAL supported Regional Foresight exercise. Mr O’Connell stated that we must move from an over centralized rural policy to involve rural actors in policy processes (e.g. Common Agricultural Policy,  Green Deal, Climate Change, Biodiversity etc.) based on the evidence that the “State cannot do it all”. Bottom-up methods like POLIRURAL approach to rural foresight and LEADER/CLLD, said Mr O’Connell, can contribute to more effective implementation of the EU Long-Term Vision for Rural Areas at a local level. In addition, Mr O’ Connell called for more measures for technical support for complex work areas (e.g. European Investment Bank, Green Bonds, crowdfunding), multi-fund approach in CLLD and NGOs need direct access to EU funds for rapid implementation. In operational terms, Mr O’Connel underlined that we need to mainstream rural foresight processes, as well as social innovation and design thinking to empower communities and channel their enthusiasm.

Lesson learnt 4: calling for more integration and cross-sectoral collaboration

Ms Karen Refsgaard, Researcher and Deputy Director at Nordregio, presented the work done by the Danish SHERPA Multi-Actor Platform at national level. In Denmark, 60% of land goes to agriculture and this creates conflicts and competition. Many different policy agenda compete with each other, e.g. energy, land use, agriculture, environmental protection. Ms Refsgaard insisted that rural areas need a focus on cross-sectoral collaboration and supervision in order to overcome these conflicts and build a rural desirable future. Few hindering elements to do this are: difference in interest and knowledge among stakeholders, how to involve all rural groups (e.g. green, youth, SMEs) and how to anchor activities with participants. To conclude, Ms Refsgaard recalled that green transition cannot happen without rural areas, and policies for sustainable green transition are closely connected to use of rural resources.

A panel discussion followed the four case studies, moderated by Ms Seļicka. The conversation underlined that we need to develop a more integrated approach that build on dedicated structures to involve stakeholders – including big players such as the energy sector-, as well as new local governance mechanisms such as such as social innovation, foresight and design thinking.

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