On 12th of October 2015, the European Confederation of Local Intermediate Authorities (CEPLI) organized an Open Days Side Event on the theme "Provinces reinforcing economic development in rural areas".
Mr Paul-Emile Mottard, president of CEPLI and president of the Association of Walloon Provinces (Belgium), opened the debate by underlining the fact that peri-urban and rural areas benefit from clear potential for growth but they are insufficiently valorised in the current context. The measures that provinces, regardless of their name in Europe (Kreise in Germany, Départements in France, Powiat in Poland or Judeţ in Romania) could take, as legitimate authorities of proximity, have the ability and the means to ensure real sustainable development in full compliance with the objectives of European Union Cohesion Policy. He also pointed out the problems related to unemployment, social exclusion, or the limited dissemination of information technologies and communication facing these rural areas.
The speakers tackled the key issues of rural development and possible solutions implemented in their communities, highlighting the role of local intermediate authorities in supporting and developing economic actions in the benefit of rural areas, especially the initiatives on tourism, cultural heritage, access to broadband, mobility and new opportunities for young people living in these communities:
Mrs Ana-Claudia Tapardel, MEP (video message), stressed the importance of solidarity in order to reduce the gap between rural and urban areas and thus preserve the European lifestyle and objectives. Indeed, it is by working together and speaking with one voice that we can implement policies adapted to the challenges faced nowadays by rural areas.
Mr. Robert Meureau, President of the Rural Foundation Wallonia, has meanwhile raised the need of citizens’ participation in the monitoring of rural development policies. The provinces are, in fact, facilitators allowing to different actors to interact and converge their communities’ rural development programs. He also pointed out the importance of waterway tourism that allows the link between rural and urban areas in the Province of Liege (Belgium), for example.
Mr. Alin-Adrian Nica, Chairman of the Romanian delegation to the Committee of the Regions and mayor of a rural community, stressed the importance of multilevel governance and, first of all, cooperation between local, regional and national authorities. He then mentioned two examples of good practice in his rural community: one related to regeneration in his rural community, by transforming some communist farms in an area of production and services, the headquarters of one of the largest furniture factories in the country; the other, related to an European funded project promoted by the province, through which 14 rural authorities will benefit from ICT facilities and broadband, in order to ensure the standardization of the necessary software for documents management, farm registry and local taxes.
Mr. Alessandro Pastacci, member of the Italian delegation to the CoR and president of the Mantova province, reported on the reform of the provinces in Italy, through which some provinces disappear. However, the Italian provinces are increasingly called upon to support local communities; they provide an important networking centre aimed to solve the urgent problems and needs of rural communities, being the closest level of governance to rural authorities. He then gave an example related to the fight of provinces against school dropout, and he also stressed the importance of sustainable mobility and tourism.
Finally, Mr Pierre-Bernard Van Acker, coordinator Hageland-LEADER (Belgium), presented the Hageland programme, in the Flemish Brabant region. The province, having an overall view on local communities, was able to propose projects and played an important role in the regional branding of Hageland, as well as in the involvement of neighbouring towns and the University of Leuven in this program. In fact, Hageland-LEADER programme means a multi sector regional development plan, multi stakeholders approach and large participation of inhabitants.
An interactive debate, moderated by Mr Dan Luca, senior director to Euractiv Media-Brussels, turned into a real exchange of views and experiences between participants.
Several initiatives and concerns were then presented, among which:
The President concluded by stressing three major challenges:
The debate was attended by 52 politicians, experts, representatives of civil society and local communities from Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Spain.