Broadband and trust key rural concerns

A new Cork Declaration — ‘A Better Life in Rural Areas’— emerged after Cork 2.0, a two-day conference on rural development and agriculture attended by more than 330 stakeholders from across Europe.

Addressing attendees in Rochestown Park Hotel, Cork, conference chairman Heino von Meyer, of OECD’s Berlin office, explained how the discussion groups logically arrived at formulating the ten-point declaration. 

Using a similar approach to the first Cork Declaration of 20 years ago, it was a bottom-up process, with passionate debate in parallel workshops, translating into thousands of post-it notes, from which the Declaration was distilled.

Attendees raised some new concerns and issues. The burning question of broadband provision and a need for better local democracy were two common talking points across the four workshop sessions.

In his opening address on Monday and in his closing speech on Tuesday, Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan said broadband connectivity in rural areas had to be addressed.

“Rural areas are still lagging behind when it comes to employment opportunities and the provision of infrastructure,” he said. “We need to make sure that rural areas are attractive places to live and work in if we want to reduce the youth drain.”

Several speakers cited Leader as a positive model. However, discussion groups said Leader groups have had their autonomy and their budgets trimmed by national government.

The word “trust”, however, was probably the most common concern for delegates: trust between local groupings in rural areas; trust in communication generally, and with larger institutions.

Phil Hogan interpreted this as a mistrust of the European process of governance: “I think people want to ensure that the programmes that are laid out at the beginning of the process are actually being implemented in the spirit intended,” he said. 

“Often, implementation by member states and management bodies can be interpreted a bit differently. We need trust between what is intended in the policy changes that are proposed in any CAP reform and what actually happens on the ground.

“Many NGO’s will have concerns after what happened in the reform in 2013… The proposals from the Commission on the environment were ambitious but there were 8,000 amendments proposed by the Council of Ministers and the MEP’s… NGO’s felt that there wasn’t the same level of ambition on the environmental side.

“These are the elements that feed into this issue of trust. We’re hoping to bring all stakeholders back on board in order to ensure that we make a determined effort in the next round of negotiations.”


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