The European Rural Parliament (ERP), held in Candás between 6 and 9 November, calls for “a truly attuned rural agenda” between civil society and the political organisations that design policies, where “inclusive cooperation and partnership at all levels are combined to ensure that rural Europe thrives”.
A total of 335 delegates representing 38 European countries, including rural people, representatives of civil society organisations, researchers, national governments and institutions of the European Union, gathered in Candás to share the different urgent points for the maintenance of the rural world in Europe. The final objective of the meeting was to draw up the Candás Declaration, which gathers together the demands of the European rural population and which will be taken to Brussels in January 2020 to be presented to the EU institutions together with the Candás Manifesto.
But this document is not only addressed to the EU, but also, prepared from the ground up, aims to reach the level of local, regional and national administrations, bearing in mind that more countries participated in the ERP than the members of the Union.
This Declaration includes the ten calls to action identified by the 66 young participants from 15 countries of the 2nd European Rural Youth Parliament (ERYP), which was previously held in Candás, between 4 and 6 November.
This Declaration, endorsed and signed in the third plenary of the ERP held on 9 November, gathers together the debates on which work was carried out throughout the week, both in the Youth Parliament and in the subsequent one, on the current trends posed by the challenges faced by the European rural population. Questions such as what is the political and economic price to pay for departures, exodus and growing populism, are national governments and the EU too attached to thinking about growth combined with a dominant urban Agenda, is sectoral thinking, programming, management and financing the best solution for rural communities and the economy, are these demands based on.
The Declaration suggests working together in partnership for a “real” rural agenda for 2021-2027, recognising the critical importance of rural areas and opening the way to flexible, decentralised, territorial and place-based solutions in which all stakeholders cooperate for the common good. Strategic, economic, environmental and social plans would take into account the variety of rural realities, including those that are in decline. “We must be better prepared to face current and future challenges such as ageing, social exclusion, immigration, exodus, food security, the environment and climate change. New technologies and faster connections offer opportunities, but these are and will be unequal in Europe” they say from the ERP.
Speaking to the 4th ERP, Mihail Dumitru, Deputy Director General of the European Commission’s Directorate General for Agriculture and Rural Development, supported the value of the ERP by bringing together so many countries and people from across Europe with a common passion for maintaining rural territories. The new Commission for 2019-2024 has the task of “developing a new long-term vision for rural areas and ensuring that the needs of rural areas are specifically addressed in the national strategic plans under the new CAP”.
A high-intensity activity
The ERP partners will now work to ensure that the voices and messages of the 4th ERP Meeting are heard in the corridors of power in Brussels and also in national governments across Europe. It should be borne in mind that the scope of the ERP goes beyond the EU, as it is made up of 41 national European civil society organisations (the UK has four – Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England – as it does not have a common policy) and 6 pan-European organisations.
During the four days that the ERP lasted, taking over from the Youth Parliament and with 18 of its participants, it was of great intensity, with a varied programme that included workshops and discussion groups, field visits, cultural and musical activities by way of welcome (with which to welcome with an Asturian touch) and the three plenary sessions that inaugurated and closed the ERP.
The ERP started with a great welcome that served as a transition from one parliament to another. With the background of the development of an amagüestu (typical celebration of the Asturian autumn, where roasted chestnuts and sweet cider are eaten), the Bandina of Bagpipes of Candás and the Vocal Technique Group from the Music School ‘Miguel Barrosa’, led by David Colado, performed. María Esther Vega’s ‘Danza Prima’ (traditional Asturian dance) group welcomed the ERP participants, who later enjoyed the lively performance of the Coro Nordeste and its popular songs. For dinner a espicha was organised, a traditional Asturian meal in which that drink cider, a typical Asturian drink.
Thursday turned out to be a travelled day, with seven field visits, one of them around Candás, while the rest travelled through six territories in the region, each of which included a tour of different business initiatives developed in rural areas, as well as natural and cultural resources located in these areas. The participants had to choose one and that day the meal was in picnic version in order to make the most of the time.
These routes were called Innovation, tradition and culture, Entrepreneurship and nature, Route Sailing Ports, Mountain villages, Rural business parks and small productions and Ancestral ways of life.
From the production and distribution of kiwis to rural tourism, from the elaboration of ecological and artisanal products to technological and social innovation, or from artisanal fishing to the elaboration of cheeses with a long tradition in Asturias were some of the examples that were able to get to know a little more closely.
To close the day, an official dinner had been programmed in the restaurant La Martona, near Candás, which included institutional interventions and the setting of the musical trio ‘Body & Soul’. First of all, the Director General of Rural Development, Innovation and Forestry Policy of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food of the Government of Spain, Isabel Bombal Díaz, who focused her speech on ‘The challenges of future rural development’. In her talk she stressed the importance of developing policies to promote the transformation and balanced territorial development of the rural milieu, through tools that attract young people and women, along with the commitment to new technologies as an opportunity for the diversification of rural territories.
The Senior Rural Affairs Officer of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry of the Government of Finland, Antonia Husberg, under the title ‘Sailing the Future’, reviewed the Finnish Presidency of the EU, which for the first time incorporated the 2030 agenda and with the aim of making the Union more competitive and socially inclusive. She also made reference to the new perspectives that young people have of the rural milieu in order to build their future in it. Together with the LEADER programme, she stressed the importance of community-led rural development (CLLD).
On Friday 8, the first plenary session took place, led by Kristiina Tammets and Goran Šoster, both members of the ERP management team, who welcomed each of the attending delegations.
In this session, the inaugural speech of the President of the Principality of Asturias, Adrián Barbón, who considers “it is essential that Europe listen to the rural world today”, stands out. The Asturian president is clear that “the path towards a balance between growth and protection of the planet cannot be explored with deaf ears to farmers, livestock farmers, fishermen and inhabitants of villages, towns and villages”.
Barbón also stressed that “the destination of the rural milieu is not to be reduced to a theme park, a territory for weekends in perpetual demographic winter, but to recover its condition as a space of opportunities. Precisely this is the last claim that was made throughout the week in both parliaments: that the rural milieu is a niche of opportunities, and in that line should go the European rural agenda.
The president of the Principality trusts that the agreement reached in Candás that debates “matters so urgent for the future of rural Europe” will be listened to “with his voice, powerful and full of reasons, so that the future of Europe is not designed behind the backs of the rural world”.
The opening was welcomed by the Mayor of Carreño, Amelia Fernández López, host municipality, and the president of the Asturian Network of Rural Development (READER), Belarmino Fernández Fervienza, organizer of the parliaments. Both were grateful for having chosen Asturias as the venue for this fourth meeting (the second of the Youth Parliament) and that so far is the one that has brought together more attendees.
The mayoress stressed the importance of holding this international meeting emerged from the base for the definition of the new European rural policy. The president of READER stressed that the rural milieu does not want to be any problem, but part of the solution of the current situation it lives, being a niche of opportunities.
They were joined by the presidents of the three associations promoting the meeting: Staffan Nilsson, of the European Rural Community Alliance (ERCA), Āris Ādlers, of the Association for Rural Europe (PREPARE), and Maria João Botelho, of the European Association LEADER for Rural Development (ELARD), who demanded, among other aspects, more economic resources for the development of rural areas, which account for 56% of the European population.
Petri Rinne, member of the ERP and ERCA, was in charge of presenting the 4th ERP and of describing the work carried out in these two years since the previous Parliament was held in Holland under the title ‘The ERP: Who we are and what we have done since the 3rd ERP’.
Setting the context
Deputy Director-General of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development Mihail Dumitru set the context in which the EU faces the coming years with the exhibition ‘CAP Reform, Stakeholder Involvement and Long-Term Vision of EU Rural Areas’.
Dumitru outlined the 9 specific objectives towards which the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) aims: rebalancing the power of the food chain, climate change, sustainable management of resources, preservation of landscapes and biodiversity, support for generational renewal, dynamic rural areas, protection of food quality and health, ensuring income viability and increasing competitiveness.
The new period that is being presented basically involves attention to climate change and the impact of technological development, as he pointed out in his presentation. Dumitru highlighted the potential that rural areas have to curb climate change and its economic and social potential, without forgetting the impact that new technologies bring to employment in rural areas to develop new skills and jobs for them. Hence, the policies to be developed from 2020 onwards will be more flexible for rural areas, he announced: “You are in the field and you know better than anyone what to propose or implement”.
He highlighted the importance of the LEADER fund as one of the main tools for rural development in Europe within the new CAP and pointed out the experiences being carried out to export it to other territories outside the EU, such as Africa.
Mihail Dumitru also wanted to emphasize the fact of creating a Green Europe, a concept that also contemplates a more sustainable food change and modernized agricultural production through research and innovation. The ultimate aim of this process is to make Europe the first carbon-neutral continent’.
The morning plenary included several presentations by keynote speakers on this definition of context. This part of the session was opened by the Commissioner for the Demographic Challenge of Asturias, Jaime Izquierdo Vallina, who focused on ‘Postindustrial rural territories: agripolitan cities and cosmopolitan towns’ and new urban-rural relations.
“If there is a choice between the countryman and the cyborg, the countryman will be chosen” was one of the most celebrated phrases of Izquierdo Vallina, who pointed to the bases of relations between urban and agricultural territories to avoid conflicts such as those related to the presence of wild fauna in cities or fires approaching urban nuclei: “Fighting against climate change is only possible if we recover the values of the pre-industrial countryside”, but without losing sight of the future thanks to new technologies, a new door that opens, although it needs to be improved, with the world.
After him, Francesca Whitlock, co-president of the European Network of Community Initiatives on Climate Change and Sustainability (ECOLISE), spoke about the ‘Rural Renaissance: The transforming potential of community responses to climate emergencies’, giving as examples the ecovillage Arterra Bizimodu (Navarra, Spain) and the town of Ungersheim (France).
One of the most emotional moments experienced during the plenary session were the talks that gathered inspiring and local examples of rural development. Thus Camille Dressler, president of the European Federation of Small Islands (ESIN), spoke of ‘Eigg – The journey to the rebirth of an island’ in Scotland exemplary in its model of sustainable development and energy self-sufficiency. Gent Imeraj, from the Albanian Alps Association, presented his experience under the title ‘With a handshake’. Intentional communities as a path towards sustainability, social connectivity and regeneration of rural areas’, by Cora Pausch, looked again at the ecovillages, in this case Los Portales, in Seville (Spain), while Santa Smite, from the NGO Boat of Selonia, spoke of the initiative ‘Collaborative Clean-up Days in Latvia’s countryside rivers’. Antonio García Méndez and Pablo García Lastra, from the EDES Foundation, explained the work carried out in this Special Employment Centre with the exhibition ‘Socio-environmental Development: Agroecology and Social Inclusion’.
Sharing experiences, designing the future
After the coffee break, the stage of the Prendes Theater, which hosted the plenary sessions, was changed to the La Baragaña Multipurpose Center, the framework for the development of the twenty-one workshops. Part of these workshops were organized in two morning and afternoon sessions, depending on the requests received, which were very well received and meant a good exchange of initiatives since the workshops were presented as bi-directional and had a reporter who documented the work process.
Between both sessions, the Fábrica Ortiz, the nerve centre of operations, hosted the networking lunch set by the Guitar Group from the ‘Miguel Barrosa’ Music School’ directed by Noemí Sagüillo González.
After the second round of workshops, the Market of Initiatives was held, directed by Marina Guédon, co-coordinator of Forum Synergies (FS), in which several ERP participants presented their projects and initiatives in order to make them known and to weave new networks. In fact, FS presented, within the framework of the ERYP and the ERP, the book ‘Rural Europe on the move’, which gathers twelve personal stories about as many initiatives in the rural milieu, twenty-five years of FS experiences throughout Europe.
At the same time, the partners of the 41 member nations of the ERP held a working meeting in which they marked out the new lines of action for the next two years, since the celebration of this fourth edition of the Parliament represents the culmination of this last two-year period of work and opens a new period.
The last night of the programme was seen as a networking dinner with tasting of products from each of the national delegations present in the ERP, where it was possible to learn a little more about local customs and cultures and business initiatives behind some of these more artisan products. The electric guitar and violoncello teachers from the ‘Miguel Barrosa’ Music School, Javier Fernández and Alejandro Lafuente, together with the Bodega Choir, directed by Salvador Cuervo, decorated the dinner.
The last day of the ERP woke up, one more day, under the rain, but this circumstance did not scare the participants at any time. Saturday was the day of the conclusions and the closing of the great meeting of the European rural milieu, and also of the farewells. From 9 a.m. again at the Prendes Theatre, the future of European rural policy was discussed, at a crucial moment as the new 2020-2027 period is being designed.
The Secretary of State for the Environment of the Ministry for Ecological Transition of the Government of Spain, Hugo Morán Fernández, pointed out some of the aspects towards which the new policies should turn, which include co-payment and a better distribution where those areas with less population are not discriminated against in favour of those with more population, the centre of attention for a greater number of services and leaving the former in oblivion in the face of perspectives such as the profitability of the provision of services. The title of these reflections was ‘Environment, the best guarantee for the future of rural territories’.
His speech preceded the round table ‘The future of European rural policy’, moderated by Hannes Lorenzen, President of the Agriculture and Rural Convention 2020 (ARC2020). The round table was attended by Jonás Fernández, MEP and member of the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs, Beata Adamczyk, Policy Officer of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development, and John Bryan, member of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC). Guillaume Cros, vice-president of the Regional Council of Occitania, Committee of the Regions, was unable to attend and was replaced by his expert Gérard Choplin, rapporteur for the CAP after 2020 of the EU Committee of the Regions and independent agricultural policy analyst.
The third and final plenary session was dedicated to presenting the message and the debates that have been worked on during these days. Artis Krists Mednis, coordinator of the ERYP, presented the message to be conveyed from the Youth Parliament and whose ten calls to action were read by five of the young people who participated in both parliaments: Oliver Menéndez (Spain), Katrina Idu (Latvia), Mateo Metta (Belgium), Sara Cantalapiedra (Spain) and Melina Hanhart (Netherlands).
Kim Smedslund, secretary general of the Association for Rural Europe (PREPARE), who pointed out graphically that “it is now or never”, pointing out the need to work together for common objectives, among which is to create that real rural agenda to be transferred to the high instances where policies are decided. One of the main calls for attention on this point is decentralised solutions, working with interest groups and supporting the diversification of the rural economy, together with attracting young people and strengthening services.
Smedslund also drew the attention of governments and the EU to work side by side with rural communities, carrying out an exercise of “trusting and open collaboration with rural communities”, providing support in the areas of legislation, regulation, administration and finance.
Complaints focused on climate change and digitisation. On the one hand, “greater use of agroforestry, agroecological and bio-economy approaches to land management and greater attention to community-led local responses” with the idea of increasing their empowerment and providing “the necessary conditions for a just and inclusive transition”, not forgetting those regions most disadvantaged by climate change “when assessing the allocation of financial aid”.
On the other hand, the great demand to establish new and diversified businesses in rural areas: broadband. Hence the “call on governments, multinational financiers and telecommunications providers to work urgently to facilitate access to high-speed broadband and mobile services for all rural populations, including remote areas, at harmonised tariffs across Europe”.
After the intervention of Kim Smedslund, Staffan Nilsson, Āris Ādlers and Kristiina Tammets, vice president of ELARD, elaborated on these demands in a debate led by Goran Šoster and Vanessa Halhead, ERP coordinator. Following this debate, the Candás Declaration was signed by Belarmino Fernández Fervienza, Nilsson, Ādlers and Botelho.
Once the final moment of this third plenary, and of the ERP, was approaching, the acknowledgements took place. First Petri Rinne, member of the Finnish People’s Movement Association, wanted to pay tribute to Staffan Bond, founder of the Swedish Rural Parliament and the ERP itself, who participated together with his wife in the development of this 4th Parliament in Candás. He was joined by ERYP coordinators Artis Krists Mednis and Katrina Idu, the READER organizing team Luis Miguel Rebustiello, Marta Vergara Forés, Paz Álvarez Rosal and Elena Plaza Díaz and ERP coordinators Vanessa Halhead and Kim Smedslund.
For her part, Vanessa Halhead also thanked the READER team, while Rebustiello thanked all the people involved in the organisation, not only the Asturian Network, but also the Carreño Town Hall and its team of volunteers, the whole society and groups of the council that collaborated in one and a thousand ways to make such a special event possible. ERCA, ELARD and PREPARE were also part of this tribute for having placed their trust in the organization of the meeting.
The Scottish Rural Action delegation, led by Cathleen Russell, also had a special thank you to the READER president and manager.
The Councillor of Rural Development, Agriculture and Fisheries of the Principality of Asturias, Alejandro Calvo Rodríguez, was honored to close this European meeting, an example of where collaborative work should go and new networks should be woven into the design of this new reality of the European rural milieu in his words.
Calvo Rodríguez qualified the words of Kim Smedslund in his speech “it is now or never”, which he described as “very fortunate. I wish we had the impetus, the desire and the need that women had in Asturias 30 years ago that launched a rural tourism project that now accounts for 10% of the economy of our region.
The Asturian councillor also affirmed the ideological commitment that this work entails “because we are talking about inequality, territorial cohesion and social cohesion. Not everything we have is insured, and you women know that well. Today this work should lead us to the impulse to build a society in equality. The example of a feminist society must be one of the great impulses that make us work for rural society. We have to know how to build networks because these networks are the basis of our rural world, which has always been collaborative, the culture of the common,” she said.
Alejandro Calvo also did not forget the new CAP in its infancy, which “must change to be really useful” because “it has to support the real farmers and ranchers, businessmen and entrepreneurs in rural areas who work in a sustainable way and who build the social fabric of the rural milieu”.
The anthems of Asturias and the European Union interpreted by the Banda Gaites de Candás closed this meeting where they have laid the foundations of a new rural agenda stuck to the reality of the rural population, designed by her, and that from now on will try to be heard in high institutions so that their voice is not silenced, but to direct the future of the European rural milieu.
Download the ERP Candás Declaration 2019
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