Deborah Clarke: “The ERP has an important role to play in strengthening the voice of the rural communities of Europe”

Deborah Clarke leads one of the ERP’s most current workshops ‘We are Europeans’

What is the best way to share and support different initiatives and experiences in rural development, regardless of whether a country is a member of the EU or not? This is the main question that Deborah Clarke, who works in Action with Communities in Rural England (ACRE), will ask in the workshop she leads, ‘We are Europeans’, taking into account the consequences of Brexit yet to be seen.

The shadow of Brexit is upon us…

There is uncertainty about the impact of Brexit across the UK and many differing views.  We have tried to take a balanced approach as part of the work under the ROAD project offering those taking part in the survey and workshops an opportunity to share their views in a safe environment.

Are rural areas in England are against the EU and prefer Brexit?

The ROAD questionnaire covered a small cross section of rural communities from across Ireland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland (Rural Action Scotland carried out a separate but similar survey).  From our sample 70% thought they would be worse off and only 5% thought they would be better off. 

A report based on English local authorities (Brian Wilson, September 2016 RSN online) concluded that:

“rural voters were slightly more likely to have voted to leave than voters who live in other areas.  However, the pattern is complex and there is no simple relationship between rurality and voting leave.  Journalists and political commentators have sought to identify ways in which the referendum divided the country, but there was not any significant rural-urban division”

This may not, of course, be the case if a similar exercise were to be carried out in the other UK Countries.

“After Brexit we can develop in our own way, create new trade links”

In general, will the UK win or lose after Brexit?

We can develop in our own way; new trade links can be created and there will be more openings for small businesses and greater confidence in UK investment were opportunities identified.  On the other hand, loss of EU funding (27%) and trade (20%) as well as the impact on citizens’ rights for all the UK and Europe (13%) were noted as concerns. People commented that they didn’t want to lose identity as a European or be outside a forward-thinking collective and isolated from European decision making. The economic, social and political effect on Ireland was also highlighted. As with all major changes there will be winners and losers!

Is there more to share, beyond Brexit or the EU

There is a lot to share. Sharing is, of course, important for sustaining trade (imports and exports) and tourism.  We want to maintain our diverse cultural and historical connections and continue to share knowledge and skills and to learn from our European partners and especially across the UK and Ireland.

What will your workshop will be about: sharing and improving from different experiences from all over Europe?

In the workshop we will share experiences of working with Countries across Europe and consider how we will do this after Brexit.  It is important to maintain the links and continue to build on the networking and links that are already in place.  So come along and tell us your ideas of how the UK can work with your Country!

“Tell us your ideas of how the UK can work with your Country!”

What expectations do you have of ERP?

I am looking forward to attending my 3rd European Rural Parliament gathering, catching up with colleagues from Wales, Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland rekindling European acquaintances and meeting lots of new people from officials to volunteers. Saturday is an important day as it is the culmination of all the discussions taking place during the week and a platform from which to set a path for what the ERP hopes to achieve over the next 2 years. The European Rural Parliament has an important role to play in strengthening the voice of the rural communities of Europe to ensure that the interests and well-being of these communities are strongly reflected in national and European policies. Visiting Asturias and the local area will, of course, also be a highlight.