Limoges, Limousin (F), 21 November 2012
Contrary to popular belief, rurality and regional development are by no means incompatible, but rather complementary. The Assembly of European Regions (AER) and the Limousin Region (F) joined forces and invited European regions to discuss rurality and regional development from a unique perspective, as well as to show that its is possible to unlock the economic and social potential of each and every region, including rural areas. 120 participants from 37 regions in wider Europe gathered on this occasion.
“Rural development is not just about agriculture, it also encompasses health, energy, broadband infrastructure and the development of small and medium enterprises. It is key that we find alternatives to traditional economies“. It is in these terms that the President of the AER ‘Economy and Regional development’ Committee, Håkan Sandgren (Jönköping-S), summarised the rationale for the conference.
Public services, in particular health care, cannot be considered simply as a burden, and can represent a source of growth for regions. To allow for this, we must see beyond technological innovation – and change our habits. Due to the constraints they face, rural areas are a laboratory for developing innovative tools and processes, such as e-health.
Rural accessibility can only be attained through the development of digital infrastructure. Access to broadband Internet has a direct influence on social inclusion: the digital divide may lead to a social one. However broadband in itself, while a major factor in attracting young people, is not enough; It should be used for specific applications such as e-health and distance learning.
In addition, the energy transition provides real diversification opportunities for the rural economy. Regions should promote energy efficiency among their citizens, especially young people and businesses. Pooling efforts through partnerships between regions will give them the necessary leverage to invest in real change, while continuing to act closely to their citizens.
Demographic and economic recovery are closely linked to new population and new entrepreneurs. The study of migration patterns is essential to define attractiveness policies for new populations. Implementation of programmes that improve the image of rural areas amongst young people, can encourage them to stay within or to return to rural areas.
“The comparative advantages of rural areas, as well as the different challenges they are facing, represent new opportunities that allow to consider rurality as an asset for regional development in Europe. This political vision should be built through strategic investments that foster development, and based on an integrated urban/rural approach in support of territorial cohesion.” concluded Jean-Paul Denanot, President of the Regional Council of Limousin and member of the Committee of the Regions.
The conference marks the beginning of a collaborative process that will culminate with the publication, in early 2013, of the “Denanot Report” on rurality and regional development.
The Assembly of European Regions (AER – aer.eu) is the largest independent network of regions in wider Europe. Bringing together more than 250 regions from 35 countries and 16 interregional organisations, AER is the political voice of its members and a forum for interregional co-operation.
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