The OECD along with numerous Member States have been criticising the European Commission for its unwillingness to let go off the outdated "old rural policy paradigm". This paradigm looks at the countryside solely through the lens of agriculture, even though the latter’s role in the economy has been steadily decreasing. We acknowledge that agriculture still remains one of the cornerstones of rural economy and recognize its importance in maintaining the production throughout the European Union; however ELARD believes that at the same time we must work towards diversifying the rural economy and equally supporting other industries which can often be more important for the local economy and job creation than agriculture. This is what the OECD defines as "the new rural policy paradigm".
The European Commission has published its Budget Proposal for the 2014-20 period. ELARD is deeply concerned about the diminishing funds for rural development (89.9 billion proposed against 96.0 billion that has been on use during 2007-13). This proposal has been made despite the fact that the whole of CAP spending should remain on the same level and is severely conflicting with the overall idea of modernising the distribution of the CAP funding.
ELARD strongly suggest that the modernization of the distribution of funding can be also put into practice by increasing the resources of bottom-up rural development through the LEADER methodology. In the diminishing rural development budget the share of LEADER must be minimum 10 per cent if the CAP modernizing objective is to be respected. This has three strong reasons:
1. LEADER corresponds very well to the overall CAP reform objective to make the CAP target audience wider than what it has been until now. All rural businesses as well as the communities are equally represented in the LEADER target group.
2. LEADER implements what the OECD defines as the new rural policy paradigm (less agriculture-centered rural development, which is also in line with the WTO pressure on free trade).
3. During its 20 years history LEADER has shown its efficiency as a grassroots development methodology adaptable to highly varied conditions of the EU-27 (proved by the evaluation reports and the OECD rural policy reviews for example). LEADER is able to renew structures and introduce innovation.
ELARD believes that at the very least any future EU rural development policy must incorporate the following components:
1. A significant increase in resources for rural development and in particular for LEADER type measures which have a proven capacity to facilitate successful rural restructuring.
2. A greater focus on exploiting and adding value of rural assets. The sustainable development of the rural economy is dependent on finding rural solutions to rural problems and should not be undermined by the importation of short-term urban generated solutions.
3. A greater emphasis on promoting cooperation between the farming and non-farming rural communities. The sustainable restructuring of the rural economy requires all stakeholders working in partnership. EU policy must aim to facilitate and encourage this process and should avoid measures that promote competitiveness or conflict between rural interests (e.g. modulation).
4. Recognition of the need for a new relationship between urban and rural areas, based on a better mutual understanding of the inherent value of each area and of their contribution and potential contribution to the wider society. This should include new measures aimed at attracting urban resources and entrepreneurship to promoting development in rural areas that is rural rather than urban in character.
5. EU policy must attempt to better quantify the value of the contribution of farming and rural areas generally to the preservation of the landscape and biodiversity. The value to society of rural areas (biodiversity, recreation, air and water quality, food production, etc.) must inform the debate and discussion on the development of EU rural development policy and the role of landowners must be recognised accordingly.
6. EU rural development policy must better develop and exploit synergies with other EU policies (e.g. Regional Policy, Energy, Social cohesion, Enterprise/Tourism, Environment, etc.) and such synergies should be better coordinated at EU level. All areas of EU policy should recognise the inherent value of rural areas to European society and should include measures to help realise and to protect this value.
7. The LEADER approach, which has now been developed and refined over three programmes, has proven its capacity to bring about real sustainable development in rural areas, which is lead by communities themselves. This approach must be at the centre of future implementation of EU rural development policy.