At the end of June 2021, the European Commission published its Rural Vision, a package of communication providing a long term framework to revitalize rural territories in the aftermath of the COVID 19 pandemic. The Rural Vision seeks to address food security, economic and demographic growth, as well as environmental protection, but it gives too little attention to the vital role migration will play over the coming years. Following up on the SHARE Expert Group Meeting on integration in rural territories, ICMC Europe and the SHARE Network co-hosted an event on September 17th to discuss the role of migration in the Rural Vision.
The event was organized in partnership with four Horizon 2020 programmes working on the area of rural integration, and offered the opportunity to showcased ongoing initiatives, research and actions in rural areas across the European Union. The SHARE Network was able to share its reflections, evidence, and initial insights on good practices for inclusion of newcomers in rural areas, as well as to explore synergies and encourage on-going collaboration among stakeholders working in the area of migration and rural integration.
Over 70 attendees joined online to learn more about the Rural Vision and the 5 innovative European projects presented at the event. It was a unique opportunity for representatives from the projects to start a dialogue with the European Commission around the opportunities related to the inclusion of newcomers in rural, mountainous, and remote regions of Europe and the connection with the EU Rural Vision.
The 5 programmes offer innovative approaches to the analysis of integration in rural regions. They highlight the positive impact of migration on the revitalisation of these regions. They also insist on the importance of collaborating with local communities and newcomers who have irreplaceable knowledge on the challenges, the needs and the beauty of these regions.
The 5 programmes:
· MATHILDE, introduced by Andrea Membretti
· Welcoming spaces, introduced by Annelies Zoomers
· Whole-COMM, introduced by Tiziana Caponio
· MIMY, introduced by Birte Nienaber
· SHARE SIRA, introduced by Andrea Soler Eslava
On the European Commission’s side, Mátyás Szabó from DG AGRI presented the Rural Vision. Danila Conte, Alexia Rouby and Vincent Catot also took part in the discussions.
Framing the long-term vision for EU's rural areas in relation to the inclusion of newcomers
On June 30th, the European Commission (EC) published its Long-term vision for EU's rural areas up to 2040. It identifies areas of action towards stronger, connected, resilient and prosperous rural areas and communities. It is an opportunity to create a new momentum for rural regions and challenge negative perceptions about these areas.
In this communication, the EC lists “welcoming newcomers, such as migrants and people from urban areas” as an essential aspect of the aspiration for “inclusive communities of inter-generational solidarity and renewal in rural areas”. In the open public consultation that preceded the launch of the Rural Vision, a significant number of respondents believed that diversity, inclusiveness and equal access to opportunities for all, including newcomers, were some of the most important characteristics for the long-term attractiveness of rural areas. When asked if there were other characteristics that would contribute to making the rural area an attractive place to live, work and visit in a long-term perspective, respondents mentioned “migration from or to rural areas” relatively often.
The results of the consultation process demonstrated that the feeling of belonging is a key element of attractiveness for rural areas. Mátyás Szabó thus insisted on the idea that rural areas in 2040 should be open and making everyone feel included whatever their ethnic group, gender, age, disability, origin. The European Commission recognized that this requires working on the needs of both newcomers and current residents.
Migration is essential for more prosperous rural areas
Small communities often face the consequences of an aging population as well as depopulation. Migrants, refugees and their families are a potential new workforce and consumer-base as well as new users of social services. They can therefore revitalize the economy and prevent essential services and businesses from shutting down.
The Rural Pact, which is expected to be launched at the end of 2021, is founded on a multilevel and place-based governance with a commitment to collaborative and participative approaches. It will offer great opportunities for migration stakeholders and migrants to participate in the development of the vision. The Pact is also founded on a promise to leave no place behind. We want to extend this promise to also focus on leaving no person behind.
The EU Rural Action Plan promises to foster territorial cohesion and create new opportunities to attract innovative businesses, provide access to quality jobs, promote new and improved skills, ensure better infrastructure and services, and leverage the role of sustainable agriculture and diversified economic activities. These essential steps towards rural development are also essential to the successful integration of migrants and refugees in rural communities. In rural areas, the lack of access to services and infrastructures such as healthcare, high-speed internet and emerging technologies, quality housing and education affect everybody – long term inhabitants and newcomers, including migrants and refugees.
Finding solutions to these issues of social and territorial cohesion requires taking into consideration the needs of everyone including the most vulnerable members of the community. It is important to consult the whole community in order to challenge the "us" and "them" paradigm which promotes the false idea that disadvantaged groups are competing against each other and fuels the controversies around migration.
The SHARE SIRA project
The SHARE SIRA project strengthens and expands the social orientation and overall integration of newcomers in 10 rural territories in France, Greece, Poland and Spain, through innovative approaches involving active participation of local communities, including refugees and migrants themselves, and piloting of grassroots social orientation actions. One of our objectives is to raise the visibility of contributions of smaller municipalities and rural territories in hosting refugees. This is rooted in the ambition to leave no places behind. Read more here.
The project focuses on inclusive territories, which we define as territories that value all people, their needs, and contributions equally. Building inclusive territories requires creating spaces for dialogue, ensuring the active participation of newcomers, as well as piloting innovative and bottom-up approaches. Our focus is not only on improving access to services and goods but also giving migrants a platform for participation. Creating spaces for dialogue is therefore crucial and it requires engaging a broad range of stakeholders.