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The European Commission has put forward a long-term vision for the EU's rural areas, identifying the challenges and concerns that they are facing, as well as highlighting some of the most promising opportunities that are available to these regions. Based on foresight and

wide consultations with citizens and other actors in rural areas, today's Vision proposes a Rural Pact and a Rural Action Plan, which aim to make our rural areas stronger, connected, resilient and prosperous.

To successfully respond to the megatrends and challenges posed by globalisation, urbanisation, ageing and to reap the benefits of the green and digital transitions, place-sensitive policies and measures are needed that take into the account the diversity of EU's territories, their specific needs and relative strengths.

In rural areas across the EU the population is on average older than in urban areas, and will slowly start to shrink in the coming decade. When coupled with a lack of connectivity, underdeveloped infrastructure, and absence of diverse employment opportunities and limited access to services, this makes rural areas less attractive to live and work in. At the same time, rural areas are also active players in the EU's green and digital transitions. Reaching the targets of the EU's digital ambitions for 2030 can provide more opportunities for the sustainable development of rural areas beyond agriculture, farming and forestry, developing new perspectives for the growth of manufacturing and especially services and contributing to improved geographical distribution of services and industries.

This long-term Vision for the EU's rural areas aims to address those challenges and concerns, by building on the emerging opportunities of the EU's green and digital transitions and on the lessons learnt from the COVID 19 pandemic, and by identifying means to improve rural quality of life, achieve balanced territorial development and stimulate economic growth.

Rural Pact.     A new Rural Pact will engage actors at EU, national, regional and local level, to support the shared goals of the Vision, foster economic, social and territorial cohesion and respond to the common aspirations of rural communities. The Commission will facilitate this framework through existing networks, and encourage the exchange of ideas and best practices at all levels.

EU Rural Action Plan.     The Commission has also put forward an Action Plan to prompt sustainable, cohesive and integrated rural development. Several EU policies already provide support to rural areas, contributing to their balanced, fair, green and innovative development. Among those, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the Cohesion Policy will be fundamental in supporting and implementing this Action Plan, while being accompanied by a number of other EU policy areas that together will turn this Vision into a reality.

The Vision and Action Plan identify four areas of action, supported by flagship initiatives, to enable: Stronger: focus on empowering rural communities, improving access to services and facilitating social innovation; Connected: to improve connectivity both in terms of transport and digital access; Resilient: preserving natural resources and greening farming activities to counter climate change while also ensuring social resilience through offering access to training courses and diverse quality job opportunities; Prosperous: to diversify economic activities and improve the value added of farming and agri-food activities and agri-tourism.

The Commission will support and monitor the implementation of the EU Rural Action Plan and update it on a regular basis on a regular basis to ensure that it remains relevant. It will also continue to liaise with Member States and rural actors to maintain a dialogue on rural issues. Furthermore, “rural proofing” will be put in place whereby EU policies are reviewed through a rural lens. The aim is to better identify and take into consideration the potential impact and implication of a Commission policy initiative on rural jobs, growth and sustainable development.

Finally, a rural observatory will be set up within the Commission to further improve data collection and analysis on rural areas. This will provide evidence to inform policy-making in relation to rural development and support the implementation of the Rural Action Plan.