12 May 1993

Doc. 6830

1403-11/5/93-7-E

REPORT

on necessary agricultural and rural policy reforms

in Europe

(Rapporteurs: Mrs ANTTILA,

Finland, Centre Party

and Mr LANNER, Austria, ÖVP)


Summary

      Many rural areas in Europe have been abandoned and others see their population decreasing. Several aspects of rural life such as schooling, health services, postal services, etc. have been the subject of centralisation. Employment opportunities in the agricultural and related sectors as well as in local administration have decreased and most rural areas find themselves at a disadvantage to attract new employment compared to urban centres. The collapse of traditional markets and the restructuring of the agricultural sector in the new democracies of central and eastern Europe have resulted in a new difficult period for the rural world in these countries. The rural populations in Europe are increasingly concerned about the protection of the (rural) environment, the maintenance of a viable agricultural sector as part of a living countryside and the preservation of a rich and varied cultural heritage. Present resources management policies are both wasteful and are causing serious harm to the environment.

      Society must redefine a policy-framework which will allow a balanced and harmonious development between rural and urban regions in Europe for the preservation of a living countryside and at the same time adopt a sustainable resources management policy which would give new production tasks to the agricultural sector (nature maintenance, the production of raw materials for industry and the energy sector, involvement in rural tourism and leisure activities etc.). This endeavour must be undertaken as a pan-European initiative given the increasing European integration and the growing interdependence among European states and regions. This new policy framework: the European Rural Charter, must set out the requirements which need to be met for the maintenance of a living countryside with a healthy environment and a viable agricultural sector — capable of attracting new economic activities and retaining its human capital. European co-operation in favour of this development must be strengthened and the principle of sustained development and closed cycles (complete recycling) must increasingly penetrate all policy areas including trade policies.

      I. Draft order

1.       The Assembly recalls its Recommendations 577 (1970) on a European Agricultural Charter, 1165 (1991) on the follow-up to the European Campaign for the Countryside, 1167 (1991), on the crucial role of food supply in helping to consolidate democracy in central and eastern Europe, and 1174 (1992) on pan-European co-operation in the field of agriculture.

2.       The Assembly attaches the greatest importance to a balanced and harmonious development of rural regions in Europe for the preservation of a living countryside and a sustainable resources management policy.

3.       With a view to facilitating further progress towards European integration and co-operation, the Assembly is of the opinion that reforms of rural and agricultural policies should be based on common guidelines for sustained rural development and environmental responsibility.

4.       Consequently, the Assembly instructs its Committee on Agriculture, in co-operation with other Assembly committees and representatives of interested parties, notably the European Community, the Standing Conference of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe, the Assembly of European Regions, and the European Centre for Rural Interests, to draw up proposals for a European Rural Charter, laying down such common guidelines.

II. Explanatory memorandum

by Mrs ANTTILA and Mr LANNER

Contents

Page

I.       INTRODUCTION        3

II.       A EUROPEAN RURAL CHARTER        3

III.       CONCLUSIONS        8


I.       Introduction

      In the last two years the Committee on Agriculture has concentrated its work on the future development of agriculture and the rural world in Europe. Foremost among the committee's activities was the organisation of the First and the Second European Agricultural Fora held respectively in Igls (Austria) and Regensdorf (Switzerland) in 1990 and 1992. The committee also organised a Hearing on the Contribution by Agriculture to Economic Development in Central and Eastern Europe, Budapest (Hungary), 29 June 1992, a Colloquy on Agriculture and Rural Regions in a "New Europe", Sofia (Bulgaria), 1 and 2 April 1992 and a Colloquy on Rural Development in Ireland - A Model for Central and Eastern Europe?, Dublin (Ireland), 17 and 18 September 1992. Reports on these events are available from the Secretariat.

      The present report aims at highlighting a few key issues from these and other debates and studies on reforms of rural and agricultural policies in Europe. It also aims at placing these observations within the context of a general framework for sustained rural development and environmental responsibility. The report proposes the drawing up of a European Rural Charter and suggests a few guiding principles for this work. It also stresses the importance of including the principle of sustained development and closed cycles in all relevant resources management policies as well as in trade policies (GATT).

II.       A European Rural Charter

      The European Campaign for the Countryside which was organised by the Council of Europe in 1987 and 1988 was a considerable achievement and contributed in an important way to make Europeans aware of an important part of their cultural and natural heritage. The Swiss National Committee for the Countryside Campaign published a Swiss rural charter at the end of 1987. In France a rural charter was signed on 17 September 1991.

      Rural areas have a future. They fulfil important functions in society. If society wants young, active people to opt for the countryside, then it should put the main emphasis on positive aspects of rural life such as a healthy environment, open and attractive landscapes, clear social structures, a space for leisure and recreation, etc. and refrain from focusing only on problems of rural regions. Much more attention must however by given to the improvement and updating of rural infrastructures in order to attract and retain young people who otherwise would be seduced by the positive images of urban life.

       Urban and rural areas are dependent on and linked to each other in a variety of ways. Indeed, their functions are mutually complementary and it thus makes no sense and is detrimental to the whole of society if "city" and "country" are played off against each other politically and ideologically. Town and country are partners.

      The prerequisite for reciprocity and the mutually complementary function of urban and rural areas is that their essential distinctive features be recognised, preserved and further developed. Indeed, it is these economic, ecological and social features alone that enable the countryside to fulfil its role of supplier and of source of recreation and equilibrium, vital to society as a whole. The odds of rural areas remaining or even becoming self-reliant and attractive places to live do not depend solely on their economic viability but also on preserving an independent social and cultural way of life.

      The individuality of rural areas and their special identity originate in particular environmental conditions and in the economic and social structures that have evolved. Whilst conditions in rural areas are, on the eve of the third millennium and the threshold of the transition from an industrial society to an era of information technology subject to the forces of change, they need not inevitably result in "automatic" and comprehensive similarity with urban structures and living and environmental conditions. This kind of alignment would be undesirable, not least in view of the fact that different rules are required for biosystems for those for the processes of industrial and technological development.

      Agriculture is the backbone of rural areas. Contrary to popular belief, however, it is not simply the predominance of this primary economic sector that gives the countryside its distinctiveness, but rather a web of specific characteristics, which may appear completely distinct when viewed separately, but when taken together guarantee rural areas' function for society as a whole. The main examples are as follows:

—       extensive prevalence of open, ecologically functioning "green spaces" in the widest sense of the term;

—       dispersed settlements;

—       a wide division of property;

—       clearly defined communities, facilitating individual citizens' direct social co-operation and responsibility;

—       a relative predominance of practical occupations, along with versatile skills, which among other things makes it easier for people to help themselves and their neighbours. This represents an extremely timely counterbalance to an extreme tendency to want specialisation.

      The decline of agriculture and socio-cultural pluralism have weakened rural ways of life in many places but they have certainly not caused them to disappear altogether. At times, it is even possible to discern tendencies towards a certain revival or rather renewal of rural life, rooted in regional differences and arising from the need for inhabitants of rural areas to consolidate their identities and self esteem. This specifically rural culture is overwhelmingly based on involvement and participation, thereby reflecting the simplicity of rural societies.

      The importance of agriculture and forestry, both for rural areas and society as a whole, as a sector of the economy cannot be adequately measured on the basis of their share of the current economic net product nor their proportion of the labour force. Instead, agriculture and forestry must be seen in terms of their functions — providing food security, raw materials and ecological stability — and should be especially valued in terms of their effective use of space. Viewed in this way, the socio-economic "dwindling" of agriculture and forestry as economic players in no way causes them to lose their role and significance in society. In the face of global ecological threats and the growing need for equilibrium of a heavily urbanised society, the reverse is more likely to be true.

      Rural areas are, however, facing a variety of both internal and external threats:

—       there is no assurance of equality (not "similarity!") of living conditions either in terms of income potential or provision of infrastructure. This often leads to steady rural depopulation, which, what is more, is often selective ie primarily concerns young and/or better educated people;

—       considerations of accessibility have in many cases made things worse for non-agricultural economic activities. The trend towards concentration and communications disadvantages are leading to marginalisation;

—       the crisis in agriculture as an economic sector as a result of a one-sided productivity-orientated agricultural policy has contributed considerably to undermining the social and economic fabric of the countryside;

—       over the last few decades, the countryside has lost valuable institutions that reinforced its identity: parishes have been dissolved, schools have been merged, formerly independent small localities have been grouped together to form large communities ...

—       sparse population and economic frailty mean that the "country" is also politically weak. It is eclipsed by the predominance of conurbations and has difficulty bringing its interests to bear adequately.

—       country people's self-awareness and feelings of independence have suffered as a result of all these processes. In many cases, people no longer believe it is possible to take their fate into their own hands. They become resigned and fall victim to outsiders determining their political and cultural life. Thus, one of the most precious characteristics of the rural way of life is on the verge of disappearing.

—       in the end, rural areas have been misused, with their harmonising function misinterpreted as supposedly inexhaustible reserves of space and as a refuse disposal site for the industrial society. Anything for which there is no (longer) room in the densely populated urban areas or is not (or no longer) politically feasible is shifted to the countryside.

      These findings point the way to fundamental demands for a comprehensive economic, social and environmental policy, which takes into account the fact that urban and rural areas are equal in value and dependent on each other:

1.       A programme for the development of rural areas must be based on regional factors and support local initiatives in every possible way.

2.       Rural areas must be provided with up-to-date infrastructure and supply facilities that meet their real needs. As these are key prerequisites for securing the socio-economic function of rural areas, effects of scale should not be the sole yardstick for creating or maintaining such facilities. This applies equally to the field of telecommunications or the road network and to public transport or any kind of educational or service installations. It is particularly important to integrate rural regions into a modern transport and communications network which must not be governed solely by considerations of short-term profitability;

3.       The financial basis of communities in rural areas must be strengthened and built up. The varying per capita allocation according to the size of the village/town is out of date and does no justice whatsoever to the needs of the day.

4.       From a political and administrative point of view, communities in rural areas should be given the largest degree of autonomy possible. This means first and foremost that small self-governing units should either be maintained or reestablished, along with a general respect for the principle of subsidiarity. This is the only way to extend the rural population's room for manoeuvre and increase their willingness to act independently.

5.       Human capital is also the most valuable commodity in rural communities and developing and maintaining it therefore have top priority. A brain drain has a lethal effect on every society in the long run. In rural areas, merely obtaining an education (often as early as primary school level) frequently signifies the first step towards moving away. This is then also the basis for my demand that in the countryside; the schools should again come to the people and not the people to the schools. Rural regions need to be provided with modern educational, training and research establishments to avoid a brain-drain towards major urban centres. It is also important to give rural regions socio-cultural infrastructures and institutions which are indispensable for the fostering of cultural creativity and the proper cultural development of the inhabitants of these regions.

             

6.       Rural areas must become more attractive for economic activities that are suitable from a socio-economic and ecological point of view. Pseudo-development by means of factory extensions is equally wide of the mark as the relocation of purely capital intensive firms that require a lot of space and are often harmful to the rural environment is incompatible with the demands of rural areas. Endogenous, sustainable useful potential in particular will have to be taken into account in rural economic development, but does not, however, generally suffice in itself. Telecommunications, the modern substitute for mobility, should be made full use of as a factor to increase its attractiveness, not only economically but also in terms of society as a whole. The role and functions fulfilled by rural regions in industrial society must be acknowledged, and complementary relations and partnership between rural and urban regions should be further developed.

7.       Agriculture and forestry have regional and landscape preservation (structuring) functions, which go far beyond producing foodstuffs and raw materials. If these currently "priceless" functions, which can only be fulfilled on the spot (and therefore cannot be imported) — constituting the core of the "country's" ecological balance function — are going to be fulfilled in future, or even become a priority and increase in quality, then they must be made economically viable for the agricultural population. If this does not happen, a European agricultural crisis, right up to the wholesale collapse of agriculture and our cultural diversity along with it, would be inescapable.

8.       In the wake of the process of industrialisation, rural areas have lost many of the functions they also used to fulfil for the cities to a large degree, above all supplying renewable raw materials and sources of energy. There is almost no alternative to rural areas again assuming these tasks using modern, appropriate technology in view of the global ecological crisis, though this is in reality not least dependent on regulatory (fiscal!) factors.

9.       The social and economic consequences of industrial methods of production in agriculture are less obvious, but in the long run all the more questionable. They are carried out as part as of an insidious process of natural destruction: soil erosion, the biological impoverishment of our land, the pollution of our rivers and lakes and the threat to numerous species of plants and animals. In the end, this process leads to the impoverishment of the countryside and to a general fall in quality of life. Those who are over-exploiting the basis for all human existence should be called to account. Internationally binding minimum environmental standards are therefore the order of the day.

10.       Rural areas should take on the role of pioneers in order to set an example, in such areas as small-scale energy grid systems using renewable sources of energy. This would also contribute to an ecologically sound use of endogenous potential. Similar pooled systems could be attempted for recycling the sorts of waste that accumulate in rural areas. The "model" for this is the gradual transition from the linear to the cyclical economy, for which the preconditions are considerably more favourable in rural areas than in densely populated urban areas.

11.       Likewise, urban areas will have to take more responsibility for their environmental problems. If their ecological problems can no longer be "shunted off" to rural areas, strategies to promote waste avoidance rather than elimination will gain in attractiveness and competitiveness.

12.       The society of leisure offers rural areas opportunities although the associated problems should not be underestimated. The invasion of urban leisure opportunities, in particular through the mass media, can lead to spiritual alienation, especially in young people, and endanger the cultural identity of rural society. On the other hand, the harsh manifestations of the leisure and tourism industry threaten the ecological basis of many rural areas, although it is precisely the country that is, after all, dependent to a considerable extent on its ability to function. In both areas that are under threat, countermeasures are required: on the one hand, by consciously cultivating rural life on the basis of solid community life that does not exclude any group and on the other, by determinedly promoting ecologically harmless forms of leisure and tourism, which correspond not only to the natural resources' capacity for resistance but also to that of the local society.

III.       Conclusions

      These tasks are enormous. In future, increased partnership is to be sought between urban and rural areas in order to continue to cultivate and further develop the complementary relations between town and country that ensure our very survival. A framework for a comprehensive policy could be a European Rural Charter which could be structured on the principles developed above.

      Your Rapporteur has endeavoured in the present report to put forward arguments illustrating that such policy changes are urgently needed in all fields for the achievement of a balanced and harmonious development of rural and urban regions in a Europe which experiences a new era of co-operation and integration.

*

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Reporting committee: Committee on Agriculture.

Budgetary implications for the Assembly: None.

Reference to committee: Order No. 472 (1992) of 4 February 1992.

Draft order: Unanimously adopted by the committee on 30 April 1993.

Members of the committee: Mrs Gjørv (Chairperson), MM. van der Linden, Sipos (Vice-Chairmen), Anthopoulos, Mrs Anttila, MM. Bühler (Alternate: Müller), de Carolis, Crowley, Goerens, Gonzalez Laxe, Granstedt, Gunnarsson, Hansen, Howell (Alternate: Alexander), Jeambrun, Kiratlioglu, Lagorce, Lanner, Lord Mackie of Benshie, MM. Mannino, Michels, Ottenbourgh, Pirinski, Pizzo, Rodrigues, Roger, Scheer, Seiler, Smolarek, Jack Thompson, Vella.

N.B.       The names of those members who took part in the vote are printed in italics.

Secretary to the committee: Mr Lervik.