Within the framework of the Slovenian Presidency of the Council of the European Union Programme, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food co-organises an international event called “Smart Villages for a Green, Digital and Resilient Europe” together with the office of MEP Franc Bogovič. In the debate, which was attended also by the Minister Dr Jože Podgoršek, Vice-President of the European Commission and Commissioner Dubravka Šuica, and the Director-General of the FAO, Qu Dongyu, the participants highlighted the importance of coherent and integrated rural development, which is an issue that extends way beyond just agriculture.
The “Smart Villages for a Green, Digital and Resilient Europe” event is part of the trilogy of priorities of the SI PSEU, which is covered by the broader concept of the Long Term Vision for rural development until 2030. At the end of June, the European Commission (EC) presented a long term vision for EU rural areas, identifying the challenges and issues facing rural areas. In this set of priorities focusing on rural development, SI PSEU also addressed the issue of the situation of women in rural areas (Declaration adopted on 20 August 2021 at Brdo pri Kranju), as well as the topic of strengthening the dialogue between urban and rural environments, which was discussed by ministers of agriculture at the informal meeting of the Agriculture and Fisheries Council (5-7 September 2021, Brdo pri Kranju).
The discussion at the international Smart Villages conference focused on finding an answer to the question of how the EC will meet the set goals in practice, these being to make rural areas attractive, vibrant and dynamic, thus reducing the development gap between urban and rural areas.
Rural areas are not only important in terms of food provision, as they also create jobs and provide tourism and ecosystem services, and are at the same time part of a broader societal response to the climate change issue. Rural areas are also an integral part of the European way of life and identity, with as much as a third of the EU’s population living there.
The conference participants agreed that, in order to achieve the goals set, it is necessary to tackle these problems at all levels, both at the European as well as the local and national levels. The aim is to improve the dialogue between urban and rural people and to ensure a comparable quality of life among both demographics. The key message that the participants communicated was that rural development under the Smart Villages concept should be approached in an integrated way, which should include infrastructure, energy, social care, mobility, digitalisation, tourism, healthcare and more.
MEP France Bogovič welcomed the event’s organisation and the inclusion of the topic among the priorities of the Slovenian Presidency of the Council of the EU: “Smart villages are a new development strategy that connects the European national, regional and local levels, the various sectoral policies, and the activities of people in rural areas, whom the concept addresses. I am pleased to note the expressed common awareness that the construction of municipal, environmental, educational, social and health infrastructure, and high-quality broadband, are prerequisites for a good life and the creation of modern jobs in rural areas as well.”
At the conference, Minister Jože Podgoršek highlighted a broader view of the issues of rural development: “Until recently, rural areas were only areas of farms and farmland, whereas today they are becoming increasingly sought-after as settlements by people looking for an excellent way of life that they understand in terms of peace and a beautiful natural environment. Smart villages and their role in tackling rural challenges are among the key milestones in addressing rural areas.”
Vice-President of the European Commission and Commissioner Dubravka Šuica highlighted the broader context of the Smart Villages initiative: “I am delighted and grateful to be able to express my support for the Smart Villages initiative and the fruitful discussion with local authorities and businesses, making our rural areas greener, more digital and flexible. The initiative strongly complements the long term vision for rural areas and the Rural Pact. With innovation, technology and digital solutions, we can really make our villages smart and significantly improve the lives of the people living in them.”