Authors: Blanca Casares & Lucia Garrido (AEIDL)

The European Commission has published the Communication on the Long-Term Vision for Rural Areas up to 2040!

Built on analysis, foresight activities, extensive consultations and contributions from communities, the Communication identifies the challenges that rural areas face, as well as highlights some of the most promising opportunities that are available to these regions. The Vision aims to make our rural areas stronger, connected, resilient to foster well-being and prosperous.

Digitalisation has a cross-cutting role, as it intends to leverage the “emerging opportunities of the EU’s green and digital transitions, and on the lessons learnt from the COVID 19 pandemic.” Its focus, however, is on the action area ‘Connected rural areas’, which has digital connectivity as a priority.

In this sense, the Communication says that “digital infrastructure is an essential enabler for rural areas to contribute to and make the most of the digital transition“, and “the development of digital capacities in rural areas will improve their attractiveness.”

The Vision proposes a Rural Pact and a Rural Action Plan, to help rural communities and businesses reach their full potential in the coming decades. The Rural Pact will provide a common framework for the engagement and cooperation of a wide range of actors at the EU, national, regional and local level. The accompanying EU Rural Action Plan will be articulated around four flagship initiatives:

  • Creating an innovation ecosystem
  • Boosting sustainable transport links and digitalisation
  • Increasing environmental, climatic and social resilience
  • Supporting economic diversification

The second one focuses on sustainable digitalisation, as “rural areas and communities need to be at the core of digitalisation“. The initiative ‘Rural Digital Futures’ proposes an integrated set of actions to boost the sustainable digital transformation of rural areas, by closing the digital gap,  encouraging the use of digital technologies, providing the digital skills needed to make the most out of them, and measuring progress through indicators – the Digital Rural Index.

Digitalisation can be beneficial for rural areas and communities only if the basic conditions in terms of infrastructure, skills and accessibility are met.

The contribution from DESIRA to this process has been considered and used in the Communication. Several references to the project results can be found through the background documents.

In particular, the Working Documents refer to the DESIRA briefing ‘Experts recommendations to boost digitalisation of agriculture, forestry and rural areas by 2040‘, highlighting the guiding principles for sustainable digitalisation proposed by the experts of the Rural Digitalisation Forum. The Communication collected as well the selection from experts of the digital game changers with the largest potential to bring change and contribute to build desirable futures in rural areas by 2040.

The DESIRA briefings were presented to the European Commission in a policy session organised on 9 Februrary 2021 by the Research and Executive Agency, which is highlighted as one of the events in the context of the consultation activities of the Long Term Vision for EU’s Rural Areas. In addition to the contribution specifically developed for this participatory process, the Communication also takes into account some of the results coming from DESIRA, as the Synthesis Report on the Taxonomy and Inventory of Digital Game Changers.