The network of Southern Sparsely Populated Areas (SSPA), originates as a result of the union of the Confederation of Entrepreneurs of Teruel (CEOE Teruel), the Federation of Sorian Business Organizations (FOES) and the Confederation of Entrepreneurs of Cuenca (CEOE-CEPYME Cuenca). The business organizations represent the provinces of Cuenca, Soria and Teruel, the three NUTS3 territories recognized by the European Union and the Spanish State as sparsely populated regions.
After several years of joint work, the SSPA network was formally established on November 8, 2016 in the city of Cuenca, with the ultimate goal “[…] formulation and promotion of measures aimed at reversing the process of depopulation, aging, demographic and economic fragility of Southern Sparsely Populated Areas. This network will work to achieve adoption of legislative measures and appropriate policies for this purpose by public authorities, as well as involvement of civil society organizations of the European Union” (“Southern Sparsely Populated Areas” network (SSPA) Collaboration Agreement).
Since its inception, the network has had the vocation to add to all those territories, organizations and entities -both public and private- that share its mission and vision. The most important thing is that in one way or another they can contribute to achieve the objectives.
In this sense, at the beginning of 2017 two other sparsely populated regions of Southern Europe joined the network: Lika-Senj county (Croatia) and Evrytania region (Greece).
Also, at the end of 2017, all the Local Action Groups (LAGs) of Cuenca, Soria and Teruel have joined the network.
During the year 2017, the SSPA network has held more than 30 meetings with political and technical representatives from both the European Institutions and the different levels of the national administration, from the Government of Spain to the different regional governments and provincial councils. The objective of these meetings was to show those responsible for designing future territorial development policies, not only the worrying socio-economic situation suffered by our territories, but also to highlight the strengths they have and the need to promote new policies capable of taking advantage of that development potential that treasures our rural environment.
In addition, the SSPA network has participated in the main forums where current problems and future of the less populated rural areas with greater difficulties of socioeconomic development. The character of these forums varies from the entrepreneurial one to the citizen one, going through the university or political fields, celebrated both at national and European level. Thus, the SSPA network has been a speaker at such important appointments as the different special commissions held in the Spanish Senate, in meetings such as II National Congress of Depopulation organized by the Spanish Federation of Municipalities and Provinces (FEMP), European Week of Regions and Cities, organized by the European Commission, or I National Fair for the Repopulation of Empty Spain (PRESURA), organized in Soria.
Model to follow
The Southern Sparsely Populated Areas network (SSPA) focuses on the work that has been developed in the northern regions of Sweden and Finland (NSPA) and, especially, in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland (Highlands and Islands). In this second case, their approach and proper practices have managed to reverse a long process of depopulation and economic abandonment, increasing the population, rejuvenating it and becoming one of the most innovative and dynamic regions of the European Union.
The possibility of a study visit to the Highlands and Islands of Scotland was considered within the framework of the TAIEX-REGIO Peer 2 Peer instrument to know first-hand the most innovative and successful measures, but also the errors committed. Finally, the study visit took place between May 2 and 4, 2017. The group of people who composed it was formed by three representatives from each of the five sparsely populated territories. As far as possible, we wanted to include members of the respective regional administrations or their territorial development agencies, business associations and local development agents.
European Advocacy Network
The main objectives of its creation have been to show its managers of the administrations this reality and to transmit the opportunities offered by the network as an interlocutor in the design of these new policies. For this reason, the SSPA network has been constituted as a European advocacy network, registering in the transparency register of the European Union, a database that includes the organizations that try to influence the legislative process and the implementation of policies of EU institutions, making visible what interests are pursued, who defends them and with what budget:
- Confederation of Entrepreneurs of Cuenca
- Federation of Sorian Business Organizations
- Confederation of Entrepreneurs of Teruel
In addition, the network has received its certificate of registration of Intellectual Property of the European Union, dated July 20, 2017. This fact definitely confirms the work of our organization at the european level in the fight against depopulation.