The EU started a debate on the future of rural areas and the role those should play in our society. This initiative will establish a vision for the future of rural areas by 2040 and gather opinions on challenges such as:

  • demographic change;
  • connectivity;
  • low income;
  • limited access to services.

It will also explore innovative, inclusive and sustainable solutions in light of digital and climate transformation and the COVID-19 crisis.

With that goal in mind, we at SSPA propose a series of measures to successfully address the demographic challenge for rural areas, particularly sparsely populated areas and territories with severe and permanent demographic disabilities.

It is a crucial moment for the Southern Sparsely Populated Areas as the European Parliament is in full debate to define and specify the next financial framework, in which the specific funds and policies will be defined to fight against depopulation. The MEPs that make up the Regional Development Commission within the European Parliament will discuss some of the most significant amendments for our territories, and will decide which ones will be incorporated into the document on future EU policy.

The SSPA network has reviewed the amendments presented by the MEPs to the proposal of the European Commission for the new financial period 2021-2027, and analyzes those that are supported to get concrete measures taken within the European policies that allow a real development and lasting of our territories.

The SSPA network developed a position paper on the design of cohesion instruments after 2020. This document can have an unquestionable value in terms of defining the future policies of the European Union regarding the demographic challenge in what affects to the most fragile rural areas and the sparsely populated areas.

The document is based on the premise that low population density is the most evident symptom of the real problem that an important part of our rural environment suffers in the form of a prolonged structural crisis for decades, which threatens to render the territory unviable in social, economic and demographic terms. To reverse this situation and stop the imbalance between the rural and urban areas, the work advocates the reformulation of policies of territorial cohesion, redefining even the concept of depopulated or rural areas, introducing changes in the distribution of funds and creating a territorial development agency that manages and monitors all actions.

The SSPA network in collaboration with the participants of the trip has prepared a report that reflects the reflections and teachings shared by all the participants and based on findings made in the first person, on the ground, during the study visit to Scotland.

Therefore, the purpose of this document is to transmit the knowledge acquired to administrations -both at a political and technical level-, which work on the phenomenon of depopulation and the socioeconomic decline of the rural environment, especially in the case of remote areas, mountainous and sparsely populated. Similarly, this document is also intended for society in general, seeking not only to raise awareness of the problems of rural areas, but also to disseminate the realization that there are successful responses that have had in the awareness, reflection and joint action among all the territorial actors its three fundamental keys.

The problem of depopulation is not new, nor is it exclusive of these five territories. However, the greater seriousness and need to take urgent measures is well recognized in different documents, among which are:

The GEOSPECS report emanating from a request from the European Commission itself

Regions with severe and permanent demographic disadvantages are identified, using among others the category of SPAs (Sparsely Populated Areas), on pages 15-16-17.

The Treaty on the functionning of the European Union

Article 174 raises the possibility of claiming the “special attention” for these territories.

The Association Agreement between Spain and the European Union 2014-2020

On page 60 the sparsely populated regions of Spain are evident.

Claims to the 2014-2020 Association Agreement of Spain (spanish version)

Presented by the three business organizations of Cuenca, Soria and Teruel (spanish version).

Briefing: "Sparsely populated and under– populated areas"

In 2016, the European Parliament Research Service (EPRS) corroborates everything that has been said previously.

The purpose of the studies and reports commissioned by SSPA is twofold. On the one hand, the documents produced justify scientifically before public authorities and society as a whole the causes of depopulation. On the other hand, the consequences derived from the demographic and socioeconomic deterioration suffered by less populated provinces of southern Europe are shown.

Even before the creation of the SSPA network, the business organizations of Cuenca, Soria and Teruel have participated in different meetings. The sessions have been with actors from different areas: business, citizenship, university or politics field. In them, the future of the rural environment at the provincial level has been discussed.

At the level of the Spanish state, the SSPA Network has been able to participate in the debate, as well as appearing in the agreements and pronouncements of institutions such as: