The network of Southern Sparsely Populated Areas (SSPA), originates as a result of the union of the Confederation of Entrepreneurs of Cuenca (CEOE-CEPYME Cuenca), the Federation of Sorian Business Organizations (FOES) and the Confederation of Entrepreneurs of Teruel (CEOE Teruel). 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 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 2019, the SSPA Network has become part of the Intergroup of the European Parliament on sparsely populated, mountainous and remote rural areas, RUMRA & Smart Villages.
The SSPA Network has held more than 95 meetings with political and technical representatives of both the Community Institutions and the different levels of the national administration, from the State Government to the different autonomous governments and provincial councils. The objective of these meetings has been to show those responsible for designing future territorial development policies, not only the worrying socioeconomic situation that our territories suffer, but also, to highlight the strengths they have and the need to promote new capable policies to take advantage of that development potential that our rural environment treasures. Among the most prominent meetings, one especially important was the one held with the Vice President of the European Parliament and MEPs due to depopulation to discuss the issue of amendments to the European Financial Framework 2021-2027.
In addition, the SSPA Network has participated in the main forums where the current and future problems of the least populated rural environment and with the greatest difficulties in socio-economic development have been addressed, whether they are business, citizen, university or political in nature and celebrated both on a scale national as well as European. Thus, the SSPA Network has been a speaker at such relevant events as the Madrid Climate Summit Conference, a Training for the European Commission about depopulation in Europe, organized by the Department of the Directorate General of Agriculture and Rural Development or the Conference “Combating rural depopulation: creating new opportunities for dynamic rural areas” organized by the European Network for Rural Development (ENRD).
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.
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.