Last week the European Council approved the Mechanism that regulates the destination of Recovery and Resilience funds. FOES, CEOE CEPYME Cuenca and CEOE Teruel wanted to take the opportunity to address this issue with representatives of the Parliament and the European Commission.
Cuenca, Soria and Teruel, February 19, 2021. The CEOEs of Cuenca, Soria and Teruel, creators of the Network of Southern Sparsely Populated Areas (SSPA) Network met with representatives of the Parliament and the European Commission at object of commenting on the progress of European policies and funds, and proposing tools capable of reversing the imbalance between the most unpopulated territories and the big cities.
The intense week of telematic meetings has included a meeting with the Spanish MEPs, Isabel Garcia, Mazaly Aguilar, Cristina Maestre and with the cabinets of the MEPs Susana Solís and Isabel Benjumea, and a videoconference with the person from the Cabinet of the European Commissioner for Cohesion and Reforms, Elisa Ferreira, who deals with territorial development policy and state aid, Carole Mancel-Blanchard.
For the CEOEs of Cuenca, Soria and Teruel, it is essential that these rounds of contacts serve so that, through community policies and European funds, responses are given to the needs of sparsely populated areas with serious and permanent demographic disadvantages. . For this reason, the Employers’ Confederations have made known to the representatives of the European institutions, who will have an important role in the different phases of approval and execution of the projects, their proposal regarding the Recovery and Resilience Plan ‘5 for rural’ , as a comprehensive project that can serve as an example for the rest of the unpopulated rural territories of both Spain and Europe.
In addition, the contacts have served to follow up on the previous meetings held with the European deputies in the last quarter of 2020, dealing with other fundamental issues for these areas such as progress in the approval of the regulations of European funds, especially the ERDF , and state aid, which could mean a reduction of 20% to Social Security for companies in these territories.
On the part of Carole Mancel-Blanchard, during the meeting it was highlighted how depopulation is one of the Commission’s priorities and therefore, the different steps taken, such as the future Financial Framework and the cohesion policy of 2021, were discussed -2027, in addition to those to come, which include the Strategy for the long-term vision of rural areas. The head of the Cohesion and Reform Cabinet has recognized the possibilities offered by rural areas to the problems caused by congestion in cities, such as congestion in urban areas, the price of housing and quality of life. In addition, she has highlighted the work carried out by entities such as the SSPA Network for the construction of a future for these areas.
Recovery and Resilience Mechanism
The meetings took place after hearing the approval of the Council, last week, of the Regulation that establishes the Recovery and Resilience Mechanism, the central axis of the EU Recovery Plan. The Regulation, which has been published in the Official Gazette, aims to face the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, promote ecological and digital transitions, and build more resilient and inclusive societies.
Member States will receive Recovery and Resilience funds based on their national recovery and resilience plans, which are currently in preparation. Subsequently, the Member States have until April 30 to present their plans to the Commission and then the Commission will have a maximum period of two months to evaluate the plans and, later, the Council will have four weeks to take its decision regarding the approval of each plan.
SSPA has presented its report on Environmental Externalities at CEOE headquarters in Madrid. The conclusions of the study place the provinces of Cuenca, Soria and Teruel as life donor territories, given that their environmental and social benefits are spread throughout society.
The Network of Southern Sparsely Populated Areas (SSPA) has presented the conclusions of the Report “Environmental Externalities contributed by the Rural Environment and the Impact that Depopulation may have on them: the case of the provinces of Cuenca, Soria and Teruel” , in an event that has taken place at the headquarters of the Spanish Confederation of Business Organizations in Madrid.
The report places the provinces of Cuenca, Soria and Teruel as strategic territories in the production of renewable energies, in the storage of C02 and with an area of enjoyment 5 times greater than the average of Spain. All of this highlights the role that Cuenca, Soria, and Teruel play for human well-being, both in environmental and economic terms. In addition, these provinces enjoy high potential for the development of a circular, sustainable economy based on contact with nature, holding 16% of the agricultural and forest area of the country as a whole.
The objective of this report is to recognize the benefit that the provinces of Cuenca, Soria and Teruel bring to the rest of the national group. This value has to be internalized by society, to position our territories as areas close to emission neutrality. A work that not only benefits the inhabitants of these areas, but also affects the well-being of the rest of society and the preservation of nature. Well, unlike what is socially believed, the depopulation of a territory does not benefit the environment, since the inhabitants of these areas work on the maintenance and conservation of natural ecosystems. For now, it can be said that investing to stop depopulation also implies protecting our nature.
The SSPA Network has highlighted the convenience of placing ecosystem services at the center of decision-making and environmental policies, with new laws that establish real and practical measures to achieve a balance between population and territory and that redound to benefit of the whole society.
In addition to defining economic compensation to neutral and donor territories, recognizing their environmental value and financially compensating for the almost zero profitability they generate for their custodians; promote the establishment in these territories of new neutral companies that generate green and quality employment, through economic incentives and through differentiated taxation; promote and encourage corporate environmental responsibility towards these donor territories.
This person in charge of the European Commission, in charge of drafting the future Vision Document on rural areas, has compiled the position of the Network of Sparsely Populated Areas in Europe on aspects such as demographic change, connectivity or low income.
The Vice President and Commissioner for Democracy and Demography Dubravka Suica, has met, among other organizations, with the SSPA Network, to make an analysis of rural areas.
The central axis of the meeting has revolved around the document that the Commissioner for Democracy and Demography Dubravka Šuica is drafting on the long-term vision of rural areas, and for which she wants to collect the different points of view of public actors and the most relevant private companies in the territory, on issues related to the challenges of rural areas, such as demographic change, connectivity, low income levels and limited access to services.
Members of the Intergroup RUMRA & amp; Smart Villages (Intergroup of the European Parliament related to sparsely populated, mountainous and remote areas, which promotes the integral development of these territories), together with some technicians from the Commission of the Agriculture and Rural Development and Regional Development departments.
For the Southern Sparsely Populated Areas network, the objective is to make rural areas highly successful and competitive territories in which more and more people choose to live, work, study and invest. For this reason, it has drawn up a document with a series of measures to address the demographic challenge, which has been presented to the European Commission through public consultation and whose key aspects have been commented on at the meeting.
Among these measures is the proposal for a definition of unpopulated areas, presenting the map prepared for the case of Spain by the SSPA, as well as the need to guarantee universal and quality access to telecommunications, including some of the proposals presented. through the Network to the Telecommunications Law, such as the proposal to “package territories” in all calls, to ensure that sparsely populated areas have the same speed and the same prices as in areas with a higher population density.
Another aspect to highlight of the document is the need to have legislation that understands and assumes the extreme disparity of conditions existing between the most vulnerable rural environment and the urban environment. This instrument is known in Europe as “Rural Guarantee Mechanism” and for the Network it should be participatory for civil society, both in the rural impact evaluation of the laws and regulations in force, as well as those to be adopted. hereafter.
In addition to encouraging financing from EU funds and programs in rural areas, which at this time is much weaker than that produced by those projects and initiatives that are developed from urban areas. And of course, the importance of transmitting the reality and the advantages that rural areas offer in a different way, promoting economic activity and social commitment.
The SSPA Network has presented the ‘Map 174. Zoning of Spanish municipalities subject to serious and permanent demographic disadvantages’ with which they intend to contribute to a better application of the policies against these problems, hence it has also been presented to representatives of the regional and provincial institutions of Cuenca, Soria and Teruel. Map 174, which has been made by geographers, José Antonio Guillén, technician of the SSPA Network and María Zúñiga, professor at the University of Zaragoza, CEOT Group, IUCA of the Department of Geography and Spatial Planning of the University of Zaragoza, it can serve to identify the singularities of the territories and thus be able to take the most effective and fair measures. With the preparation of this map, which is based on the wording of article 174 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, the SSPA network seeks to contribute to the debate on depopulation a tool that improves the territorial diagnosis with a view to the application of policies and measures concrete measures that have to reverse the worrying demographic and socioeconomic crisis that affects an important part of rural inland Spain. These works are in line with the work carried out since 2013 by the business organizations of Cuenca, Teruel and Soria, trying to convey a rigorous diagnosis that an important part of inland Spain suffers, also through meetings with institutions.
The map starts from the literal of Article 174 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union -Treaty of Lisbon-, where it is highlighted that the Union will propose to reduce the differences between the levels of development of the various regions, paying special attention to rural areas and those with severe and permanent natural or demographic handicaps.
Starting from these premises, the map aims to measure the degree of these disadvantages through 6 variables: altitude, average slope, population density, aging index, percentage of population between 0 and 4 years old, and population evolution between 1991 and 2018 .
María Zúñiga, co-author of the map advanced that “the choice of these variables responds to two fundamental principles. In the first place, the resulting map had to be scientifically rigorous, for which, in addition to being based on official statistical sources, it had to dispense with any type of bias, avoiding artificial territorial aggregations or weightings between variables. Second, it had to be easily interpreted by society as a whole and its methodology perfectly applicable to any other territory of the European Union ”.
Along the same lines, the other author, José Antonio Guillén highlighted that “we propose this cartography as a first contribution to the debate on the zoning and ranking of the municipalities that suffer demographic disadvantages. We would like the different administrations to make it their own and value the convenience of, for example, introducing new social or economic variables that allow a better and more effective application of policies to combat depopulation ”.
María Zúñiga pointed out as one of the conclusions of this study that “society as a whole, not only rural society, should consider whether the model of management of the territory to which it seems we are doomed in Spain, with hardly any resident population in an important part of the territory, it is sustainable in economic and environmental terms. Without a sufficient population presence in rural areas, threats such as the loss of biodiversity, the opportunities to curb climate change or the necessary conservation and efficient management of fundamental resources such as water, remain in doubt, and this is everyone’s problem. , also of the inhabitants of the cities ”.
Along these lines, and as a conclusion after the results, José Antonio Guillén analyzed that “of course Spain faces a demographic problem as a whole, but it is no less true that the issue of depopulation is not as widespread as it is sometimes wants to see. It is true that many provinces and autonomous communities suffer from very diverse territorial difficulties that must be amended, but these do not always respond to a demographic disadvantage ”.
The map shows not only the magnitude of the depopulation problem, the main one of a territorial order that affects the country as a whole, but also that the incidence of the phenomenon is not much more unequal between provinces and autonomous communities than might be expected. In fact, of the 1,776 municipalities (21.9% of the total) that suffer a demographic situation considered very serious, 20% -one in five- are located in the provinces that make up the SSPA network.
For its part, compared to 44% of Spanish municipalities that are in a serious or very serious demographic situation, an already very worrying figure, in the case of the SSPA network, this percentage practically doubles, reaching 81, 4%.
On the other hand, 2,452 Spanish municipalities, 30% of the total, enjoy a good demographic situation, while in the provinces of Soria, Cuenca and Teruel as a whole there are only 27 localities that do not suffer demographic disadvantages (only the 4.1% of the total SSPA municipalities).
In the opinion of Jose Antonio Guillén, “this data is extremely worrying, since in order to promote the socioeconomic development of a whole territory it is essential that it has a minimum of populations with a certain degree of demographic, social and economic vigor capable of radiating opportunities for the future to the smallest towns in its immediate surroundings.
With regard to the spatial dimension of the phenomenon of depopulation, 37% of the Spanish surface is in a serious or very serious demographic situation, while in the case of the SSPA network this percentage reaches 70%.
During the first half of 2021 the European Commission is expected to publish its document on the “long-term vision for rural areas”.
The long-term vision for rural areas is coordinated by Vice-President Dubravka Šuica, European Commissioner for Democracy and Demography. Janusz Wojciechowski, EU Commissioner for Agriculture, and Elisa Ferreira, Commissioner for Cohesion and Reforms will also collaborate to develop the vision.
Therefore, the SSPA Network has shared with the Šuica cabinet and published in the consultation its first recommendations for a long-term vision that encompasses all the necessary dimensions to successfully address the demographic challenge for rural areas, particularly sparsely populated areas and territories with severe and permanent demographic handicaps.
In particular, it includes:
1. A legal and operational definition of unpopulated areas;
2. New thematic approach for the diversification of economic activities.
3. Better coordination: multi-level governance and territorial agencies.
The coordinator of the Southern Sparsely Populated Areas network has participated as a speaker in a Conference held in Évora (Portugal) on the link between basic services and population density in which responses were sought to improve the siuation taking into account its cost and technological advances.
The Southern Sparsely Populated Areas network has made its contributions on European territorial development to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in an event in the Portuguese city of Évora.
Thus, the SSPA coordinator, Sara Bianchi, has participated in a Conference organized by the OECD in which the cost of providing basic services such as education, health and services to the elderly was linked to population density, focusing on political responses to national, regional and local level to improve the provision of these services, taking into account cost generators and technological advances.
In this way, the Southern Sparsely Populated Areas network is confirmed as a qualified agent and sees its work recognized internationally by collaborating with the OECD, which is an international cooperation agency to coordinate its economic and social policies.
Sara Bianchi said that “it is not easy to stand out in such a large context and with so many actors, so this recognition is more important. We are sure that our proposals are necessary to address the problem that affects the depopulated territories of Europe and see how international agents recognize them as valid confirms that we are working in the right direction”.
In addition, they point out that the network itself is an example of collaboration of different agents such as business organizations (CEOE CEPYME Cuenca, CEOE Teruel and FOES) and local action groups, with the support of the credit unions of these territories (Globalcaja, Caja Rural de Teruel and Caja Rural de Soria) and some public administrations.
The SSPA emphasizes that some aspects of its strategy are penetrating outside of our country, such as seeking to attend basic services through new technologies or completing internet technology in depopulated populations, so that its coverage is comparable to that of large cities and therefore they can compete in a global market like the one we are in.
On the other hand, SSPA asks to adapt the legislation to the reality of the territory, so that the laws do not negatively affect the depopulated areas and prioritize those provinces with more inhabitants. They also consider vital incentives to diversify the economy, involve the population of these territories and give it an active role and encourage collaboration between different levels of public institutions.
A representation of the Southern Sparsely Populated Areas network participated in Brussels in this meeting to share proposals on the Demographic Challenge that will be incorporated into a document that will later be transferred to the vice president of Democracy and Demography, Dubravka Šuica.
The SSPA network has actively participated in a workshop led by the Committee of the Regions in order to transfer its proposals on the demographic challenge to the European Commission.
A representation of the SSPA, headed by its coordinator, Sara Bianchi, has been responsible for making their contributions on this day in order to give the vision and problems encountered from this unpopulated area of Southern Europe, in addition to making proposals against this problem.
The participation of the SSPA network in this meeting is essential because a document will be made that will be delivered to the Vice President of Democracy and Demography of the European Union, the Croatian Dubravka Šuica.
The objective of this table is to provide an action plan to better support regions affected by demographic change such as the provinces of Cuenca, Soria and Teruel, Evrytania and Lika Senj, included in the Southern Sparsely populated areas netowrk , in addition to other areas severely affected by depopulation.
SSPA Within the interventions, the SSPA, through its coordinator, Sara Bianchi, made its political proposals among which is to make a broader approach to combat depopulation than the one that has been carried out so far, including aspects such as housing, basic infrastructure, business support, the attraction of human capital as sources of rural development. Among other requests, they ask for plans for the implementation of high-speed internet connection, because, without this resource, companies in unpopulated areas will not be able to compete in a global environment, they also request to guarantee basic services and propose a fiscal policy that gives advantages to the sparsely populated territories.
The Network of Southern Sparsely Populated Areas (SSPA) highlights a change of position in European organizations regarding the demographic challenge, and observe a greater sensitivity in the European Union with the issue of depopulation. They consider these changes very important so that specific policies are included and specifically taken into account in the new Multiannual Financial Framework 2021-2027, to address this great problem in which they work, showing their seriousness and the need to deal with it in a global way and effective.
The entity warns that some steps are being taken so that depopulation is included in the next financial framework and in this regard it is directing all its efforts so that the next 2021-2027 Multiannual Financial Framework will face the Demographic Challenge and be one of the political priorities they face, so that both areas with serious permanent problems and other depopulated territories are taken into account.
According to the proposal of the European Commission last year on the 2021-2027 Multiannual Financial Framework, where the European Union specifies in figures the political priorities that its citizens and their leaders want, in principle, did not include the Demographic Challenge.
But the SSPA Network reports that to this first Commission proposal, contributions were made both by the Committee of the Regions, as well as earlier this year by the European Parliament, incorporating different amendments in the Commission proposal, such as the need to allocate a minimum percentage of ERDF resources to intervene in areas with natural, geographical or demographic disadvantages, as well as specific aid to areas that have an evident continued loss of population. Another series of amendments promoted the incorporation into the partnership agreement of an integrated approach to address demographic challenges in the regions or the specific needs of regions and areas, when necessary, as well as the drafting by Member States of programs for Implementation of the Funds that take into account an integrated approach to address demographic challenges.
Training of technicians in the European Commission
The SSPA Network during the month of September, requested by the Directorate General of Agriculture and Rural Development of the Commission, presented the situation that It affects sparsely populated provinces to the European technicians of this Department, as well as others such as Regional Development and Employment. As well as the general characteristics of the depopulation that many territories in Europe are experiencing, and especially the situation that affects many territories. They were able to highlight their strengths and weaknesses, such as the loss of population and the lack of communication infrastructure, both physical and digital.
New Vice Presidency of Democracy and Demography
Similarly, the creation of a vice-presidency in charge of Democracy and Demography stands out as one of the novelties, being the first time that the European Commission will be specifically responsible for addressing the demographic challenge. This portfolio is planned to be led by the Croatian, Dubravka Suica, among its objectives is to face the demographic challenge. During the first six months of its mandate, it must publish a report that analyzes the impact of demographic changes in the different groups of society and the consequences in the most affected regions. It must also work together with States and regions on how to improve services and infrastructure in places with demographic challenges.
Intergroup and Europarliamentarians
The new Intergroup of the European Parliament on sparsely populated, mountainous and remote rural areas, RUMRA and Smart Territories, aims to bring the voice of rural communities to the European Parliament, promoting initiatives in rural development of these areas with a transversal vision. It is made up of members of Europe, especially concerned about this issue, and entities related to the rural environment in Europe, among which is the SSPA Network.
It is increasingly clear that everyone agrees on the need to act urgently in the face of this great problem, and meanwhile the SSPA Network continues to develop a serious and documented work that has led it to be a recognized entity, assiduously participating in forums and events where the situation of the European rural environment is faced, and generating a close collaboration with representatives and organizations from other unpopulated areas of Europe.
The Network of Sparsely Populated Areas of Southern Europe attended the 17th edition of the European Week of Regions and Cities, participating in conferences and meeting with MEPs to transfer the extreme situation of depopulated territories and the need for policies and financing from the European Union to reverse it.
The European Week of Regions and Cities is one of the most important annual events that take place in Brussels, for four days experiences and policies are exchanged to move towards Territorial Cohesion. The SSPA Network participated in the different conferences that have been held as “Smart villages”, “Shrinking Regions”, “Improving Basic Services for Sparsely Populated Regions”, and they have noticed an increase in the number of events and talks related to sparsely populated and rural areas with respect to the last edition.
The SSPA coordinator, Sara Bianchi, intervened in these conferences exposing the proposals of the Network to reverse the depopulation in a comprehensive and long-term way, and stressed that “in the Conference we have seen different areas connected with the rural environment as mobility, basic services, internet access, and one of the main themes has been the Multiannual Financial Framework ”.
The Network met the new Spanish Europarliamentarians Cristina Maestre, Isabel García, Mazaly Aguilar, and also with Clara Aguilera who also participates in the Intergroup of the European Parliament “RUMRA & Smart Villages”, on rural areas sparsely populated, mountainous and remote communities, which SSPA is included. In these meetings they have addressed the challenge of depopulation and how it affects southern Europe, exchanging approaches on how to act in Europe, regions and town halls to curb it and keep people alive. The SSPA has transmitted to them the extreme situation of the sparsely populated territories and the need to face it with policies and financing from the European Union to reverse it.
The SSPA Network with its work continues to add support to address the problem of depopulation, spreading its comprehensive position to reverse it, continuing to contact other entities sensitized to the problem, and closely following the European debate on the Multiannual Financial Framework 2020-2026 .
As representatives of the Network of Southern Sparsely Populated Areas, the coordinator, Sara Bianchi, representatives from LAGs: Joaquín Lorenzo (Teruel)and Jose Luis Merino (Cuenca), as well as a councilor from Cuenca, Beatriz Moreno participated in the European Week of Regions and Cities.
Four years ago, 193 countries committed ourselves to the 2030 Agenda of the United Nations. The SSPA Network joins the #ODSéate digital campaign launched by the High Commissioner for the 2030 Agenda to promote the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs form an action plan that seeks equal opportunities between people, the protection of the planet and the generation of prosperity in a world in peace that works in partnership to overcome the challenges we face.
The SSPA Network was born with the fundamental objective of promoting specific policies and measures that contribute to addressing the main structural challenges that, in demographic, economic and social matters, affect the less populated rural regions of Europe. In this regard, through our meetings and documents, we propose measures aimed at fulfilling the SDGs. Specifically, among the different objectives, our work is oriented towards the following objectives and goals:
Goal 8. Decent work and economic growth. Therefore, we focus our proposals on promoting development-oriented policies that support productive activities, the creation of decent jobs, entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation, and encourage the formalization and growth of micro and small and medium enterprises. companies, including through access to financial services.
Goal 9. Industry, innovation and infrastructure. Without a development of reliable, sustainable, resilient and quality infrastructure, economic development and human well-being cannot be supported. Our special emphasis is on affordable and equitable access for all.
Goal10. Reduction of inequalities. Our actions are aimed at guaranteeing equal opportunities and reducing inequality of results. These measures include the elimination of discriminatory laws, policies and practices and the promotion of appropriate laws and policies in that regard. A specific proposal is the adoption of fiscal policies, to progressively achieve greater equality of conditions.
Goal 16. Peace, justice and strong institutions. Within our proposals we talk about the need to guarantee the adoption at all levels of inclusive, participatory and representative decisions that meet the needs.
Goal 17. Partnerships to achieve the objectives. From the Network, we promote our measures in collaboration with all public administrations and the main socio-economic actors in the territory. In addition to proposing approaches oriented not only to sparsely populated territories, but to the whole of the depopulated rural, remote and mountain territories throughout Europe.