The next budget of the European Union should include specific measures aimed at the regions most severely affected by demographic challenges, such as ageing or rural depopulation, local and regional leaders urged in a conference organised by the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) and the Government of La Rioja today. Speakers – among them the vice-president of the European Parliament Ramón Luis Valcárcel Siso and the presidents of the Spanish autonomous communities of Aragón, Galicia and La Rioja, all of them CoR members – regretted that the European Commission's proposal for the Multiannual Financial Framework 2021-2027 does not provide adequate responses to demographic challenges, thus ignoring the article 174 of the Treaty on the European Union.
Logroño - the capital of La Rioja – hosted on Monday a meeting of the CoR's Commission for Social Policy, Education, Employment, Research and Culture (SEDEC), followed by a conference on demographic change. In his opening speech José Ignacio Ceniceros (ES/EPP), President of the Government of La Rioja and chair of the SEDEC commission, stressed that Europe's local and regional authorities have set out a call for a united and collective response to the demographic challenges in a recent CoR opinion, the rapporteur of which was Juan Vicente Herrera Campo (ES/EPP), President of the Regional Government of Castilla y León.
"The demographic crisis is having a particularly significant impact on the rural and peripheral regions, where the low birth rates combine with the exodus of young population to large cities as well as to other countries. Facing up to this reality requires commitment and a clear political response from the European institutions, with initiatives and funding formulated over time in a holistic, systematic and sustainable way. Therefore, today we want to collectively send a strong signal that greater recognition of demographic criteria should be incorporated into future European policies, including into its budget priority mechanisms for regions where demographic change has a particularly strong impact," Mr Ceniceros said.
According to Ramón Luis Valcárcel Siso, vice-president of the European Parliament and former president of the CoR, "now is the time to work so as to ensure that the cohesion policy of the future plays a stronger role in the fight to alleviate the negative effects caused by demographic change, with particular attention paid to rural areas, areas affected by low population density and regions suffering from severe and permanent demographic disadvantages."
Mr Valcárcel also joined the CoR call and spoke out against plans to centralise management of the European Social Fund at national level, noting that "European policies and programmes should continue to support regions and local authorities in their fight against the effects of the demographic challenge ".
Javier Lambán Montañés (ES/PES), President of the Government of Aragon, said: "Ambitious policies and vertical cooperation between European, national and regional levels are needed to create employment opportunities and maintain public services in rural areas. In this respect, it is crucial to reinvent the territory and take advantages of available resources, such as renewable energy or tourism. In the next EU budget, the Cohesion Funds and the Common Agricultural Policy should be oriented towards revitalising the rural and remote areas."
Alberto Nuñez Feijóo (ES/EPP), President of the Autonomous Community of Galicia, pointed out that "the demographic situation is one of Europe's structural problems which doesn't respect national borders. The old continent is today older than ever before: European population is ageing and birth rates keep decreasing. The demographic evolution has an impact on economic growth, territorial cohesion and sustainability of pensions and health care, particularly in rural areas. This is why intelligent fiscal and migratory measures are needed at European and national levels."
Markku Markkula, the first vice-president of the CoR, emphasised the need to bridge the digital divide and improve connectivity in rural and sparsely populated areas. In this regard, the CoR's SEDEC commission has created a joint platform with the European Commission to contribute to the deployment of high-speed broadband. "All aspects of demographic issues are linked to other sectors such as digital skills, broadband coverage and public sector innovation. Synergic use of financing instruments in the next EU budget is key to developing regions' potential and attractiveness. While ageing population is a challenge for Europe, we must also remember the opportunities that silver economy can provide", Mr Markkula said.
According to Article 174 of the Treaty on European Union, the EU should pay particular attention to regions that "suffer from severe and permanent natural or demographic handicaps, such as the northernmost regions with very low population density and island, cross-border and mountain regions". Demographic challenges facing various European regions include population ageing, urbanisation and migration.
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