S.I.F. at the European Rural Parliament 2019

S.I.F. at the European Rural parliament 2019

by Camille Dressler, S.I.F. Chair

The 4th European Rural Parliament took place in Candas, Asturias in Spain on November 6-9, 2019. The host for the 4th ERP was READER, the Asturian Rural Development Network and their partners. It was a great event altogether, bringing  335 participants  from 38 countries. This year, it was combined with the Youth Rural parliament who brought extra zest to the proceedings!

The topic of this ERP was the relationship between rural and urban areas, but representing ESIN, the European Small Islands Federation which has newly joined the ERP partnership, as well as S.I.F.  I was tasked to talk about islands, and chose to concentrate on what is happening in terms of island revival in Scotland, using the example of Eigg to introduce the signs of a welcome return of younger people and families, facilitated by the help provided by Scottish Community Empowerment legislation.

As a result, Eigg  may well look forward to a visit from Alex from Belarus, as  he and other folks wanted to get ideas of how to rehabilitate the devalued concept of  communities in post soviet countries.  A chapter about Eigg also featured in the book “Europe on the move, ” launched at the ERP, a collection of stories from all corners of Europe over the 25 years of the existence of the transformative network Forum Synergies, which in an earlier incarnation had helped the inhabitants of Eigg on their journey to self-determination! You could say the island was well signposted!

  

 “Actions by civil society actors can have a crucial role in enhancing wellbeing”

ERPs are places where you meet meet really interesting people like Bill Slee of the Hutton Institute, now retired and working for the SIMRA project: Social innovations in Marginalised Rural Areas – Their booklet included the story of Community Energy in Orkney and Tacsi’s social care success in Uist,  alongside other great  rural European innovators and it was great to see the Scottish Islands so prominently featured.!

Here is what Bill says about social innovation “Creating new formal and informal institutions in civil society may be critical in developing effective responses to contemporary challenges in rural Europe.  Where markets are weak and national and local government has limited resources, actions by civil society actors can have a crucial role in enhancing wellbeing.  But what makes an effective civil society organisation, a charitable trust or an NGO effective?  Why can they operate more efficiently than the state or the market?  What are the limits to their reach? Building collaborative possibilities and creating social capital through new institutions lies at the heart of social innovation.  But policy can help and in somewhere like Scotland policies for community empowerment have contributed hugely to enhancing the opportunities.  Sometimes we need to combine policy innovation, social innovation and technical innovation to deliver improvements. But we need to focus not only on smart villages, but on making the less smart, smarter.” concluded Bill.

Smart Villages, smart islands

Another interest was the topic of Smart Villages which was discussed widely in the workshops, including ours:  Smart islands/ Smart villages. In this  workshop,  we compared strategies to ensure better, more sustainable lives and discussed how we could all learn from the Smart Islands initiative.  We learnt about innovative social care ideas in areas of Spain that find themselves very isolated: in villages of Zaragoza, older people are all given a mobile phone to enable them to be contacted and to contact help if needed.

The Smart Villages programme is the current sub-theme of the broader European Network for Rural Development ( ENRD) thematic work on ‘Smart and Competitive Rural Areas’.  With a 10 billion euros budget, this is an ambitious programme, and for us in Scotland, it might be a good idea to engage – before it is too late – with Smart Villages Scotland.

Going round the ERP market place situated in Candas’ former sardine factory decorated with the portraits of all former factory workers, it was great to explore all the different produces brought by delegates and exchange smart ideas….

Climate Emergency

As always, it is impossible to see everything and attend everything, but one workshop I really enjoyed attending was delivered by ECOLISE.

Francesca and Davie, the two ECOLISE co-presidents,  told participants that the challenge of transitioning to a Low Carbon Climate Resilient Society requires not just action at national and international levels but, most importantly, it requires ongoing, long-term, deep engagement at local community level. Our worskhop’s tasks was to reflect who we needed to involve and how,  to effect that transformative change.

Community led initiatives across Europe and elsewhere are actively envisioning creating and living within alternatives that are rooted within sustainability equality and social justice. These initiatives must be supported and become the basis of a new normal if Europe is to achieve its ambitious targets on climate action and sustainability,” said Francesca, who also made a great speech at the plenary.

Davie presented the inspiring case study of community-led action in Cloughjordan, Co Tipperary, Ireland, where the ecovillage and wider community is modelling a resilient and low-carbon society. (He did inspire me to visit, and I did a week later after finishing my Galway Smart islands training.  Plans are now afoot to invite Davie to Scotland …)

Meeting old friends! 

It was also great to meet again with Omar and Vigfus from Iceland, with whom I had a great exchange in Venhorst at the 3rd ERP in Holland. A retired actor in his 80’s, Omar is composing and singing songs about the dire state of the Earth and presented at the ERP the film he made travelling through Iceland on his bike: with the ice cap melting, his country is now seeing  a worrying increase in volcanic activity and lava eruption. As to Vigfus, he is proposing for Grimsay in Iceland to link up with Grimsay in Scotland, a great idea!

 

Fantastic hospitality rooted in  strong traditions. 

Music, songs, bagpipes, cider uniquely poured from a height – more than 500 apple varieries are grown in Asturias – often drunk whilst eating roasted chestnusts as we were offered with the espichas, the gastronomic feast of many Asturian tapas, all this truly gave all us a taste of this fascinating rural area which had to do much to re-invent itself after the closure of its mines and canning factories.

We also got a feel for the strength of the wind on the Cantabrian coast as storms abated on the Bay of Biscay  and gained  a real appreciation for the Asturias mountains traditions. These are very much alive, although at risk through abandonment of isolated hamlets and villages, but initiatives such as the Pro-biodiversity quality mark for mountain lamb have proved to be a game changer. There was much to learn in too short a time but Asturias has charmed us:  we all promised to come back.

  

The ERP 2019 call to action

The event, discussions, workshops, all this effervescent activity now needs to translate into pressure on decision makers at EU level to ensure Rural Europe is taken into consideration in all areas of policy making.  “We see the dominating urban and growth agendas combined with the disconnection between local people and decision-makers as a threat to rural life. A real rural agenda combined with inclusive cooperation and partnerships at all levels is needed to ensure rural Europe to thrive. ” clearly states the 4th ERP final declaration.

Speaking to the 4th ERP, Mihail Dumitru, Deputy Director General of DG Agriculture and Rural Development of the European Commission, supported the value of the ERP in bringing together so many countries and people across Europe with a common passion for the maintenance of our rural territories.

The new Commission for 2019-2024 is tasked with “developing a new long-term vision for rural areas and ensuring that the needs of rural areas are specifically catered for in national Strategic Plans under the new CAP”

The ERP partners will now work to ensure that the voices and messages of the 4th ERP Gathering will be heard in the corridors of power in Brussels and also in the national governments across Europe.

Rural People’s Declaration of Candás Asturias

9 th November 2019

We, 335 participants from 38 European countries, met during the 4th European Rural Parliament at the village of Candás Asturias, Spain, from 6 to 9 November 2019. Participants included rural people, representatives of civil society organisations, researchers, national governments and European Union institutions. We see the dominating urban and growth agendas combined with the disconnection between local people and decision-makers as a threat to rural life. A real rural agenda combined with inclusive cooperation and partnerships at all levels is needed to ensure rural Europe to thrive.

We, the rural people of Europe

• demand that rural is considered equal to urban in minds and practice;

• expect the right to choose where we live and work;

• call on governments to recognise and appreciate the value of rural volunteering, community life, entrepreneurship and natural resources;

• ask politicians to accept rural people, communities, entrepreneurs and municipalities as partners;

• request that the voice of rural people is heard in policy and consultative processes;

• insist poverty and social exclusion are addressed;

• ask governments and decision-makers to ensure that services are as close as possible to rural people to avoid security risks and loss of time/money;

• are ready to contribute with local service solutions and economic initiatives;

• welcome a real rural development policy for villages, communities and small towns;

• support smart, community-friendly initiatives and programmes like LEADER/CLLD and ERASMUS but demand that the regulation and administration of these programmes is simplified;

• require flexible working conditions and opportunities with effective support systems;

• ask for real, meaningful and engaging civil society participation in designing and delivering European programmes;

• encourage and support all forms of cooperation between local actors, including contractual solutions, project-based activities and multi-level partnerships of public, private and civil society actors;

• want to cooperate with local established structures and stakeholders including LEADER groups, Village/Community NGOs, development partnerships and local authorities.