Caring for mountain areas
Conference in Brussels urged that these regions should benefit by cohesion
9 June, 2017
For almost 9 hours, the conference ‘Cohesion policy in mountain areas: how to increase the contribution from mountains and benefits for mountain territories’, kept the hall in Brussels Borschette Centre fully packed. The debate, initiated by EC DG Regio and Euromontana, European association for mountain areas promoting quality of life in mountains, brought together officials from the Commission, MEPs, people from the Committee of the Regions, EESC, national and regional authorities, schools, academia, chambers of agriculture and of commerce, regional development agencies, environmental bodies whose work is focused on mountain areas.
Over 70 million inhabitants, or just 17% of the population of more and more urbanised Europe, live in mountain areas. Mountains are taking in nearly 30% of the EU territory, but they have a vigorous potential for innovation and growth in quite interesting fields as bioeconomy, green growth in energy, sustainable agriculture and forestry sectors, e-health sphere, among others.
During the discussions were highlighted the needs of people who live in the mountains for an effective cohesion policy, this policy’s current and future implementation, the role of macro-regional strategies to encourage an integrated territorial approach and were presented good examples how to make it possible to have living mountains.
The major problem mountainous regions are facing today is demographic, as these areas in Europe are deserting, Bulgarian Vice-President Iliana Iotova said opening the discussion and stressed that it is particularly worrying because without people, the potential of the mountains can be lost, and thus the rich culture and history.
Iotova is the author of a special own-initiative report in her previous role as MEP, dedicated precisely to the cohesion policy in mountainous regions of Europe. Backed by the European Parliament with a wide majority in May last year, the resolution advocates that mountainous regions should receive additional support and new opportunities for investment through European funds and also targeted subsidies in the next programming period so to overcome specific challenges they share, such as climate change, and for providing year-round jobs rather than just seasonal employment, promoting economic development, preventing and managing natural disasters and protecting the environment. The European Commission propped up this proposal and it will be included in the next financial period and is of particular importance in view of the upcoming review of the EU's Multiannual Financial Framework.
Talking at the conference, Iotova explained that the purpose of the report was to include mountainous regions in cohesion policy through several key objectives. She accented on the need for agenda for mountainous regions, which would allow a better review of their needs and how they will be met, and how cohesion policy can be actively involved. Iotova also stressed that the mountains within the EU are very differing, but they all share some qualities on which European policies can be focused. As it is pointed out in her report, employment could be increased through dual education and investment in SMEs, markedly in the sectors of tourism, organic farming and crafts, the production of renewable energy.
The Bulgarian Vice-President drew the attention also on the infrastructure, roads and high-speed internet that create conditions for young people to develop businesses there.
Commenting on the multi-speed Europe in the context of cohesion, VP Iotova asserted that “the speed project in Europe is not a project, but a result of an extremely erroneous and short-sighted EU policy during the last two Commission mandates with a flimsy leadership, non-taking a responsibility not only in terms of foreign policy and security but also in finance and social policy areas.”
Restraint policies have killed economic growth, made some weak countries even weaker, and the others - even more closed in themselves, which led to different movements and different phases of development in Europe, she opined. According to her, the speeds aren’t an instrument for achieving anything but a status quo whose bitter results we are currently experiencing.