On 13th April 2018 in Bled, Slovenia, a joint conference between the European Commission and the European Parliament was organised on “European Action for Smart Villages: for a brighter future of rural areas in the EU” (for more information and to see the streaming of the plenary session, click here).
This high-level conference shows an appetite for Smart Villages to be developed in the future programming period and the wish to put the concept into practice, as shown in Slovenia. If an EU project is currently developing a proper definition for Smart Villages (our blog post here), several high-level speakers shared their views about this concept and how to develop it in the coming months.
EU Commissioner for Transport, Violeta Bulc, supports the idea of smart villages and considers that connections are important: they can be physical or digital, but they should help to connect people. She encouraged the concept of Smart Villages to be developed in a systematic way, integrating the mobility aspects.
For EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Phil Hogan, Smart Villages are about people. This new concept is an invitation to create new alliances and new cooperations and to use digital solutions for developing smart eco-social villages with improved living conditions. Digital solutions and high-speed broadband are some tools to catch up with the current connectivity gap between urban and rural areas. They should be used for precision farming, but also to develop new local markets, e-health solutions or local energy production. In the new CAP legislative proposals that will be presented on the 1st June 2018, the Smart Villages will be a priority for the future rural development.
Smartening villages mean ensuring appropriate connectivity in rural areas, for EU Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, Mariya Gabriel. Several actions are developed to encourage the broadband roll-out, including the recent launch of the Broadband Competence Offices all over Europe or the broadband platform developed with the Committee of the Regions. The Wifi4Eu initiative also helps supporting free wifi access in towns and villages. She thus encouraged rural areas to seize these opportunities.
MEP Franc Bogovic and Tibor Szanyi have prepared a “Bled Declaration for a Smarter Future of Rural areas in Europe” which was signed by the Slovenian Prime Minister during this conference. In this declaration, they recognised the importance of digital technologies and social innovation. They encouraged to introduce different initiatives such as precision farming, digital platforms for e-health, shared economy, renewable energy solution or rural tourism to facilitate a value-added transition for rural employment opportunities.
During a workshop on smart farming, it was detailed that new technologies varies between big and small farms and also cannot be applied in the same way. Specially for small farms collective use of the digital packages has to be available through cooperatives or advisory services and the corresponding education for farmers has to be introduced.
For Dejan Židan, Slovenian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Food, maintaining agriculture in areas with natural constraints, especially mountain areas, should be maintained. Thus, he explicitly asked for new digital technologies to answer to mountain farming’s specific needs.
This enthusiasm for Smart Villages is hopefully just the beginning. Even if the concept is not really new, the political attention to better take into account rural development and to try to develop digital technologies as enablers for more socio-economic development of the countryside is worth mentioning. The discussion on this Smart Villages concept will continue during the ENRD seminar on Smart Villages on 22nd May.