This is a real challenge in our modern world, where young rural people increasingly migrate to cities in search of work or lifestyle expectations. It is imperative that we find new, smarter ways to reverse this pattern of rural depopulation.
Without sustainable, vibrant communities, rural areas cannot play a full and active role in addressing our shared 21st Century challenges: climate change, green and efficient food production, and maintaining precious rural traditions, landscapes and heritage.
We have a long-standing commitment to sustainable rural development in the EU, but it is also vital to adapt to reflect the ever-changing needs of rural areas. Rural citizens of 30 years ago could not have imagined the possibilities arising from fibre broadband, or the bio-economy, to give just two contemporary examples.
20 years ago, a group of committed rural stakeholders and policymakers met in Cork, Ireland, to draft a Declaration on European Rural Development. This was the cornerstone of the second pillar of CAP reform, defining EU rural policy over the last two decades.
This week, the Commission once again hosted a 2-day conference in Cork, where over 350 agricultural, environmental and rural stakeholders engaged in passionate and lively discussions which brought about a Declaration fit for the 21st Century.
This document, entitled "A Better Life in Rural Areas" provides a blueprint for the policy priorities we need to identify in the coming months and years.
The Declaration specifically references the necessity for policies that "incentivise the delivery of environmental public goods" and also recognises the "critical need to address the climate challenge" through support for "effective mitigation and adaptation strategies."
I am glad that the Declaration has been broadly welcomed by farmer organisations, advocates of organic farming, as well as organisations from across the political spectrum. I believe it provides us with a strong foundation to unite the rural voice and prepare us for the road ahead. And now, the real work begins!