Call for Action: A communication of European Citizens to the European
Institutions on the Future of Agriculture and Rural Regions Food for all is essential – the status quo is not an option
Many people in Europe seem to take sufficient and good food and a living countryside for granted. Some see agriculture as mere background for more important things in life. Others believe that farmers are the main problem in nature protection. But enough wholesome food for all and a good stewardship of nature is currently not at all guaranteed. Over a billion people go hungry. Soils are losing fertility, water resources are being depleted, and biodiversity is being lost around the globe. Climate change will further undermine efforts to feed a growing world population.
It is not enough to blame others. Europe shares an essential part of responsibility for making deep change possible. European rural regions and their communities have a great potential to make it happen. We need to support farmers in making sustainable food production the rule, not the exception. We need to involve consumers in urban and rural areas in responsible food consumption. In many rural regions, we need to strengthen narrow rural economies and to combat depopulation. The status quo of European farming and rural policies is not an option. We need to get involved now.
Why do we need an ARC?
The ‘European project’ needs more genuine involvement and influence of civil society and citizens in decision making. Decreasing turnout in European elections and growing scepticism against European Institutions clearly indicate this. In the coming three years the EU will prepare a new framework for virtually all its policies and their financing. Crucial support for agriculture and rural development comes from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and its “second pillar”, the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development. While the CAP has been one of the key pillars of European integration, it is also the target of widespread criticism and demand for reform from different interest groups.
2010 – A window of opportunity
2010 will be a window of opportunity for all who wish to raise their voice on the future of European Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the wider rural development policies. The European Commission is working on a so-called “Communication to the European Parliament and the Council” concerning future agricultural and rural policies. This is expected to be published by the end of 2010.
In preparation for this, the Commission has invited all interested EU citizens and organisations to join the debate on the future of the CAP, and to send ideas to a recently opened website (http://ec.europa.eu/agriculture/cap-post-2013/debate/index_en.htm). It has invited its own advisory Groups, a series of think tanks and the members of the formal European Network for Rural Development to contribute position papers. It will hold a two- day Conference in July, as the climax of this debate.
How to build an ARC?
The ARC welcomes this process, and wishes to support it. But we also wish to influence development of future policy through a “Communication of European Citizens to the European Institutions”. Our communication will be based on a Europe-wide debate and new forms of negotiations among the various civil society stakeholders, leading to a common message which cannot be ignored.
We propose to facilitate local debates, regional and thematic working groups and European conferences in order to build the bridge between people living in rural areas and policy makers, farmers and consumers, and organisations working on environmental, public health, animal welfare and rural development issues.
What is the timeframe of the CAP and rural development reforms?
The EU-Commission has also announced an “enlarged advisory group consultation”, raising a number of general questions to be answered by stakeholders represented in the Commissions’ advisory group. The official “Communication to the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers” has been announced for November-December this year. The legislative procedure will then start in 2011, including the formal negotiations within the European institutions. At that final stage of the reform process, citizen’s involvement and influence is usually very limited. By then, the legislative proposals already take into account preliminary positions and compromises achieved within the Council and the Parliament.
What can the ARC offer to citizens and to the European Institutions? Formal stakeholder consultations often lack a comprehensive message. The European institutions and decision-makers are often confronted with a plethora of contradicting expectations and demands of various national and European stakeholder groups and lobbyists. Well-established lobby groups have more influence on the administration, because they can speak with one voice. The ARC wishes to offer communication tools and an innovative infrastructure for negotiations for the broader civil society, so as to elaborate a common message in a democratic way. The “Communication of European Citizens to the European Institutions” will be an important challenge for citizens to speak with a clear common voice and a test case for the European institutions to listen and implement it in its reforming efforts.
How to get involved?
The (undersigned) group of initiators have launched the ARC initiative with the support of Fondation Charles Léopold Mayer pour le Progrès de l’Homme (FPH). You are kindly invited to build and test the ARC.
The starting point is this call for common action. An interactive website, where you can publish your positions, proposals and comments, is available at www.arc2020.eu. Simultaneously, cross-border regional working groups are being set up which offer to gather your ideas on specific agricultural, rural and territorial as well as political aspects, and to look beyond the national interests of member states. Furthermore, you are invited to create your own thematic working groups which will gather proposals and ideas on the key issues raised by the concerned sectors and interest groups. If you would like set up your own local, regional or thematic working groups, please contact the ARC secretariat established at the European School of Journalism (IHECS) in Brussels, or one of the moderation teams which will be established on national and regional level.
As a first step we offer to gather your proposals on our website. Our common working language on the website will be (UK) English. But you are free to work in any other language you wish on the website. However, for editing and summarising documents and for the final negotiations on a common message, we need summaries of your proposals in (UK) English. A more detailed explanation of the process and a manual for making use of the website will be available.
The ARC programme and key events
The (undersigned) initiating group of the ARC was established in April 2010 in Brussels, at the International School for European Journalists (IHECS). We intend to work quickly, in order to have an emerging set of key ideas ready to contribute to the conference which is scheduled by the Commission for 19/20 July 2010 when the key questions raised by the Commission will be debated with a wider range of stakeholders. ARC will also go beyond this consultation and work towards a second conference to be held in October or November this year. At this point civil society groups should have a final round of negotiations, reaching a consensus on a common message to be delivered to the European institutions on the future of the CAP and rural development. At this conference, representatives of the European institutions would be invited to listen to and to comment on the “Communication of European Citizens to the European Institutions”.
What kind of support is needed?
With this call for action we also call upon public funders, private foundations and sponsors to contribute to the ARC process by supporting local, regional and European events and conferences as well as supporting the overall organisation and communication work. Start-up funding has been kindly offered by Fondation pour le Progrès de l’Homme and the undersigned organisations.
With kind regards,
Bart Soldaat on behalf of the Groupe de Bruges
Jean Lemaitre on behalf of the European School for Journalists (Institut des Hautes Etudes des Communications Sociales – IHECS)
Hannes Lorenzen on behalf of Forum Synergies aisbl.