Cork 2.0 | Declaration or Requiem for Rural Europe?

Updated -2.55 CET

Rural Development risks serious funding cuts and de-prioritisation post 2020. This is a key message emerging  -albeit obliquely – from Cork 2.0. Cork 2.0 is the follow up EU Commission Rural Development conference to the seminal Cork 1, held in 1996. Cork 1 led to a Rural Development Pillar of the CAP. Cork 2 has, despite generating a declaration with plenty of nice words, failed to focus on the fact that the Commission is de-prioritizing agriculture and rural development. Funding, staff and focus on rural areas will suffer, emboldening EU opposition movements. Oliver Moore has more.

cork 2 PH
© European Union , 2016 / Photo: Paulo Nunes Dos Santos

Cork 2.0 has produced a Declaration called A Better Life in Rural Areas (available to download from our site: Cork Declaration 2.)

The ten points of the Cork 2 Declaration are:

1 Promoting Rural Prosperity; 2 Strengthening Rural Value Chains; 3 Investing in Rural Viability and Vitality; 4 Preserving the Rural Environment; 5 Managing Natural Resources; 6 Encouraging Climate Action; 7 Boosting Knowledge and Innovation; 8 Enhancing Rural Governance; 9 Advancing Policy Delivery and Simplification; 10 Improving Performance and Accountability.

 “Encouraging climate action and improving performance and accountability” differ from what’s in the 1996 Declaration. There were plenty of soft words, on bottom up approaches, and “rural proofing”

and even an emphasis on a results-orientated approach in the conclusion. However, the money and prioritisation may not simply be there for farming and rural development anymore. A move from grants to loans and “financial instruments” has already been proffered by European Investment Bank

Indeed, Former Commissioner Franz Fischler went so far as to question the Pillar system of CAP:    

It is also the case that, based on the priorities of the Commission, Farming and Rural Development have been placed as the lowest priority of all EU policies, which will lead to a serious reduction of funding, staff and attention given to the rural regions of Europe. This was not made directly clear at Cork 2, which puts the optics and positive language into sharper focus.

Convening another Cork conference has been quite a hasty process. Only a few months ago Commissioner Hogan announced the idea to launch further consultations with stakeholders on the future of CAP and rural development. A new CAP consultation process is to start next year, so the time is ripe for collecting ideas on a new reform of CAP. NGOs were concerned that Cork 2 would simply rubber stamp a pre-produced conference declaration. However even in a very short time of two days working groups a wide range of issues were discussed and new common strategies and demands included in the final document.

Moderator Heino von Meier of OECD insisted that the declaration could only be the beginning of a broad debate and mobilisation of the rural world to press for the changes needed.

But the decisive battle is still to come and should have been revealed along with the specific rural development issues: where is the CAP going and how could the two pillars be replaced by a genuine new policy which takes into account the demands for more sustainable food production to overcome the growing challenges farmers and rural people face?

While in 1996 former Commissioner Fischler tried to focus on rural development as an alternative approach to farming and rural economies as a holistic approach, today rural development schemes are still the figleaf for bad farming policies and operate primarily as compensation for economic losses.

And yet, behind the scenes in the corridors of power, insiders reveal that Rural Development in particular and agriculture in general are fast being placed at the back of the funding and priorities queue. This is all quite different from 20 years ago, when a Cork  meeting led to the Rural Development (RD) Pillar of the CAP.

Specifically, the Declaration which emerged from the 1996 event stated, as point 7: “The application of rural development programmes must be based on coherent and transparent procedures, and integrated into one single programme for rural development for each region, and a single mechanism for sustainable and rural development.” And this indeed happened, with Pillar  2 of the CAP. Around that time, pressure had been mounting from environmental and rural groups, which made the case all the stronger.

However “the difference between Cork and Cork 2.0 is that the agriculture and RD community is much more in the defense and much more is at stake to be lost” a delegate told ARC2020. “The move towards the second pillar was still taking place in an EU which was enlarging, not shrinking. Today issues like external security and migration are high on the agenda and candidates to take up funds which low priorities like CAP and RD may be losing.”

Indeed, it appears likely that there will be severe staff cuts in DG AGRI, meaning there will be fewer people to work on agriculture and rural issues. This in itself signifies a likely cut in the overall CAP and specifically the RD budgets.

Cork 2 is also rife with rumours that RD might be drawn into the cohesion policy funds which would mean that urban and rural policies and programs would be drawing on the same funds with no guarantee that specific rural needs and knowledges would be be adequately represented.

At the final discussion of working groups, Professor Michael Dower (of  Prepare and the European Rural Parlaiament movement also pointed at an important aspect: “In a context of rising opposition to the EU as a concept many voices are under-represented. Those in rural poverty, such as small or subsistence farmers, minorities, refugees and others. We have to make specific measures  for these groups”.



Opening speeches

  • Phil Hogan pdf - 313 KB [313 KB] , Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development
  • Czesław Adam Siekierski pdf - 267 KB [267 KB] polski (pl) , President of the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, European Parliament
  • Gabriela Matečná pdf - 149 KB [149 KB] slovenčina (sk) , Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Slovakia


Panel on innovative and alternative delivery mechanisms (Tuesday)

  • Doug O’Brien pdf - 609 KB [609 KB] , Senior Policy Advisor for Rural Affairs with the White House Domestic Policy Council
  • Werner Schmidt pdf - 2 MB [2 MB] , Director, Environment and Sustainable Territorial Development, European Investment Bank (EIB)
  • Janez Potočnik, Co-Chair of the International Resource Panel (IRP), United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)

Workshops (conclusions)

Oliver Moore
About Oliver Moore 184 Articles
DR. Oliver Moore is the communications director and editor-in-chief with ARC2020. He has a PhD in the sociology of farming and food, where he specialised in organics and direct sales. He is published in the International Journal of Consumer Studies, International Journal of Agricultural Resources, Governance and Ecology and the Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development. A weekly columnist and contributor with Irish Examiner, he is a regular on Countrywide (Irish farm radio show on the national broadcaster RTE 1) and engages in other communications work around agri-food and rural issues, such as with the soil, permaculture, climate change adaptation and citizen science initiative Grow Observatory . He lectures part time in the Centre for Co-operative Studies UCC


  1. Hi Katalin
    we agree of course that there is great value in these initiatives you mention. (we highlight and promote them all the time!). the phrase used was more in reference to how the Commission views Pillar 2 activities. Organic farmers for eg get paid for having a lower stocking rate because this is “income forgone”. Similarly with the other issue of the fig leaf – once a MS has plenty of farmers signed up to RD, it can ignore the negatives of Pillar 1 as its ‘doing something’. So I think we agree, its just the phrase we used above was for/from a particular perspective.

  2. Hi there, when you say that ‘today rural development schemes are still the figleaf for bad farming policies and operate primarily as compensation for economic losses’, I think you underestimate the role of major schemes like LEADER, High Nature Value or Agro-Environmental & Climate. In many rural places, should these EU second pillar measures not exist, there would be more desertification and abandoned landscapes.

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