The statement which the Deputy refers to followed my attendance at a conference on rural development in Salzburg from 12 to 14 November. The theme was, planting seeds for rural futures: building a policy that can deliver our ambitions. There were some 1,000 delegates from current and accession member states, including Ministers with responsibility for agriculture and rural development.
The conclusions of the conference outlined a number of principles to guide future rural development policy. The principles relate to the following areas: a living countryside being essential for farming, as agricultural activity is essential for a living countryside; preserving thediversity of Europe's countryside; the competitiveness of the farming sector; rural development policy to apply in all rural areas of the enlarged EU; rural development policy to serve the needs of broader society in rural areas; rural development policy to be implemented in partnership between public and private organisations and civil society in line with the principle of subsidiarity; more responsibility to be given to programme partnerships; and a significant simplification of EU rural development policy. Delivery must be based on one programming, financing and control system tailored to the needs of rural development.
By way of context to the Salzburg conference, I refer to the national rural development forum held in Cashel on 7 November 2003. At this event, I referred to the need for Ireland to take a proactive part in shaping the European agenda towards rural development.
I also said that such policies should, in my view, include: recognition that rural areas must have multi-dimensional development policies and that a total dependence on agriculture will not sustain the population in rural areas; clear spatial strategies, ensuring the continued maintenance and growth of rural populations; targeted funding for rural areas as a matter of urgency to ensure that infrastructure deficits in roads, telecommunications, water, public transport etc., do not inhibit rural growth, these funds in particular need to be targeted at declining and peripheral areas; provision that EU competition law does militate against the provision of essential services at reasonable cost in rural areas; and recognition that enterprise support mechanisms need to ensure that rural areas can compete for enterprise development. I am pleased with the broad convergence of many of the conclusions of Salzburg with these concerns.
The conclusions of the Salzburg conference will help shape EU policies in this area in the period post-2006 and will also help inform our policy agenda in a national context. In this context, the Commission will be bringing forward specific proposals on rural development later this year. My Department will be actively involved in contributing to subsequent deliberations arising from the Commission's proposals in this regard.