Rural citizens must benefit, like any others, from equitable conditions to achieve their professional, social, and personal goals. This is a moral obligation to which we are obliged as a society. It is also an ethical and political imperative if we are genuinely engaged in accomplishing the European Pillar of Social Rights. A strong social Europe that is just, inclusive, and with plenty of opportunities along its green and digital transitions, cannot leave anyone behind.
A greater role for rural areas
A pervasive sense of disenfranchisement haunts rural areas all over the European Union: many people in remote places feel they are not being heard, their voices are not considered, and their specific issues never make it into the political agenda. And oftentimes, as voters, they are tempted by radical populists who promise to make their grievances heard.
Even though the pandemic seems to have increased the attraction of the countryside for disabused city people in search of a more ‘down-to-earth’ lifestyle, politically, the specific problems of these areas remain acute – among them, the rarefication of state services, be it for health, education, transport, or many others. Women who need to travel more than 120 kilometres to give birth in a maternity ward that meets today’s standards are just one stark example.
It goes without saying that rural citizens should have the same access as city-dwellers to the conditions to achieve their professional, social, and personal goals. And there are solutions – on local, regional, national, and EU levels –to tackle the political problems of the concerned regions. Many of them revolve around two main axes: stopping the cuts in services, even in remote areas, and giving rural stakeholders a voice in the decision-making concerning their area.
From the local to supranational scale, the Covid-19 crisis forced the world to face the question: who should oversee the solutions? Which authority, and on what ground? This question, and the change of paradigm it brought, is an opportunity to debate and reflect on the place of citizens in the decision-making process, especially in places far from power centres, such as rural areas. Examples of citizens’ participation in rural areas, from successful and less successful strategies to the place of the public sector at the local and European levels in community-led development, can show the way.
Being remote in the Nordic region can mean a lot of things. There are some counter-narratives to the dominating narrative of depopulation and ageing. These involve people’s shift in lifestyle priorities and also the effects of the green transition that may set the scene for a decade of making the periphery less remote. However, decisions on service provisions challenge the revitalisation of communities. The welfare society in the Nordic region faces many complex issues – one of them is the need for a radical change of perspectives and policy for rural and remote communities.
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