I am convinced that we in Germany and Europe must do more for the people in rural regions. Local people know best, what is really needed in their region. Thus, politicians need to listen and enable citizens to engage themselves.
For me, two things are therefore important: First, politics must get out of the cities and into the villages – we must get into dialogue! That is why I am now organising the second round of the rural areas conference Zukunft.Land.Leben.
Second, we must strengthen citizen participation. The European Union must create low-threshold offers that enable local people to get involved in their village or region. I made this clear again last week in our RUMRA Group webinar.
Of course, there are problems that are similar in many rural regions in Europe. For example, we need expansion of public transport and fast internet. We need better child- and health care. More cultural venues and public spaces to get together.
In addition, however, there are a multitude of very specific challenges on the ground. Here it makes no sense to prescribe general guidelines from Brussels. That is why we are pursuing a decentralised approach with the European Regional Funds. We provide funds with which each region can tackle its individual challenges.
To advance rural areas, I advocate to think civic participation and energy transition together. Renewable energy from solar and wind power is generated much more decentrally than conventional energy. Instead of a small number of huge power plants, a large number of small and medium-sized wind and solar parks will be built in Europe in the coming years. Especially in rural areas, where the urgently needed land is available. The energy transition can therefore provide an economic boost here in particular!
For this to succeed, we must ensure that the profits also remain in the region. For example, by specifically funding municipally owned plants. A recent study I commissioned, showed that community-owned wind or solar farms are a promising way to combine climate protection and social policy.
A new municipal swimming pool financed by on-site wind power? Would be my favourite headline for the next few years!