Structural weaknesses to be remedied in Germany’s rural areas, Klöckner promises

"Communities should not only be suburbs of large urban centres," said Agriculture Minister Julia Klockner at the presentation of the report alongside Interior Minister Horst Seehofer. [EPA-EFE | Hayoung Jeon]

There is a backlog of demand in rural Germany, particularly in the area of digitalisation, according to a new report on the development of rural areas presented on Wednesday morning (11 November) by agriculture minister Julia Klöckner and interior minister Horst Seehofer. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Even though more and more people in Germany are moving to the cities, more than a half of the population still lives in rural areas, and almost half of Germany’s economic output is generated there, Klöckner (CDU) said during the presentation of the  3rd report on rural development on Wednesday.

Equal conditions are the goal

The ministers said many of these rural regions still have structural weaknesses that need to be remedied, like the availability of supermarkets, schools and mobility services. If these are not available, the economic power could migrate out of some regions.

The goal is therefore to ensure equal living conditions in the city and in the countryside.

“Localities and communities are not simply suburbs of large urban centres, but independent regions,” emphasised Klöckner.

There is a need for action to ensure that this remains the case and that rural areas can continue to be a refuge for people and nature.

The German government had recognised this, said Klöckner, and explained that there was a lot of catching up to do, especially in the area of digitalisation.

Fast internet in the form of 5G expansion is a basic prerequisite, not only in people’s homes but also on the farmland.

Working from home only works with fast internet

The effects of the coronavirus pandemic also play a role in the report. Labour Minister Hubertus Heil (SPD) wants to establish working from home as a legal right, which has technical prerequisites that must be created across the board, including in rural areas. However, the 99-page report does not reveal in detail how this is to be achieved.

Instead, numerous regional projects, initiatives and pilot projects are presented that are designed to make it easier for rural regions to access digital infrastructure.

For example, the “Heimat 2.0” funding initiative is concerned with “implementing digital applications in several areas of services of general interest” in ten selected structurally weak regions.

Cultural institutions in rural areas are also being supported, according to the report. Some €15 million are being invested in the digital expansion of various museums under the direction of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation.

EU funds for rural development

A large part of the funding for rural regions in Germany came in the past from the EU budget, the document states, with Germany recently receiving an average of €1.35 billion per year from the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD).

Together with a further €668 million euros from federal, state or local funds and other EU funds, Germany’s rural regions had around €2.45 billion at their disposal each year.

MEPs worry about 'funding gap' for EU regions as talks press ahead

EU lawmakers want to ensure there is no financing gap between the next budgetary period for the policy that aims to reduce disparities between European regions, even if talks on the new regulation laying out the ground rules for the use of EU funds gets delayed.

The continuation of these programs after the end of 2020 is directly dependent on an agreement on the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), of which EAFRD is part. The three-way talks between the Commission, Council and Parliament have been underway in Brussels since Tuesday.

Another important point of the German government’s measures to strengthen rural areas is linked to the coal phase-out by 2038. This is likely to lead to considerable difficulties in the coal regions, as jobs in the municipalities will be lost following the closure of the opencast mines.

German cabinet approves final 'Coal Phase-out Act'

The German cabinet put the finishing touches to its Coal Phase-out Act on Wednesday (24 June), aiming for the draft package of laws to clear the Bundestag before the summer break, unless the European Commission decides to strike it down. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Until then, the German government is making a total of €40 billion available to the affected states and their communities to support structural change by expanding mobility and enabling public services to be located there. One of the aims is to promote ecological opportunities for structural change.

However, the report on the development of rural areas is not precise on this point either.

In the spring, the German government plans to take stock of the situation in all departments with regard to rural regions in Germany. Seehofer emphasised during his presentation that this report is only an intermediate step.

[Edited by Vlagyiszlav Makszimov/Zoran Radosavljevic]

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