On November 30, Europaforum Northern Sweden (EFNS) adopted a position on the EU initiative for a long-term vision for rural areas. The network, which brings together politicians from Sweden’s four northernmost regions, emphasizes the need for a place-based approach in rural development strategies.
Europaforum Northern Sweden (EFNS) is a network for politicians at the local and regional levels from Norrbotten, Västerbotten, Jämtland Härjedalen and Västernorrland. EFNS has for the past 20 years provided a meeting place and a knowledge arena for discussion and analysis of the impacts of EU policy on northern Sweden. The overall aim of EFNS is to safeguard the interest of northern Sweden in matters with a clear European perspective.
A strengthened link between urban and rural areas
EFNS emphasizes that a long-term EU vision for rural development must include the specific conditions and potential of each location. It requires a political recognition of the diversity of rural areas around Europe and a willingness to develop place-based strategies accordingly. EFNS also highlights that a functional relation between urban and rural areas is a necessity for reaching regional growth. EFNS, therefore, questions the division between rural development and regional development in EU policy. Instead, development policies should be coordinated and take greater accountability to the specific conditions of different regions, where EFNS emphasizes smart specialization (S3) strategies as useful for the design and implementation of the EU's various funds and programmes.
Rural areas in the green transition
Rural areas in general, and northern Sweden in particular, play a key role in the green transition that is required to achieve the climate and renewable energy goals of the EU. As one of Europe's most forest-rich regions with good access to hydropower, wind power, critical minerals and metals, northern Sweden has a central role in the transition to a climate-neutral Europe. The current system for the extraction of natural resources means, however, that the profits and tax revenues largely end up with the state and in the big cities, at the same time as there are great demands on the local community to provide companies with competence and services. EFNS requests special support and more flexible design of the EU's various investment instruments to deal with these different challenges and opportunities that large natural resources bring. Northern Sweden's potential for a green transition also requires functional and robust roads, rail and sea connections. Infrastructure investments, including investments in regional airports, are of great importance in order to fulfil the potential in northern Sweden’s rural areas.
Territorial market failures in sparse environments
Access to a fast internet connection is a requirement for making use of many crucial digital services. The rollout of high-speed broadband must therefore be ensured to enable people to live and work in rural areas across the EU. With the background of that 5G network (as an alternative to fibre) is not accessible in the near time future, EFNS argues for special investments in fibre in areas with limited market interests. This comes with an understanding of companies’ development opportunities in sparsely populated areas. The EFNS stresses the importance of continued exemptions from EU state aid rules for that matter. EFNS also calls for a special allocation to support the innovation capacity in sparse environments since companies, as well as research institutes, have limited access to networks and knowledge exchange within their own region.