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Rural Development: Following the European Guidelines, but Adapted to Our Needs
by Uroš Korbar

In its broadest sense, rural land represents ninety per cent of Eu territory. until recently, the terms agriculture and rural land were very closely connected, almost indistinguishable; in fact, they were synonymous. Today, we acknowledge many other aspects of rural areas, and attribute to them a number of new roles. Hence, areas where only a few decades ago agriculture and forest management were the predominant activities, now host non-rural populations, provide places for relaxation and recreational sports activities, and shelter protected plant and animal species. These are some of the most important roles which dominate discussions, and planning and development measures for rural areas. As a result, the question often resurfaces as to whether ‘traditional’ agriculture and forestry still have their roles and what they are. This dilemma stems from a simplistic assumption which determines their value only according to the ever-decreasing share they contribute to GNP as determined by hitherto solely finance-related, i.e. production role. Thus in 2004 in Slovenia, agriculture and forestry accounted for ‘merely’ 2.2. and 0.19 per cent of GNP, respectively. In urban circles and among salon environmentalists, they are seen increasingly as a kind of necessity that accompanies activities in rural areas.

The Various Roles of Forestry and Agriculture
Such a way of thinking is, of course, mistaken. In fact, with regard to sustainable development, it can prove detrimental to a country like Slovenia, which has sixty per cent forest cover, and a settlement pattern in which almost sixty per cent of the population inhabits lowlands and valleys, i.e. twenty per cent of the entire territory. As it is impossible to disregard agriculture and forestry in planning the future, their fundamental productive roles, i.e. food cultivation, the provision of renewable sources of energy and raw materials, must be considered. Farmers, and the owners of agricultural land and forests, are those who daily manage almost 92 per cent of Slovenian territory, which also has important environmental and aesthetic functions. Besides engaging in production, they also manage the man-made environment, and protect biotic diversity. If, for the purpose of illustration, we consider the problems the capital Ljubljana is facing with regard to maintaining its parks through a public municipal company, we can clearly see that planning the sustainable development of rural areas without agriculture and forestry, and without the people who work in this branch and also inhabit these areas, is impossible. Without them, it is simply impossible to rationally carry out and finance the wide variety of emerging tasks and roles which the broader public now imposes on these areas.

Rural Areas Have an Impact on Slovenia's Image
Many rural development experts are warning that preserving the vitality of the countryside is crucial for the future of postindustrial society at the beginning of the third millennium. This is all the more important for Slovenia, one of the smaller EU members, with a total surface area of just over two million hectares (20,273 km2), since it is also one of the countries with a percentage of rural areas above the EU average. According to the OECD criteria for regional subdivision, Slovenia comprises twelve regions, eight of which are largely rural, and four predominantly rural. The latter account for nearly a third of Slovenia’s territory, and are home to 38.5 per cent of the entire population. Natura 2000: An Unknown In Slovenia, there are clear differences in opinion between advocates of so-called unspoilt nature among governmental and non-governmental environmentalists, and those who daily manage agricultural lands and forests for a living. With the Decree on Special Protection Areas, the former government declared as much as thirty-six per cent of Slovenian territory (of which forests account for 71 per cent) Natura 2000 areas. For comparison, in the EU, fifteen per cent of the whole territory, i.e. 12.5 per cent of agricultural lands and forests, are included in Natura 2000 areas. The proponents of Natura 2000 work to maintain a healthy natural environment and protect the habitats and biotic diversity in Slovenia, which should definitely be preserved with appropriate strategic guidelines and measures. In so doing, they must not forget that the present situation is largely the result of the work and lifestyle of people living in rural areas; therefore, Natura 2000 should not constitute irrational restrictions on the optimal management of the business potential of agriculture and forestry, i.e. the rural economy.

Discussions among the owners of farmlands and forests, who are organised in the non-governmental Chamber of Agriculture and Forestry of Slovenia through mandatory membership, reveal that inhabitants of rural areas are not well acquainted with these issues. At present, the members of the Chamber can merely acknowledge the fact that Natura 2000 areas have been designated, and that due measures will have to be implemented. The areas have been defined in great detail; however, competent bodies remain silent as to concrete examples and measures. This will be possible once the significance of individual meadows for a specific bird or grass species within each piece of land, and the mode of cultivation are precisely determined. The biggest problem is financing the measures of the Slovenian Agricultural Environmental Programme (SAEP), some of which are aimed at maintaining the favourable situation important for Natura 2000. Up to now, sixty-five per cent of funds for rural development have been earmarked for SAEP’s measures, while a new strategy stipulates merely fifty-three per cent. The Chamber advocates an approach whereby a separate management plan is adopted for each area, and the government provides the funds to compensate for the loss resulting from the measures introduced, which, in view of Slovenia’s great biotic diversity, need to be implemented on various levels.

The New EU Rural Development Policy for 2007-2013
Following several years of discussions, in 2005, the European Union adopted a reform of rural development policy, which was finalised in 2006 by the Agriculture Council adopting six community strategic guidelines for rural development. These are: improving the competitiveness of the agricultural and forestry sectors, improving the environment and countryside, improving the quality of life in rural areas and encouraging diversification, building local capacity for employment and diversification, translating priorities into programmes, and complementarity between Community instruments. In this way, Brussels outlined the strategy and tools which member states can use in their national strategic plans (NSPs) and in rural development programmes. It has been emphasised that through the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) rural development has acquired greater significance and helped the countryside to tackle the economic, social and environmental challenges of the 21st century. The new legal framework more clearly encourages economic growth and the creation of new jobs in rural areas – in line with the Lisbon Strategy – and promotes sustainable development – in line with the Göteborg sustainability goals. Future EU Rural Development Policy 2007-2013 will focus on three areas in line with the ‘three axes’ of measures laid down in the new rural development regulation: improving competitiveness for farming and forestry; environment and countryside; improving the quality of life and diversification of the rural economy. The fourth ‘Leader’ axis, based on experience with the Leader programme, introduces possibilities for locally based, bottom-up approaches to rural development. The new uniform system of programming, funding and control is also expected to simplify the implementation of measures of the rural development policy. The new programme period provides an opportunity for member states to direct the funds from the new EU rural development fund to economic growth, jobs and sustainable development. To draw on these funds, member countries must devise national rural development plans and programmes in line with the EU law by autumn 2006, and submit them to the European Commission for approval.

Slovenia's Experience in Rural Development
Upon joining the EU, Slovenia adopted the Common Agricultural Policy, thus joining a uniform scheme of rural development. With regard to organising the market for agricultural products with common market measures (for milk, cereals, beef, wine, fruit, etc), which constitute the so-called first pillar of the CAP, Slovenia, like all other EU members, has delegated much of its authority in the area of agricultural policy to Brussels. With regard to rural development, which constitutes the ‘second pillar’ of the CAP, the country has retained more authority in deciding on the type and range of measures. Already in the pre-accession period Slovenia demonstrated its concern for rural development. It has fifteen year of experience in implementing programmes of sustainable rural development and including local communities in development planning. The Programmes of Integrated Rural Development and Village Renewal (CRPOV), launched at the beginning of 1990, were an important milestone, as they encouraged the participation of local communities. On this basis, local development programmes were drafted in the introductory stage. In the next stage, priority projects were realised. Eventually, the CRPOV was substituted or upgraded with rural development projects which employ a similar methodology, but focus on larger territories. This facilitated a more precise definition of target populations and a greater critical mass potential, and established opportunities to form effective local development partnerships.

The National Strategic Plan for Rural Development 2007-2013 (NSN)
The outcome of current debates on the implementation of the National Strategic Plan for Rural Development 2007-2013, which has already been informally approved in Brussels, shows that Slovenia will continue to strive for increasing competitiveness in the agricultural and food sectors, ensuring the sustainable management of natural resources and space, and strengthening the economic potential of rural areas.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food, the NSP was drafted in partnership with competent bodies at the national, regional and local levels, economic and social partners and other interested parties representing civil society, including NGOs. The NSN provides the framework for the preparation of the National Programme of Rural Development 2007-2013, which should be finalised as soon as possible after the summer break. According to the latest calculations, Slovenia has managed to secure more funds from Brussels in the negotiations on the next Financial Perspective. The Community’s contribution through the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) to implement measures of rural development through a sevenyear period is estimated at approximately €1 billion, while the state budget will provide funding amounting to 20 to 25 per cent, in line with the specified level of co-funding stipulated in the regulation on rural development. The amount of potential convergence funds which will be allocated to the realisation of the Programme of Rural Development goals have not yet been announced. To achieve successful implementation, weaknesses and mistakes discovered in applying the rural development policy in the pre- and post-accession period will have to be dealt with. In the new programme period, Slovenia will use the valuable experience gained in involving the local community to her benefit, and amend them in line with the Leader axis. The NSN stipulates priority tasks in Slovenia’s rural development policy, which is in accordance with the Community’s priorities in rural development policy. The NSN covers the period from 2007 to 2013 and will, if not specified otherwise in individual priority tasks, be carried out throughout Slovenia. Policy-makers have stressed that national priorities and activities have been determined to enable synergies with other budgetary instruments in agricultural policy, and also in the area of economic and social cohesion, space and environment. The NSN considers the EU’s strategic guidelines and policies regarding sustainable use of resources (conclusions of the Council in Göteborg), and strengthening economic growth and employment (the Lisbon Strategy). The agricultural ministry believes that through priority tasks, the National Strategic Plan will strengthen the diverse role of agriculture and forestry in Slovenia. Their conclusions are based on the fact that the NSN is built on the principles of the sustainable management of renewable natural resources and places special emphasis on maintaining the cultural landscape, preserving the environment and keeping the settlement of rural areas and their identity. The NSN also considers the diverse role of forests, which are a special feature of Slovenia’s landscape and significantly contribute to the environment and to biotic diversity. The priority tasks are also expected to contribute to the economic and social strengthening of rural areas and promote new approaches to increasing employment, not relying solely on primary agricultural activities.

The Extent and Establishment of a National Network for Rural Development
To implement rural development activities Slovenia will set up a uniform (common) network for rural development in 2007-2013 which will provide an appropriate organisational scheme and professionalism. With this aim in view an operational programme will be established, and the necessary funds earmarked. The network is intended to encourage collaboration, the exchange of know-how and experience, and concerted action by different professional organisations and interest groups from rural areas to ensure the best professional support for rural development, the exchange of good practices and the rapid flow of information at all levels among all parties contributing to this goal. Some existing institutions operating in this field, such as societies, associations, different interest groups and organisations, already constitute a preliminary network, as stipulated in the EU’s regulation on rural development. In its development, the network will have to follow priority goals, including encouraging and ensuring collaboration, networking and a constant flow of information and experience among experts, societies, institutions, local communities and anyone else working on rural development.

Article abstracted from Sinfo.