ERP Newsletter 4 / 2016
Newsletter December 2016

The ERP 2016-17 Campaign
One year on from the 2nd European Rural Parliament held in Schärding, Austria, in November 2015, we are now well into the 2016-17 campaign which will culminate in the 3rd European Rural Parliament to be held at Venhorst in the Netherlands in October 2017.
Thematic projects
A prime element in the new campaign is a series of thematic projects, focused on key ideas in the European Rural Manifesto which was adopted in Schärding.   The first set of six projects, funded by the European Commission, will all be launched during December.   They are focused on  
  • Provision for young people in rural areas, and preparing for a European Rural Youth Parliament
  • Welcoming refugees and economic migrants in rural areas
  • Tackling poverty and social exclusion in rural areas
  • Sustaining rural services and infrastructure
  • Strengthening local and sub regional economies
  • Integrated rural development, and promotion of LEADER and Community-Led Local Development
Each project will be led by one of our European or national partners, and will involve many other partners.   Each project will have a phase of consultation and activity among rural people in many countries, in order to clarify problems and opportunities and to identify case studies which can be widely publicised.   This will be followed, within each project, by a multi-national event, bringing people and ideas together from many countries and contributing to the on-going ERP campaign.   

In the New Year, we aim to launch a further series of thematic projects, pursuing other aspects of the European Rural Manifesto.   These are expected to focus on :
  • The well-being of small and family farms
  • The crucial role of small towns, and rural and urban cooperation
  • Climate change and its implications for rural areas
  • The role of civil society networks in rural areas
  • Leadership in rural development
  • Education in rural areas
  • Partnership between civil society and governments in rural development
  • Rural development in the western Balkans and the Black Sea regions.
National Rural Parliaments

The idea of national rural parliaments – which express the voice, the aspirations and the demands of rural people – has been with us for some time.   The Swedish Rural Parliament and the Estonian ‘Maapaev’ have each been held every second year since the 1990s.   The emergence of many national rural civil-society movements during the last 20 years has stimulating the holding of further events of this kind.   The European Rural Parliament campaign, which was launched in 2013 by our Swedish partner HelaSverige ska leva (“ALL Sweden shall live”), is itself built on the same model as the national rural parliaments.   In turn, we are now encouraging and supporting the holding of further national events.

So, the 12 months October 2016 to the 3rd European Rural Parliament in October 2017 will see a larger number of national rural parliaments than any previous year.   Rural parliaments are already being planned in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Estonia, Finland, Latvia and Slovenia, and we expect other countries to follow.   The first events in the series were the Scottish Rural Parliament at Brechin on 6 to 8 October 2016;  and the Slovakian Rural Parliament at Sliač in central Slovakia on25-26 November 2016.

The Scottish Rural Parliament, organised by Scottish Rural Action, brought together nearly 400 people from across rural Scotland to discuss the issues of greatest importance to rural communities.   Delegates from other European partners also attended.   The gathering debated and approved the first Manifesto for rural Scotland and identified the main actions to be taken to ensure Scottish rural communities are empowered, connected and sustainable. For further information, see

Platform party at the Scottish Rural Parliament, discussing the implications of Brexit

Discussion at the Slovakian Rural Parliament embraced themes which are close to the ideas in our European Rural Manifesto. These included the needs of young people in rural areas; the offer which rural areas can make to immigrants;  social inclusion in the countryside;  and the strengthening of the rural economy. VIPA SK will bring the outcome of these discussions into the ERP campaign.
ERP 2017 Gathering

The Third European Rural Parliament will be held 18 to 21 October 2017 in the attractive small village of Venhorst, in the North Brabant province of the Netherlands.

Venhorst, with a population of 1,700, may seem an unlikely setting for an international gathering of 300 people from 40 European countries.   But this village, built 100 years ago as part of an ambitious programme to create fertile farmland out of former peatbogs, is a lively and outward-looking community.   Its Parish Hall will be the main venue for the Rural Parliament.   Surrounding buildings, including the school and the church, will provide extra meeting places.   Many residents in the village will provide overnight accommodation for participants in the event : others will stay in farms and guesthouses in the surrounding area.   The Gathering will include field visits in North Brabant region, which is not only truly rural but also remarkable for its high-tech agro-food and other industries.

The Gathering will be hosted by Landelijke Vereniging voor Kleine Kernen LVKK (National Association of Small Towns) and its provincial partner Vereniging Kleine Kernen Noord-Brabant VKKNB (North Brabant Association of Small Towns), supported by many provincial and local organisations and by student volunteers.   Funding for the event has been promised by the Netherlands Ministry of Internal Affairs, the province of North Brabant and the municipality of Boekel, alongside our own funds from the European Commission’s Europe for Citizens programme.

ERP and LVKK leaders at Venhorst Parish Hall after the formal signing of the agreement to hold the 3rd European Rural Parliament at Venhorst
Cork 2 Conference
The ERP co-initiators – ERCA, PREPARE and ELARD – were strongly represented at the Cork 2 Conference, hosted by the European Commission in Cork on 5-6 September this year.   We contributed to the intense process by which over 300 participants developed, under severe time pressure, an eloquent and well-meaning Declaration.   But we came away with a strong belief that this short event should be followed by much fuller consultation of civil society about future policies for rural development, both ‘narrow’ (EAFRD funds) and ‘broad’ (Structural funds and rural proofing).   The consultation should include a greater focus on the needs of millions of small farmers, socially excluded people and ethnic minorities.   People from the Western Balkans and other neighbour countries, who are affected by EU policies but who were excluded from the Cork conference, should be enabled to take part.
Working Group at the Cork conference
In a subsequent public reaction, we expressed strong concern that separate processes, already in hand, appear to threaten future funding and staff for rural development.   We urge that the preoccupation of European institutions with the EU’s multiple crises should not deflect them from addressing the needs of rural people.   We will continue to express the voice, and to stimulate the positive action, of rural people as we move towards policies for 2020 onwards.  We seek to connect, and to rebuild trust between, the EU and its citizens : the European institutions should do the same

Visit to Local Action Groups in Cork County
After the Cork Conference, the three ERP Coordinators – Vanessa Halhead, Kirsten Birke Lund an Michael Dower - plus ELARD President Kristiina Tammets enjoyed a stimulating day of visits to two long-established and highly versatile local development agencies in Cork County – IRD Duhallow, and South and East Cork Area Development (SECAD).   We saw impressive examples of social inclusion.  

Post-Cork Conference
At a post-Cork Conference in Brussels on 9 November, organised by the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee for Regions, Vanessa Halhead (ERP Joint Coordinator) made a presentation on behalf of the European Rural Parliament – a welcome opportunity to describe our programme and present the voice of rural people.
News from our partners
PREPARE Partnership for Rural Europe, which has recently gained legal status as an AISBL (international non-profit association), hosted in late October a Black Sea Traveling Workshop in Georgia and Armenia, with participants from civil society and ministries of agriculture from those two countries, plus Belarus, Bulgaria, Moldova, Romania, Turkey and Ukraine.   Also attending were experts from civil-society member organisations of PREPARE.   The aim of this five-day event was to  promote exchange between stakeholders in the Black Sea countries focused on rural development, and particularly on the well-being of small-farming communities.   This is seen as the first step in PREPARE’s next main phase of work, to promote the strengthening of civil society and a partnership between civil society and governments in the Black Sea region, as a sequel to its earlier phases focused on the Baltic countries, central Europe and the Western Balkans.   Some key participants in the Traveling Workshop have expressed strong interest in the European Rural Parliament campaign.
Black Sea Traveling Workshop participants at Gargar Agricultural Cooperative, Armenia
ELARD hosted the Conference “Renewing LEADER/CLLD for 2020+” at Tartu, Estonia on 22-23 November.   The 140 participants representing 24 countries from all over Europe were mainly drawn from Local Action Groups but also European Commission, representatives of ENRD and Managing Authorities were represented.   The main topic was to formulate a Declaration for the future for the 25-year-old LEADER method.  Input for the declaration was found through 15 workshops.   The final text of the Declaration will soon be published,  and the dissemination campaign to European Commission and Managing Authorities will start in January 2017 – see

Croatian Rural Development Network (HMRR) celebrated its tenth anniversary on 22 November in Kravarsko.   During its first ten years, HMRR has helped the creation of the first LEADER-type Local Action Groups in Croatia, advocated the interests of rural communities, informed and educated rural people, organised the first Croatian Rural Parliament and supported development activity in rural areas.   It has contributed strongly to the multi-national activity of the PREPARE Partnership for Rural Europe;  to the joint activity with other rural development networks in the Western Balkans;  and to the pan-European campaign of the European Rural Parliament.   Looking ahead, it is seeking to strengthen the dialogue between rural stakeholders and decision-makers within Croatia.

Lithuania’s new rural MP. At the recent general election in Lithuania, Guoda Burokiene, general secretary of our national partner, the Lithuanian Rural Communities Union, was elected to Parliament.   We wish her well as a champion of rural communities in Parliament, and look forward to working with Virginija Setkiene, who takes over her role in our network.

ERP Steering Group and Coordinating Team
Changes in the leadership of ELARD and PREPARE have led to changes in the ERP Steering Group. Hannes Lorenzen (former Chairman of PREPARE) and Radim Srsen (former President of ELARD) have left the Group: we thank them warmly for their contribution to ERP. The Steering Group now includes:
  • for ERCA – Staffan Nilsson, Chairman;  Petri Rinne;  Vanessa Halhead
  • for PREPARE – Goran Šoster, President;  Michael Dower;  Kim Smedslund
  • for ELARD – Kristiina Tammets, President;  Pedro Brosei;  Kirsten Birke Lund
  • for Hela Sverige ska leva, Sweden (grant-holder of the Europe for Citizens funding) – Staffan Bond
  • for LVKK (host of ERP 2017 Gathering) – Ben van Essen.
The Coordinating team is reinforced by the arrival of Kim Smedslund, who will take over as PREPARE member of the team when Michael Dower retires at the end of December.   The team is supported by Lena Husen at Hela Sverige ska leva, who manages the Europe for Citizens funding.

Vanessa Halhead, Kirsten Birke Lund, Michael Dower and Kim Smedslund, ERP Joint Coordinators
ERP2016 Newsletter 1216
New ERP partners
We welcome as new national partners :
  • Development Principles NGO, Armenia
  • LEADER France (la Fédération des GAL de France)  
  • Civitas Foundation for Civil Society, Romania   
We now have partners in 35 countries!
After a long quiet period of preparation for the ERP 2016-17 campaign, we are now raising our visibility and widening our network.   Our website,, is currently being radically upgraded.   It will host the outputs and case studies from all our thematic projects, and also the details of the ERP 2017 Gathering.
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