Rural broadband delays could scupper CAP reform potential

The tardy roll-out of high-speed rural broadband has the potential to become a major stumbling block for the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy post-2020.

Phil Hogan, the EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, has stated that digitisation and the use of new technology will be central to the future development of agricultural production in Europe and in the simplification and modernisation of the CAP.

Speaking in Brussels earlier this month, Hogan said that digitisation can help farmers to address CAP objectives and improve significantly the sustainability for EU farming – with many digital solutions already available.

The chief areas due to benefit from agri digitisation include: environmental care; animal care; and administration – with data collected via satellites expected to play a leading role.

However, speaking at the 2018 EU Agricultural Outlook Conference, the commissioner stressed that the first objective is to get farmers to embrace new technologies.

We are trying to ensure that the agri-tech revolution does not bypass small and medium-sized farmers and that agriculture, as a whole, embraces the digitisation agenda and the use of data.

“My first priority, from an environmental point of view and from a competitiveness point of view, is to ensure that the modernisaiton of the CAP is embraced by all farmers,” the commissioner said.

While highlighting that the European Union has a number of programmes to assist member states in bringing high-speed broadband to all rural and urban areas, ultimately he warns that the buck stops with each individual government.

“It is their responsibility to get on with the job. We can give some financial support; but it is a matter for the member state to decide on their policy and roll-out a tendering system.

“I hope that we can get more execution of the programmes and financial supports that are available from the European Union. I’m sorry to say that across the EU we don’t seem to be making as much headway with it as we should.

In the interest of our rural areas, 46% of our residents of the rural areas have access to high-speed broadband; while 76% of our people in urban areas have access to high-speed broadband.

“At the end of the day we have programmes; we are there to help governments implement programmes – but it’s their competence in the first instance,” he said.

Cork 2.0 Declaration

Commissioner Hogan pointed to member state commitments agreed under the 2016 Cork 2.0 Declaration for “a better life in rural areas”.

The declaration sets out 10 points with a view to ensure a sustainable and economically viable future for rural areas, including:
  • Promoting rural prosperity;
  • Strengthening rural value chains;
  • Investing in rural viability and vitality;
  • Preserving the rural environment;
  • Managing natural resources;
  • Encouraging climate action;
  • Boosting knowledge and innovation;
  • Enhancing rural governance;
  • Advancing policy delivery and simplification;
  • And improving performance and accountability.

The commissioner outlined his “disappointment” that rural areas are not fully connected at this stage.

“I am disappointed that we haven’t seen a wider penetration of high-speed broadband in rural areas right across the European Union and hopefully we can do better,” he said.