EU’s smart villages should also be sustainable, says ECOLISE

(19 December 2017) – EU efforts to support digital and social innovation in rural communities must ensure that such communities become both smart and sustainable, according to Eamon O’Hara, executive director of ECOLISE.

Eamon was speaking at a meeting of policy makers in Brussels focused on social innovation initiatives and their role in revitalising rural services, as part of work by the European Network for Rural Development (ENRD) on Smart Villages.

Climate action is already a driver for community-led innovation in rural services, he told the meeting, with thousands of ecovillage, permaculture and Transition initiatives up and running across Europe.

“There are 7000 community-supported agriculture farms feeding some 1 million people and 1500 renewable energy cooperatives (REScoops). Community energy projects have eight times the benefit to the local economy compared to projects owned by power companies,” he said.

“However these emergent grassroots movements are operating in a policy vacuum with a heavy over reliance on volunteers and an absence of accessible funding. They are taking the initiative often without any policy support. There are legislative barriers and an unlevel playing field. We need a meeting of the bottom-up and top-down approaches in order to design a policy framework that support these communities to become both smart and sustainable.”

Two projects that policy makers can learn from are the Climate Challenge Fund in Scotland and the Sustainable Neighbourhoods initiative in Brussels, Belgium, he said.

The meeting was part of the ERND’s commitment to contribute to the EU Action for Smart Villages by enabling exchange on innovative ways of creating more vibrant, sustainable and attractive rural areas and by exploring how the Rural Development Programmes (RDPs) can be best used to support this.