Last 23rd of September, the peer review organised by Interreg Europe to assess the Spanish Autonomous Community of Aragon took place. Several sessions were held in the span of three days to discuss ways which the region can do to cope with the problem of depopulation. Given the fact that Aragon is one of the most depopulated European regions, Eurada together with IAF had the opportunity to showcase what other organisations under its umbrella have been doing in the field. In this aspect, the experience of Eurada members that are based in depopulated areas such as  Kainuu (Finland), Highlands and Islands (Scottland), or Castilla y Leon (Spain) proved to be very useful and practical to design a set of recommendations for the Spanish region. 

During the first day, Eurada’s participation was showcased through the presentation of six selected best-practices which were carried out in the past by its members in similar contexts and combined the use of policymaking, European funds exploitation, and private sector leverage. The first best-practice was Oost NL’s Food Valley Ambassador Programme –winner of the 2015 edition of the Eurada Awards–, a perfect combination of product development and human capital development aimed to boost innovation and talent attraction; second, the Agritech of InfoMurcia, addressed to create a platform to gather agricultural technology firms; third, the Agropole initiative of ADI – Nouvelle Aquitaine, a unique technology park oriented to food and agriculture; fourth, Kainuun Etu’s use of diversification of the economy through the implantation of data centres and digital business; fifth, SiMoRa’s boosting of vocational education programmes to find new economic activities; and, last, the agrifood accelerator Orizont, designed by SODENA

Furthermore, during the succeeding days, three recommendations were presented from Eurada’s side. To begin with, the recommendation of broader use of the Smart Specialisation process was presented. This process is expected to involve actors and stakeholders from depopulated areas at the same time that makes the most of the territorial cooperation to internationalise these actors. In this phase, projects and programmes of international collaboration such as Interreg can play a vital role. Currently, the public entities and universities from Aragon are well-rooted among international networks, this means that public entities and universities are equipped to guide companies and project them towards the international markets. 

On the next stage, Eurada endorsed the possibility of using structural funds, like the ERDF, the CEF, or rural development programmes such as EARDF to mobilise private investments in infrastructure, so as to renew and keep up to date the ICT to support stronger internet bandwidth. The main purpose of this is to create and launch specific calls for services deployment, aimed to boost the private initiative into rural areas, developing a strong collaboration between what the citizens from such areas need, and what cutting edge technologies such as the 5G can do to improve the well-being of the citizens. Some pills of these possibilities were given as examples: the digitalisation of the public health administration, the use of big data to identify how to schedule public transport, etc. 

Last but not least, Eurada encouraged the regional authorities to make good use of their recently formed Digital Innovation Hub, ensuring that the services that it provides are equally addressed to both the companies based in the capital Zaragoza and those established in more remote rural areas. This has been observed as one of the causes of success in many other depopulated areas when creating a prosperous network that is able to retain as well as attract capital and resources. 

If you are a representative or a public authority from a region, and you are interested in the peer review mechanism, please check this permanently opened call from Interreg Europe to make the most of it.