Rural networking in Finland began back in 2007; many other EU Member States did not introduce it until later. Therefore this year marks the tenth anniversary of European rural networking. Some 450 participants had been invited, and all EU Member States were represented.
The event was opened by Phil Hogan, European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development. He noted that rural networking has been a success and that this should be remembered when the new CAP is being forged. Margaritis Schinas, Chief Spokesman of the European Commission, who had attended Brexit-related meetings well into the small hours of the previous night, concurred with Hogan.
“Rural networking represents the positive agenda of the EU,” said Schinas.
Schinas gave an impressive speech that reminded listeners of how important it is to highlight all the good things that the EU achieves; there is plenty of noise about the opposite at present. Schinas noted that it is our duty to provide truthful answers to questions that concern people, to tell real stories from all around Europe and to shoot down fake news whenever and wherever found. Schinas stressed that the EU is not in Brussels – it is in every Member State and near everyone.
“Europe is now an idea, but we must turn it into a feeling – it must feel like something,” said Schinas.
Juha-Matti Markkola from the Finnish Rural Network Support Unit was at the opening ceremony to reflect on the early days of networking in Finland in 2007. When the Finnish network was launched, cooperation was initiated with networks in the Nordic and Baltic countries, and this is still going strong today.
Finnish YouTuber Joona Hellman, who gave a talk at a youth-themed workshop in Brussels one year ago, sent a video greeting to NetworX. In his casually energetic style, he recalled his previous trip and explained to listeners what he thinks is important for bringing young people on board.
Happiness guides for rent and stickers to wear
NetworX was not just partying; it mainly focused on what rural networking is all about: exchanging best practices and pursuing common goals. The workshops involved finding building blocks for designing a new season with smart villages, networking and agricultural innovations.
Finland’s booth showcased our secrets for achieving good results: doing things together and getting down to brass tacks without over-analysing all the time. Under the ‘Together’ theme we reported on communications networks, innovation camps, a uniform Leader brand and the Pöllöparlamentti [Own parliament] in central Finland. Visitors were attracted to the booth with a NetworX friend selfies shooting spot and the Rent a Rural Finn competition.
We engaged in guerrilla marketing by handing out I <3 Finland stickers for people to put on their clothes. Eventually, a large percentage of the people at NetworX were wearing a tiny Finland ad, including Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development Phil Hogan, whom we were happy to welcome as a visitor.
Miko Heinilä from the Kyrö Distillery co., Teemu Hauhia, Pirjo Onikki, Sinikka Torssonen, Tuomas Metsäniemi, Commissioner Phil Hogan, Juha-Matti Markkola, Lauri Hyttinen, and Marko Mäki-Hakola from the Central Union of Agricultural Producers and Forest Owners (MTK)
Success for ‘Fibre to the north’
The Rural Inspiration Awards gala was held on the night of the first day of NetworX. Finland boasted five finalists in five categories, all of them represented in person in Brussels.
The Kuitua pohjoiseen [Fibre to the north] project won its category, Rural revitalisation, underscoring the importance of well-functioning telecommunications. The winner is a two-year project that informs villages, villagers, enterprises and local authorities of the potential of a fast and reliable fibre optic broadband network and of the funding mechanisms available through the European Agricultural Fund for building such networks. The project has assisted up to 20 communities in Lapland. Today, more than 3,000 households in 31 villages in Lapland have high-speed broadband.