Francesc Boya (Les, Lérida, 1960) was appointed on October 27 of last year secretary general for the Demographic Challenge. This Catalan who studied Political Science and is fluent in four languages (Spanish, French, Catalan and Aranese), has a long history working for better opportunities for rural areas. Seasoned in municipal politics, since he was a councilor for his town, Les, from 1981 to 1999, made the leap to the Parliament of Catalonia, where he was a deputy from 1999 to 2010, before becoming head of the administration of the Arán Valley and in senator, positions from which he has fought for the rural world.
For the first time in a decade Teruel has not lost population according to official statistics. Is this interpreted as a change in trend thanks to the policies that have been put in place or as a specific circumstance?
Everything has to do with it. I understand that the decisions that have been taken, even if they are modest, have their influence. On the other hand, the pandemic has been a drama but it has sparked real interest in rural areas. This is also reflected in some statistics, as searches for information to reside in rural areas have increased. In the coming months it will be necessary to know how many new people have actually registered in the municipalities. A more detailed analysis is needed that we do not yet know.
What does not seem to be reversing is the aging trend. Is this the biggest problem you are facing?
That people live longer is a general trend in our society. We have to assume that. However, we have to achieve generational balances that allow us to have a growing population pyramid. The problem is not aging, it is the lack of young people. It is necessary to retain this population and create opportunities so that they do not leave.
The snowstorm has once again highlighted the communication problems of many small municipalities. Is there a lack of investment in improving infrastructure?
The territorial response to something like the storm is complex. It is the communities and the councils that have to act, as the municipalities have limited capacity. However, in recent years some localities have already had the capacity to have a certain municipal equipment. We are working on a new law, the statute of small municipalities, which should give an answer to these questions.
What will this rule consist of for small municipalities?
We want to guarantee the capacity of small towns to provide their services.
Will it then be a reform of the municipal financing system?
It has a lot to do, but also with the capacity of municipalities to establish agreements with institutions such as councils or the autonomous communities themselves. It is true that the State in these cases has to delegate proximity services, for this reason there is a lack of mechanisms that allow us to define the competences very well. And recognize that sometimes due to the size or structure of these locations they cannot offer them.
Is the Strategy against depopulation already being applied?
We are trying to define a common agenda that compiles the actions that are developed by the General Secretariat of Demographic Challenge, the rest of the ministries and what is being worked on in the autonomous communities. We want the actions of each other to add up. That is why it is necessary to know what aspects can be reinforced to guarantee our ability to fight.
Is the European will to promote policies against depopulation real?
It is a very important advance. It has been achieved thanks to the work of business organizations and European parliamentarians. The Feder regulation already considers depopulation as a condition for funds. We need that money to rebalance the territories. And we also need to invest it well.
Will this legislature finally materialize a real decentralization of public investments?
European resources will allow us to carry out innovative projects in many territories. From the Demographic Challenge secretariat we see a very high investor potential that will allow the economy to be boosted and generate a territorial structure that serves to retain talent.
And will any ministry reach the unpopulated areas?
Some things are being done. Little by little, departments from different areas of the administration will reach unpopulated areas. It is true that it is a policy that needs to be continued, it is necessary to distribute the decision-making centers of the State. It is not easy, but the policies to overcome the demographic challenge are not short-term. They have to overcome partisan logic and in a few years it will be possible to see that a network is generated, as in Germany, where industrial and economic distribution is articulated throughout the territory.