Regional Policy Perspectives on Rural Development Policy

Cite as: Kah, S. (2020) Regional Policy Perspective on Rural Development Policy. European Policy Research Paper, No. 117, European Policies Research Centre, University of Strathclyde,Glasgow.

Rural areas are increasingly in the focus of policy and over the past few years, many countries have taken steps to address rural issues and concerns, developing new strategies, plans or policies. While all countries implement some form of rural development policy (RDP), there is no common understanding of it. Some countries emphasise the RDP’s territorial focus and others its thematic orientation. In recent times, it became increasingly widespread to take a territorial perspective on RDP. In EU countries, European RDP can play an important and sometimes dominating role. In some countries, the EAFRD is the most important source of explicit RDP funding. RDP is usually integrated in agricultural policies and often biased towards agricultural themes. At the same time, rural territories are also explicitly or implicitly targeted by policies that are not necessarily labelled as RDP. This includes regional policy, which can be specifically directed at rural areas.

Yet, in most countries, RDP is largely separate from regional policy. Inevitably, there is a risk that boundaries between RDP and regional policy become fuzzy, resulting in the need to manage their relationship. Steps to encourage a synchronised relationship between the two policies are usually either part of spatial development or wider territorial policy concerns or derive from EU policy requirement in the context ESI Fund delivery. They include a number of established approaches, which aim at coordination through governance arrangements, such as commissions, networks or platforms (Austria, France, Switzerland). Some more recent measures focus instead on the coherence of policy measures with rural policy objectives. Examples include overarching strategies (Poland, Switzerland), rural proofing and strengthening the rural dimension of sectoral policies (Sweden, United Kingdom), rural contracts (France) or advice to potential beneficiaries (Austria, Germany). Yet, it appears that setting up a system for coordination or coherence between RDP and regional policy requires some form of pressure – be it from outside (e.g. EU requirements) or from inside (e.g. demands from rural stakeholders).

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