Rural policy and regional policy: similar but different

Rural areas are increasingly in the focus of policy and many countries have taken steps to address rural issues and concerns, developing new strategies or policies. But not only is there no common understanding of what rural development policy actually is, but also its relation to regional policy is often fuzzy. 

There is no shared definition of rural development policy. In different countries, rural development policy can cover a variety of policies, some of which are defined thematically and others more territorially. In most countries, rural development policy is largely separate from regional policy and is usually integrated in agricultural policies and strongly biased towards agricultural themes. In EU countries, it is often strongly driven by EU rural policy and European funding is the most important source for explicit rural development policy.

At the same time, rural territories are also explicitly or implicitly targeted by policies that are not necessarily labelled as rural. This includes regional policy, which can be specifically directed at rural areas. Inevitably, there is a risk that boundaries between rural 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).

For more information, please contact Stefan Kah

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