Rural Vision Week: Visioning the future of Europe’s rural areas

Listed under the EC’s sixth priority, 'A new push for European democracy', the new vision on rural areas aims to reassess the role that these can play in the current society and to define a new life for rural areas. The EC is bringing forward a new perspective, trying to both reveal the experiences, intentions and expectations of rural communities and capture the pan-European overview to better understand emerging dynamics and trends. The process of developing the vision is expected to lead to the publication of a Commission Communication (June 2021).

Facing old challenges and new opportunities, Europe’s rural areas future is set under these predominant epithets: Just | Green | Recovery | Transition. Ensuring a people-centric vision as well as ensuring a future for all places, is an important task as territorial fragmentation and diversity are becoming more and more important.

A balanced demographic structure and thriving community is the success factor, and although some rural regions are growing and others are shrinking, there are some socio-economic common denominators that predetermine the success rate: such as good governance, access to high-paid jobs within a diversified economic environment, access to good public services and so on.

The diverse response to different stimuli has created the territorial diversity that composes the European space while delineating some differences and perpetuated processes that are still associated with a central arch separating central Europe from the surrounding east, south and west territories.

ESPON’s director, Wiktor Szyrarowski, recently presented ESPON’s contribution to the Long-term Vision on Rural Areas during the Rural week, in an event organized by the Portuguese presidency of the EU council, under the title “Territorial Agenda: a future for all places, a future for rural areas”.

Mr Szydarowski emphasized the fact that, as the results of the ESPON ESCAPE project indicated, shrinkage is a growing phenomenon, and under a more complex understanding (looking at intricate demographic and socio-economic dynamics), is or will be affecting 3 out of 5 rural regions across Europe.  But addressing shrinkage is as difficult as addressing climate change, for example, both are sometimes irreversible phenomena in the absence of a dual adapt – mitigate approach.

Complex shrinking processes link to the wider socio-economical context of rural areas, very often associated with “vicious cycles” of decline. But we need to better understand the complexity of the diverse processes of shrinkage -that are interdependent and often co-exist in the same territory- to design more efficient policies for rural areas in the future.

A new message for policies and from policy-makers

Rural areas need support and investments to overcome the digital gap and tackle low-income levels, limited economic diversification, limited access to services, specific climate challenges.

Above all though, they need a new narrative, EU and national policies that are emphasizing on the quality-of-life and well-being for people living in all rural areas. Thus, in developing policy responses, a more integrated tactical approach for the future development of rural is to be considered. This approach should focus on the capacity of regional and local policy stakeholders, including local communities, to engage and directly contribute to the designing of future policies.

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