Why does EU Rural Development matter?

Rural development, the ‘second pillar’ of Eu’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), can be defined as an overall increase in the welfare of the rural areas’ residents and, more generally, in the contribution given by the rural resources to the whole population.

As the definition explains, the development of those areas is of common interest since they are capable of influencing the welfare of both, the local and the rest of the European population. Although diversity is one of the greatest resources of Europe, sometimes it can create challenges for the member states, like in this case: given the differences in terms of physical, socio-economic, environmental and institutional factors it’s not possible to give a clear and universal explanation of what a rural region is. For this reason, to define the different types of rural areas, three “building block” are given: the degree of physical handicap, the environmental sensitivity, and last, the socioeconomic disadvantage. Different weights attributed to the different blocks can create unique typologies, appropriate to the member state and the regional specificities.

In Europe, these regions occupy the 90% of the territory in which more than the 50% of the population lives, these factors are other major reasons to take care of them. The Union is trying to fill the gap between the poorer and the richer regions within its boundaries with new strategies.
Being aware of the differences between all the member states is the starting point of this new plan whose main goal is to reduce them along with the distances between the European regions, raising the needy ones.

The European Framework for Rural Development can be divided into four levels.
To ensure the development of the rural areas, it’s firstly necessary to focus on a limited number of priorities summarized in the six European Strategic Guidelines:

  • knowledge transfer and innovation in agriculture and forestry and rural areas
  • improvement of competitiveness and viability of all types of agriculture, developing innovative farm technologies and sustainable management
  • promoting food chain organization, animal welfare and risk management in agriculture
  • restoring, preserving, enhancing ecosystems
  • efficient use of resources and shift towards a low-carbon and climate-resilient economy
  • social inclusion, poverty reduction and economic development

These provide the groundwork for all the member states.

At the second level, in fact, we find the National Strategy Plans (NSP).

In line with the EU priorities, each member, draws up programs addressing at least four of the six points referring to the needs of the specific territory. According to the circumstances the states have to face, they evaluate the current situation and the potential for development.

The strategies are then enforced through National or Regional Rural Development Programs (RDP) that reflect the operational priorities. The number can vary, but each program includes an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the areas, information on the measures (chosen amongst the 41 of the Framework, grouped in 4 main axes) proposed along with a list of objectives and indicators to measure progress and a financing plan.

Finally, the last step is dedicated to the Program Implementation, monitoring, and evaluation. This task is addressed mainly to the member states Managing Authorities. Since all the program, even if concerning various issues, are based on the same Framework of four axes and menu of measures, also the monitoring and the evaluation process are shared. The Common Monitoring and Evaluation Framework provide a single scheme for all the programs.

The ultimate aim of this procedure is to grant a targeted approach to find the solution that better suits the difficulties of the specific territory, to support local development under a common guideline that will lead to the involvement of those local dimensions into the Europe 2020 strategy.
Rural development is, therefore, a horizontal issue which affects all policy areas and for this reason, the founding through the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) only, is not sufficient. The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) are, in fact, asking for a more united action and an increase in the shares directed to rural development.

One of the key objectives of the current programming period 2014-2020 is indeed the increase in the involvement of stakeholders in rural development as well as amelioration of the programs’ quality, promotion of the Rural Development policy’s benefits and support for the evaluation of the active programs.

By Francesca Pugliese