Thomas Dax, Vienna, Austria
XXI Summer Course – XIV European Courses
”Desarollo rural y gestión territorial”
University of the Basque Country,
Donostia - San Sebastián, 1-2 August 2002
With structural adjustment and integration of agriculture into the rural economy the concern for the development of rural areas in general has risen considerably over the last decades. Rural policy is no more primarily about agriculture but has to address specifically all different economic sectors and actors in the area. With fundamental changes in the market structures and relations programmes targeted at specific rural areas cannot neglect the emerging interrelations to other areas. Hence a rural policy has to address directly its insertion into the regional framework and its relation to regional policy.
It is rural policy which has received over recent years increasing political attention although there remain quite divergent views on the different concepts to be used and policy processes to serve the target of integration of sector approaches. The rural approach, albeit often alluded to as being similar to agricultural development, is in its core a territorial approach, applying regional policy measures for specific regions, the rural areas. Hence the following short introductory presentation focuses on both (a) the various policies with distinctive territorial dimensions and impact on rural areas and (b) rural development policy as addressed by EU policy reform and targeted at through EU agricultural policy via establishing a "second pillar" to Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Before presenting the relevant EU regulations, the relevance of the concept of rural areas is revealed through the international comparison achieved by the OECD rural indicators project.
In public discussion of regional development the term rural area is generally used as an expression for non-urban or peripheral regions. As the differentiation between rural and urban areas as opposite types of spatial structure is vague, attempts to define the spatial category of rural area are bound to create methodological problems. Views on the issue and the indicators to be dealt with vary ac-cording to specific social groups, national contexts and personal attitudes.
The term rural is used in many contexts without necessarily defining the concept or its spatial implications. Many practitioners of rural development work would share Newby's (1986, p. 209) opinion that “there is now ... a general awareness that what constitutes ‘rural’ is wholly a matter of convenience and that arid and abstract definitional exercises are of little utility”. Recently the diversity of rural areas is stressed and the disaggregation into different types is increasingly requested.
Amongst international attempts to classify the rural areas, definitions vary significantly. In some OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries no official definition of rural exists; or it is treated as a residual category, defined negatively in the sense of not being ‘urban’ or agglomerated, rather than explicitly specified by its own properties. The range of different criteria for designation of rural areas is reflected in the most commonly used ones: size of population; population density; commuting intensity; and proportion of labour force involved in agriculture. Furthermore, thresholds for the one criteria may vary considerably, e.g.
Increased concern with rural development problems in the industrialised world as well as deficits of international comparability have led OECD member countries to work on rural development issues in a more systematic way and to attempt to bridge the gap between varying concepts of 'rural'. For the OECD Rural Development Program, launched in 1991, one of the primary tasks has been to develop a common definition of the notion of rural area. The main task of the project an Rural Indicators has therefore been to elaborate a common geographical framework for rural areas; to explore possibilities for the collection and aggregation of comparable rural information at different territorial levels; and to identify a set of basic rural indicators. Information was to be provided an sub-national areas with a sufficiently high degree of differentiation and yet comparability to make international communication meaningful.
Key elements of the territorial scheme are illustrated at Figure 1 and include:
Through this working definition the specificity of rural areas (communities) was reduced to just one dimension - a relatively low density. In reality, rural areas in the OECD reflect numerous and heterogeneous problem patterns and it was an important task of the project to understand and communicate this diversity better.
Division of communities into rural and urban by the simple criterion of population density was then used as basis for the second, regional, level. As regions usually comprise rural as well as urban communities, the degree of rurality was calculated by the share of people living in rural communities. Three types of regions were thus distinguished:
About one third of the total OECD population live in rural communities, occupying over 95% of the territory. National shares differ considerably, ranging from a rural population of less than 10% in the Netherlands and Belgium to about 60% in Finland, Norway and Turkey.
At the regional level the degree of rurality is described by the distribution of the three types of regions within each OECD member country (Figure 2). In some OECD countries, in particular the Scandinavian countries and Austria, more than three quarters of population live in either predominantly rural areas or significantly rural areas, reflecting the high degree of rurality at the regional level in these countries. For Japan and the north-western European countries, in particular the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, the UK and Switzerland, the opposite is the case.
France, Portugal, Canada and the USA have a rather balanced structure, while Italy, Spain and the EU as a whole are characterised by a greater population share in urbanised regions. Ireland, Iceland, and to some extent Australia and Canada, have a dual structure with greater shares of their population inhabiting the rural and urban extremes and only a smaller fraction living in the intermediate regions. In Australia, in particular, the share of population living in the predominantly urbanised regions reaches 55% and the share in predominantly rural regions 23%. Moreover, the significance of this latter type can be underlined by the fact that 92% of Australia's total area belongs to the latter category.
The appropriate level for territorial analysis therefore depends on the question under review. If, for example, territorial differences in employment opportunities are to be assessed in an economic policy perspective, information should be analysed at the regional level. The premise is that within reasonable distances workers should be prepared to commute between their place of residence and the place of work. This may imply commuting from a rural to an urban area. It would not be a realistic rural policy objective to provide jobs for rural citizens only in their own (rural) community. A reasonable aim would be for rural citizens to find jobs within an acceptable commuting distance from where they live. The place of work could well be urban but it should be within the same region or labour market area. The distinction between three types of region allows an analysis of job opportunities under the different regional conditions.
The further analysis of the economic performance of rural regions in the OECD countries could provide a number of indicators that rural must not be equated with economic backwardness. In all the OECD countries there are also dynamic rural regions to be found. Nevertheless one has to admit that the majority of regions and the overall impression of rural areas is determined by the economic weak regional situation and the threat of out-migration. The difference at the regional level is experienced within the states observed and shows in some countries (like in Spain) an especially high disparity between leading and lagging rural regions (Figure 3) when calculating the employment changes as indicator for economic success.