Rural development policy from an EU perspective

5. The Rural Development Regulation (2000-2006)

The Agenda 2000 reform provided a new framework for rural development policy. As an essential part of the ‘European agricultural model’, it aimed to put in place a consistent regulatory scheme for guaranteeing the future of rural areas and promoting the maintenance and creation of employment. In striving for greater commitment of national and regional authorities for rural development, it mainly provided guidelines and had the intention to incorporate the rural measures in the agricultural policy. Thus it referred to the following principles:

  • the multifunctionality of agriculture,
  • a multisectoral and integrated approach to the rural economy,
  • flexible aids for rural development, based on subsidiarity and promoting decentralisation,
  • and transparency in drawing up and managing programmes.

The main innovation in the policy is that measures now have to be included in a Rural Development Plan which follows programming methods, previously known from the Structural Funds programmes. It is the national authorities task how they are applying the regulation and which geographical determinations they select. In many countries a number of “horizontal” programmes have been prepared, but there are also many regional programmes available. At any rate, the plans have to define its contribution to objective areas of Structural Funds (and they are compulsorily integrated within objective 1 regionalised programmes). They have also to follow the usual programming steps, including presentation of plans, adoption of programming documents, and decisions on implementation, and rules for monitoring and evaluation.

Until October 2001 all 68 Rural Development Plans presented by the Member States which have started from their experiences with different approaches and have selected very different priorities have been approved. Out of the measures available (see the survey under figure 6) the main activities differ from country to country considerably (figure 7). About 50% of funds of all programmes are planned for the four accompanying measures of GAP (agri-environment, early retirement, afforestation of agricultural land and LFA measures). This share of the total Rural Development Programmes various considerably between Member States (from more than 90% in Ireland to just 13% in the Netherlands). Austria has concentrated its programme, like Sweden, on the agri-environmental measures and LFA scheme. As the only compulsory part of the programme the agri-environmental measures meanwhile have achieved the biggest proportion. In comparison to the former period 1994-1999 they should also rise by 68% (from 2.2 to 3.7 bio. € per year).

Without going into too much detail on the scope of the measures it is important to show that with the Art. 33 measures countries have instruments at their disposal to increase the scope of action of farmers and people in rural areas. The following list of measures, detailed in the Regulation 1257/99 provides the prime basis for this part of the programme:

  • land improvement,
  • reparcelling,
  • setting-up of farm relief and farm management services,
  • marketing of quality agricultural products,
  • basic services for the rural economy and population,
  • renovation and development of villages and protection and conservation of the rural heritage,
  • diversification of agricultural activities and activities close to agriculture to provide multiple activities or alternative incomes,
  • agricultural water resources management,
  • development and improvement of infrastructure connected with the development of agriculture,
  • encouragement for tourist and craft activities,
  • protection of the environment in connection with agriculture, forestry and landscape conservation as well as with the improvement of animal welfare,
  • restoring agricultural production potential damaged by natural disasters and introducing appropriate prevention instruments,
  • financial engineering.

On average only about 10% of funds are foreseen for these measures in the EU. Some countries like Austria have an even much lower funding of about 4% for these measures, and additionally most measures are only eligible for the farm sector.

Figure 7

Source: EC 2001c

6. Assessment of programmes

Although a series of evaluation studies have been carried out, the impact of the previous programmes can hardly be assessed through such analyses. What makes conclusions more difficult is the considerable time lag of the programmes execution and the corresponding evaluation provided. In general, one has to refer to the intermediate evaluations of Objective 5b programmes and national ex-post evaluations which are now analysed for synthesis studies at the EU-level. These mentioned interim evaluations, carried out around the years 1997 and 1998, provide nevertheless some interesting insights from the European perspective. Also the general assessment of the regional programmes of the first two Structural Funds periods (Europäischer Rechnungshof 1998) and the EU evaluation of the LEADER I outcome (Dethier et al. 1999) is interesting in this regard. The thrust of evaluation studies for rural development programmes had to fulfil requirements concerning the quantitative assessment of programmes progress. The financial performance, aspects of coherence and effectiveness, quantitative impacts and issues of efficiency have been the focus of the evaluations prepared for objective 5b programmes for some countries, and most of these commissioned by the European Commission DG VI; UK (PACEC 1998), Finland (Malinen et al. 1997), Germany (Tissen and Schrader 1998), Spain (Isla and Soy 1998) and Italy.

  • In addition, to its main quantitative outline these evaluations did stress a number of more qualitative issues which have an impact on issues of future programming, enhanced participation and conceptual development of programmes. In particular the following aspects emerged:
  • The great variety of projects and the request of complimentarity with other Community, sectoral, national and regional policies, in some regions created confusion and increased costly bureaucracy, pointing to a need to increase integration of the different initiatives (PACEC 1998). This uncertainty about orientation in the programmes available is particularly pertinent for those groups of local population less acquainted with institutional regulations and lower experience of participation.
  • Overall there was a high degree of synergy between the EC funds and national measures, particularly with regard to Objective 5b programmes and LEADER II. Problems cited relate primarily to “limited integration in administration procedures and limited information flows” (PACEC 1998, p. 50). “An improved co-operation and co-ordination of actions supported by the structural funds involved for the purpose of reaching synergy effects is particularly important on the local level” (Tissen and Schrader 1998, p.XV). It will be important for the implementation of future programmes to maintain the high level of synergy achieved and, where possible, to enhance programmes functioning by increased distribution of information.
  • Although the programmes evaluated have induced a wave of assessment of regional strengths and weaknesses and local actors involvement, evaluations suggest that local activity should be stimulated further and options to increase awareness and consequently improve co-operation with different sectors through programmes should be used (PACEC 1998, p. 57).
  • Developing skills is a priority chosen in almost all rural development programmes. In countries with high level of education achieved also in rural areas one has to adapt carefully new training programmes to local and regional needs. It is assessed “that there is a requirement for experimental work and ESF financing is very well suited to that task”. Moreover, it is complained that linkages between training and other actions have been weak in the past and evaluations point out a move towards closer interaction in the future (Isla and Soy, p. 73).
  • The desegregation of the actions and measures at the local level is of major interest for the analysis of the programs impacts. In fact, the consideration of, exclusively, the overall impacts could disguise important and significant territorial disparities (Isla and Soy 1998, p. 7f.) which seems particularly relevant for the situation of remote rural areas, e.g. in mountain regions or remote islands regions.
  • Although it is well known and has been extensively explained one has to respect that there is a considerable trade-off between innovativeness of projects and programme implementation. In general, traditional measures are easier to apply and show greater rates of accomplishment (Isla and Soy 1998, p. 71). One is also inclined to see a preference for more harmonic regional strategies taken by responsible administration institutions at all levels.
  • In many contexts the central role of intermediary agencies and the specific tasks of Local Action Groups (under the LEADER Initiative) have been addressed. It arises from the wide-spread European experience that local development is not a mere local task but has to be achieved in co-operation with regional and national authorities. The long-term commitment of “facilitators” can not be over estimated as crucial element for enhancing participation and ensuring outcome of programmes.

A more comparative work is available through the EU-wide ex-post evaluation of the LEADER I Community Initiative (1989 – 1993). This evaluation, conducted by the Commission, was realised by independent experts, included around 60 experts from 12 countries. The final report published in March 1999 (Dethier et al. 1999) allows a thorough insight into the achievements of the first generation of LEADER programmes and also can serve as starting reference for evaluation of rural development programmes with more complex methods. Although the work was based on a number of quantitative techniques the report has drawn in its conclusion the attention towards the importance of a more qualitative evaluation approach. In many aspects LEADER I was a pilot scheme and can be “considered as provider of a precious stock of knowledge about rural Europe utilised for a better targeting of rural policy actions” (Dethier et al. 1999, p. 166). The demonstration effect that was an objective of LEADER did influence rural policy ideas and led to a “reconsideration of traditional delivery systems for rural development support” (Dethier et al. 1999, p. 179) also at national and regional levels.

However, the lessons learned for rural policy are not always clear-cut. Although the experience of LEADER initiatives was highly appreciated, particularly in Southern Member States and in Ireland where LAGs were significant in number, the innovative aspects of LEADER “did not really affect the implementation of mainstream rural policy" (Dethier et al. 1999, p.179). Even when in LEADER II the number of LAGs has risen substantially and implementation affected a number of areas almost five times greater than in the first period the link to mainstream policies remained weak. There is scope to investigate the lack in the transfer of experiences to general rural policy.

Some of the obstacles might be seen in the fact that an experimental programme induces processes which need time. Positive returns become visible only in the long run and a minimum degree of continuity is needed. Meanwhile much greater priority has been laid on networking and participation, as core factors of rural development. Representation of local actors will still have to be extended and LAGs should not remain the single specific focus of activity but insure also the inclusion of other innovative actors.

The mid-term review of the CAP is the present assessment of the EU Commission and seeks to address the need to prepare for the integration of Member States during envisaged EU enlargement. Although there is concern about the issue of the timing of reform steps, the message is clear that a further reform shift towards rural development should be initiated through the current discussion process. The Commission proposals aim at “strengthen(ing) rural development by transferring funds from the first to the second pillar of the CAP via the introduction of an EU-wide system of compulsory dynamic modulation and expanding the scope of currently available instrument for rural development” (CEC 2002, p.3). There are only few additional instruments proposed, i.e. a new food quality chapter, a chapter “meeting standards” to help farmers to adapt to demanding standards based on the Community legislation, and the introduction of the possibility for animal welfare payments under the agri-environmental schemes. However, the main element of the reform is the decoupling of direct aids and the establishment of a farm income payment which alters the philosophy of agricultural support. The slow changes in the overall budgetary allocation between first and second pillar already reflect the opposition of agricultural interest groups against any shift towards rural development measures.