A Position Statement on Strategy for the rural regions of Europe

Papers and a discussion on this topic may be found at the DorfWiki site operated by Franz Nahrada, Chairman of ECOVAST AUSTRIA

In June 2008 a briefing paper, updating the STRATEGY, was sent to the Council of Europe, of which ECOVAST is a member International NGO (INGO); the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities; the the European Commission Advisory Group on Rural development, on which ECOVAST serves; and the European Union Committee of the Regions

ECOVAST – strategy for the rural regions of Europe

ECOVAST offers this briefing based upon the Position Statement on Strategy for the rural regions of Europe (ECOVAST 2006).

It is presented in the context of Health Check of the Common Agricultural Policy and of the Rural Development Programme 2007-2013.

Following decisions of the European Parliament, in June 2005, and the European Council, in December 2005, on a European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD), ECOVAST presented a POSITION STATEMENT in 2006 to monitor progress made since the 1994 ECOVAST document “A Strategy for Rural Europe”.

Now, in 2008, ECOVAST refreshes the position statement as follows:

Global society and Europe are now deeply involved in the most serious and dramatic changes of recent history. These are due to several coinciding events – among them are increases in population, bad functioning of food distribution, over-reliance on fossil fuels, rapid progress of technology and scant attention to ethics and ecology of development. Human ecology is the key to sustainability of the built and natural heritage.

Europe can and should take a leading role in addressing and improving responses to global processes, based on an approach that recognises the unique identity of the many different parts of the continent and on experiences drawn from history, culture and agriculture.

ECOVAST wishes to see rural communities involved in Integrated Rural Development within and beyond the farm gate – in active partnership with the producers: farms and food, forests, fishing, mineral workings, energy and landscape management.

We believe that the CAP Health Check and the implementation of Axis 3 of the RDP should seek to devote increasing resources to the following:


(a) Measures to diversify the rural economy

(iii) encouragement of tourism activities appropriate to the desired targets

(b) Measures to improve the quality of life in the rural areas

(i) basic services for the economy and rural population,
(ii) village and small town renewal and development,
(iii) conservation and upgrading of the rural natural and cultural heritage;

Note the additions in italics (See Note A)

We also believe that the small towns of Europe, and the villages in their hinterlands, lack the policy focus and support that is present in urban policy and rural development policy.

Without such focus, the smaller settlements face threats to their survival. However, they and their surrounding landscapes can contribute to sustainability by supporting local food production and providing local and renewable energy resources.

Local survival and global influences are in conflict. The first can be the answer to the second. The effects of global markets, depletion of oil and gas resources, and consequential rising food costs may find solution in a focus on localism and regionalism.

The unique economic, social, cultural and environmental characteristics of rural small towns and their hinterland of villages and landscape are of specific and high value for all Europeans: in particular, for connecting markets for rural produce with the products and producers in their hinterlands. Small Towns and villages are an asset of Europe, and ECOVAST has a project entitled Action to Strengthen Small European Towns ‘ASSET’. We draw attention to the Declaration of Samobor. (See Note B)

The variety of rural contexts (e.g. coastal, islands, peri-urban areas – the landscapes around towns, remote places, flood plains and mountain regions) requires to be recognised in Rural Development policy by a flexible approach, enabling local communities in civil society to influence local policies, methods of applying finance and implementation.

ECOVAST encourages local people to engage in the identification and recognition of the types, characters and quality of landscapes. We have published the ECOVAST Landscape Identification Guide to Good Practice. The purpose of this guide is to help the citizens of Europe to understand, to celebrate and to protect the landscape in which they live; and to assist governments in their work to implement the European Landscape Convention.

The fundamental appearance and characteristic features of European Rural Regions are the landscapes – most of them a result of the labour of farmers throughout history. Other elements of civilisation (e.g. settlements, retail and industry, infrastructure for traffic, energy supply and tourism) are shaping the regions and landscapes but, in the majority of places, agricultural character in its different expressions, including woodland and other habitats, is still the basic element of the countryside, its beauty and with history and roots reaching back through centuries.

So farmers and farming enterprises offer two products to society for which they should receive appropriate income: food and landscape. Production of food has been a central and traditional part of the farmers’ identity, while "landscape" was created as a by-product of their work. We are fortunate to appreciate the value of this secondary product. Landscape is now beginning to be seen and understood by the public and the governments as an additional part of the farmers’ identity. The move towards the "New Agenda 2000" is the European political consequence. The farmers are no longer paid on the basis of production alone. In addition to single payments based on land holdings they are also paid incentives for shaping, caring and developing the landscapes and habitats that are distinctive of the rural regions. This desirable approach is an essential component of rural sustainable development linking the European Landscape Convention to the New Agenda 2000.

Rural areas have to compete, for political support and funding, with urban areas that have more votes per hectare. Small towns have to compete with larger urban areas and cities, and lack a distinctive spatial policy and need financial support. Yet both these smaller towns and rural areas have potential to contribute to the competitiveness of Europe.

Competitiveness, applied globally, can be seen to be damaging the unique qualities of rural places, people and their activities. The imperative for rural areas is not competition but collaboration, partnership and joint working, not least between farmers and others in local communities.

Cohesion requires recognition that the trend of rural de-population is now seeing reversal in some Member States - ‘counter-urbanisation’ that can lead to a disparity, between relatively wealthy incomers from urban areas and the indigenous rural people, that requires to be addressed. It has some benefits – for example the people moving from urban areas, or from other states, can use and repair traditional rural buildings. They can bring new skills to a locality that can be harnessed for civil society activity. Migration across continents, probably intensified by climate change, may become a greater challenge in the longer term.

Sustainability of rural settlements, landscapes and habitats - the assurance of continuity – requires recognition, whilst acknowledging that landscapes have always been subject to change throughout history. Climate shifts will cause change. Blinkered spatial policies, founded on a priority to settlements that have public transport, can lead to clustering of services in larger urban areas and the withering away of hitherto viable rural places. The landscape, itself a valuable spiritual and economic resource for tourism and an incentive for economic investment, needs local people to manage the animals and vegetation essential to its appearance and habitat. If people are less present in the countryside, the countryside, as we know it, will degenerate.

Now Europe has the historic opportunity to play a universal leading role in offering a distinctive way of how to respond to the threats of globalisation.

Philip A Turner, President of ECOVAST June 2008


ECOVAST’s activity can all be defined as coming under Axis 3 (The Quality of Life in Rural Areas & Diversification of the Rural Economy) under the following articles:


(a) Measures to diversify the rural economy (iii) encouragement of tourism activities; (b) Measures to improve the quality of life in the rural areas

(i) basic services for the economy and rural population,

(ii) village renewal and development, (iii) conservation and upgrading of the rural heritage; (c) A training and information measure for economic actors operating in the fields covered by axis 3 (d) A skills-acquisition and animation measure with a view to preparing and implementing a local development strategy.


(b) Recreational infrastructure such as that offering access to natural areas, and small-capacity accommodation (c) The development and/or marketing of tourism services relating to rural tourism Subsection 2: Conditions governing the measures to improve the quality of life in rural areas


The setting up of basic services, including cultural and leisure activities, concerning a village or group of villages, and related small-scale infrastructure.


(b) Studies and investments associated with maintenance, restoration and upgrading of the cultural heritage such as the cultural features of villages and the rural landscape.


(a) Studies of the area concerned (b) Measures to provide information about the area and the local development strategy (c) The training of staff involved in the preparation and implementation of a local development strategy (d) Promotional events and the training of leaders

The Samobor Declaration may be found as ANNEX E of the webpage of ASSET (Action to Support Small European Towns)

In 2006 ECOVAST produced a POSITION STATEMENT to monitor progress made since 1994 ECOVAST document “A Strategy for Rural Europe”.

Download this document in Word format here.

Download "Rural Strategy for Europe" in Word format here.

Grateful thanks to the following members of ECOVAST who have contributed to this position s

tement, including: Arthur Spiegler, Austria , Ralf Bokermann,Germany, Michael Dower, England

Philip A Turner, ECOVAST
President  2004 - 2008

Papers and a discussion on this topic may be found at the DorfWiki site operated by Franz Nahrada, Chairman of ECOVAST AUSTRIA


ECOVAST c/o Mrs Valerie CARTER (President)
“Sherborne”, Ingleden Park Road, Tenterden, Kent TN30 6NS, UK
(Tel +44 1580 762379 E mail valeriecarter@ecovast.org)