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


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-rel ian ce 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.

In the context of the 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 presents a POSITION STATEMENT to monitor progress made since 1994 ECOVAST document “A Strategy for Rural Europe”.

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.

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 is embarking on a project entitled Action to Strengthen Small European Towns ‘ASSET’.

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.

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, areas or 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 the basic element of the countryside.

So farmers 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 now paid for their land holdings on an area basis, and also for shaping, caring and developing the landscapes that are distinctive of the rural regions.  This desirable approach is an essential component of rural sustainable development.

Many of these issues were addressed in a paper by the European Parliament Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development entitled "A bid from the Countryside" 14 June 2005. It was prepared for the Joint Conference in Brussels of the European Parliament and the European Commission, and it outlined the European Union's future rural development strategy in the light of the Lisbon and Göteborg Agenda.

Attending that Joint Conference, representing ECOVAST, my personal views on three headings of that report were:

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. Rural areas have to compete, for political support and funding, with urban areas that have more votes per hectare.

Cohesion requires recognition that the trend of rural de-population is now seeing reversal, already prevalent where I live, in the south of the United Kingdom . Although not yet experienced in other states, this ‘counter-urbanisation’ 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 addressing the threats of globalisation.

After that conference, and before the June decision of the European Agriculture Ministers, ECOVAST was among the non-government organisations present that supported the apparent consensus in favour of the emerging EAFRD, by issuing a statement entitled

“Yes to Rural Europe ”. That called for rural partnerships at a local level, based on the LEADER approach.


Philip A Turner, President of ECOVAST


Grateful thanks to the following members of ECOVAST who have contributed to this position statement, including: Arthur Spiegler , Austria , Ralf Bokermann , Germany ,Michael Dower, England

Download this document in Word format here.

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

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)