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Economic competitiveness

[ Summary ]


Chapter 1:


1.1 New opportunities for rural areas


It was not until the late eighties, notably with the emergence and dissemination of the concept of “rurality”, that pilot policies were introduced in a number of marginalised areas to help them recover their economic competitiveness. These policies paved the way for a micro-economic analysis based on processes of development and social change. This analysis has led to the identification of elements that are specific to the development (or non-development) of different rural areas, highlighting the concept of the “area” [territory] as a key element in structuring the relationship between institutions, the economy and social organisation.

The term “territorial economic competitiveness” means the ability of local players to create and retain value added by integrating local resources into products and services that meet new consumer expectations in response to changing markets. The approach is based on redirecting public intervention policies, as well as on organising production and distribution processes in ways that create competitive advantages by promoting the distinctiveness of each area.

Now, more than ever, there is a need for Europe’s rural areas to be economically competitive. Preserving landscapes and diversifying product and service provision on the basis of each area’s specific assets have become the key for repositioning the rural economy in a context of world competition.

Since 1992, the LEADER Initiative has been the European Union’s “pilot” political response to the need to restore the economic competitiveness of rural areas in difficulty.

As a back-up to European, national and regional policies, which focus on more tangible factors, local LEADER measures seek to influence intangible and cultural factors of development. What is more, LEADER does not confine itself to supporting primary production activities but aims to improve the social environment, whilst promoting the natural and cultural heritage.

Eight years after the launch of the Community rural development Initiative, a number of lessons can be drawn concerning the pertinence of local intervention policies and the need to deepen, and even broaden, the fields of intervention.

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