[ Summary ]
1.3 Requirements and room for manoeuvre to develop economic competitiveness
1.3.1 Diversity of situations
The above typology of rural situations explains why economic
competitiveness varies in impact from one area to another.
- Some areas already have some form of economic competitiveness,
as a legacy of the past and have, to varying degrees, managed to
safeguard or develop it over the years. This is particularly true of
areas that still depend on agriculture for their living, whether or
not it is labour-intensive. Nonetheless, some such areas have lost
an element of their social and/or environmental competitiveness,
which could, in the long run, threaten their economic
- In other areas, economic competitiveness is more recent in
origin. It was built on markets dating back several decades (e.g.
tourist areas with small-scale facilities) or even longer (e.g.
areas whose economy is dominated by small local businesses).
- Yet others have lost their traditional farming-based economic
competitiveness and are in search of new avenues of development in
order to regain their competitiveness.
- Some such areas plainly have an asset that can help them to
achieve economic competitiveness and, to a greater or lesser extent,
moves are already underway towards this goal. This is particularly
the case in areas where natural and protected land plays a key role
and in areas dominated by second homes or residential homes for the
elderly. It is also true of peri-urban areas.
- However, other areas have not yet found a way to restore their
economic competitiveness and face considerable difficulty in
achieving it. This particularly involves areas dominated by large
estates, as well as areas with an elderly population that is highly
dependent on state aid.
1.3.2 Linking economic competitiveness with social and environmental
By comparing situations it becomes clear just how much economic
competitiveness is bound up with the social and environmental
competitiveness discussed in other parts of this series.
a) Need for a simultaneous and integrated approach
In some cases, social and environmental competitiveness have become
inseparable from economic competitiveness.
This applies, for instance, to peri-urban areas. Such areas are
generally “outward-looking”, i.e. while considerable human skills
and resources may be concentrated in the area, they are directed
towards the nearby town, without the local area really being able to
benefit. What is more, such areas, which are often subject to
uncontrolled land and housing pressure, have lost their distinctive
character and no longer have their own identity. This is quite apart
from any environmental problems that may arise. Offsetting this is
the fact that the proximity of a town provides areas like this with
market opportunities (it is easy to sell local products and to cater
for day-trippers from neighbouring areas, etc).
Refocusing the inhabitants’ interest on their local area and
redeveloping a lost identity based on the opportunities provided by
nearby markets represent the main challenges for areas of this kind.
In such areas, certainly more than elsewhere, this involves
integrating the social, economic and environmental approaches.
b) Key routes towards economic competitiveness
In other cases, social and/or environmental competitiveness is
crucial to creating the conditions for economic competitiveness.
In areas where natural and protected land plays a key role, for
instance, it is not possible to build economic competitiveness
without first totally controlling the environment, as the basis for
developing the area’s asset. Only when environmental competitiveness
is relatively well established, i.e. once the conditions have been
created for preserving and fully developing the area’s natural
resources, land and the physical heritage, and these have become
values shared wholeheartedly by all of the area’s players, only then
does economic competitiveness come into play.
In marginal rural areas and those dominated by large estates, more
often than not, problems in developing economic competitiveness stem
from a lack of social, and/or to a much lesser extent environmental,
competitiveness. It is mainly the demographic deficit, the loss of
trust between the players, the lack of social relations, the neglect
and deterioration of natural and heritage resources, etc., that are
holding back economic competitiveness and must be tackled as a
c) Long-term threats
Although social and/or environmental competitiveness are not
necessarily essential to economic competitiveness in the short term,
their absence poses a threat in the longer term.
This is particularly so of non-labour-intensive farming areas, which
nowadays are more at threat from the demographic, social deficit and
environmental problems than from economic problems per se.
What priority should be given to seeking economic competitiveness
for a rural area? Although economic competitiveness is clearly a
central element in terms of securing endogenous rural development
not ultimately reliant on external subsidies and support policies,
what priority should be given to economic competitiveness has to be
seen in the light of each area’s specific situation.