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Economic competitiveness

[ Summary ]


Chapter 1:


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 competitiveness.

  • 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 competitiveness

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 short-term priority.

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.

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