[ Summary ]
Social competitiveness in the territorial approach
1.1 Diverse situations in terms of social competitiveness
The ability of local players and institutions to act jointly and
effectively varies considerably from one rural area to another. In
some cases they do so, but in others conflict and mistrust make
consultation and collective action difficult.
To a large extent such differences are a legacy of the past. The
shared work practices customary in traditional societies, which
bound the community together to some degree, have for the most
part disappeared. However, in some places they have survived,
changed and continue to mark local life (as in the industrial
clusters of northern and central Italy).
Rural areas that have suffered large-scale depopulation,
particularly of young people, have found themselves stripped of
the social/inter-generational fabric that formerly bound them
Nevertheless, as the rural world has changed, new practices of
consultation and collective action have emerged, notably as a
- Developments in agriculture that have often induced farmers
to join forces to meet common needs: marketing, supplies, credit,
etc. Also, there are many rural areas in which trade union,
cooperative and civic movements have made a strong mark on the
farming world by teaching people how to take collective action.
- The strengthening, or in some cases relatively recent
introduction, of democratically-elected local authorities, leading
to the gradual generalisation of local consultation and
decentralised decision-making practices.
- The strengthening or introduction of new decision-making
levels above that of the village or district, such as the
communautés de communes in France, the comarcas in Spain, counties
in the United Kingdom, groups of districts in Sweden, Belgium,
etc. These new decision-making levels gradually make it possible
to break away from the parochialism so often characteristic of
rural areas, and allow the development of a broader view of the
role of local authorities in territorial development.
- The arrival of new populations, which is very often a factor
in reviving community and public life and in diversifying
production activities and services.
This brief overview shows just how diverse are the factors
determining how the social fabric of Europe’s rural regions is
made up and how, when combined, such factors tend to produce
differing, and even contrary, effects. It is this that has led to
their extreme diversity.
What is there in common, for example, between the isolated
mountain areas of the Iberian peninsula (whose democratic revival
dates back less than one generation and, since the 1950s, have
been drained by rural depopulation), the areas north of the
Parisian basin (characterised by intensive, but not very labour-
intensive, farming), the rural areas on the outskirts of urban
areas (which very often serve as dormitory areas with no local
life) and areas marked by economic and religious conflict, such as
Northern Ireland? In each of these areas, the problem of social
competitiveness inevitably takes a different form.
A look further back into the legacy of the past reveals still more
elements of differentiation. Of course, social behaviour and
shared values differ radically between, for example, regions that
for centuries have been dominated by large-scale land ownership
and agricultural paid labour (as still exist in the southern
Iberian peninsula, eastern Germany and Scotland) and regions
dominated by small family farms and a strong attachment to
individual land ownership, especially in terms of entrepreneurial
spirit, risk-taking (whether or not an enterprise culture exists)
and spatial relationships.
Nevertheless, it is possible to draw out from this extreme
diversity a few broad categories of rural area, such as:
- Some areas have become socially de-structured today. Having
remained isolated, and hence removed from modern social movements,
they have also lost their traditional forms of organisation.
- Other areas are marked by a lack of confidence in public and
- Yet others suffer from deep rifts as a result of past
conflicts and unhealed blows to morale.
- Still others are handicapped by the lack of an enterprise
- Certain rural areas situated on the outskirts of large urban
areas are “other-directed” and have no real local life.
- Yet other areas which, on the contrary, have developed local
forms of socio-institutional consultation, are gaining increased
powers to act independently in accordance with their own
All of these examples show how important it is for any LEADER
local action group (LAG) to meticulously analyse the area’s
situation in order to determine how much “room for manoeuvre”
exists for (re)building or strengthening social competitiveness.