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PART I - SITUATION AND TRENDS

3 Territorial cohesion: towards a more balanced development

3.3 Rural areas

Over two out of three people in southern Europe and Ireland live in rural areas while the figure is under 1 in 8 in Belgium, the UK, Germany and Italy (Graph A.7, in annex).

Except in Portugal, the population in rural areas is increasing in all Member States, though at differing rates:

  • in Belgium, Germany, Greece and Spain, growth is well above the national average;

  • in Italy, the UK and Austria, the rate is similar to that in other areas;

  • in Denmark, France, Ireland, Finland and Sweden, growth is below that elsewhere and, in Portugal, population is declining.

(See Graph A.8 and Table A.11, in annex).

Over the period 1995 to 1999, the growth of employment in rural areas (1.0% a year) in the Union was higher than the overall rate (0.8% a year). The rural character of a region is, therefore, not an obstacle to job creation. On the contrary, an attractive natural and cultural environment, with lower levels of congestion, can be an important factor in encouraging business investment.

At the sectoral level, while rural areas have suffered large scale job losses in agriculture, they have also experienced job gains in industry - except in Germany and Austria - and, above all, in services, which have more than compensated for these.

The economic and social features of rural areas vary significantly across the Union as well as within individual Member States. Three kinds of area can be distinguished in terms of their links with the rest of the national and international economy and their remoteness from major centres of activity:

  • rural areas which are integrated into the overall economy and which are characterised by economic and population growth. These are often close to urban centres and have, in general, above average income per head. Jobs are predominantly in industry and services rather than agriculture. In some cases, such areas are at risk of becoming purely residential areas for people working elsewhere, posing a threat to their traditional environment and their social and cultural heritage; others, however, are developing independently;
  • intermediate rural areas, often some distance away from urban centres, but with good links to these and a reasonable level of infrastructure. In many such areas, agriculture continues to play a significant role, though they tend to be experiencing increasing economic diversity and growing activity in, for example, food processing as well as services. In a number of Member States, large farms are situated in these areas;
  • remote rural areas, usually sparsely populated and in many cases located in peripheral parts of the Union far from urban centres. Their relative isolation is often due to their topography, such as their mountainous nature, and they tend to have a highly dispersed and ageing population, poor infrastructure, inadequate services, low income per head, a relatively unskilled work force, weak links with the rest of the economy and high employment in agriculture.

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