The changes will affect not only agricultural markets, but also local economies in rural areas. The future of the agricultural sector is closely linked to a balanced development of rural areas, which account for 80% of European territory. The Community dimension in this relationship is therefore clear; agricultural and rural policy have an important role to play in the cohesion of EU territorial, economic and social policy.
This is why the Agenda 2000 reforms follow the development seen in recent years: alongside the market measures and the elements of a competitive European agriculture, the varied needs of the rural world must also be recognised, together with the expectations of today’s society and environmental requirements. The new rural development policy, now the “second pillar” of the Common Agricultural Policy, meets these needs. As an essential part of the European agricultural model, it aims to put in place a consistent and lasting framework for guaranteeing the future of rural areas and promoting the maintenance and creation of employment.
The principles are as follows:
- The multifunctionality of agriculture, i.e. its varied role over and above the production of foodstuffs. This implies the recognition and encouragement of the range of services provided by farmers.
- A multisectoral and integrated approach to the rural economy in order to diversify activities, create new sources of income and employment and protect the rural heritage.
- Flexible aids for rural development, based on subsidiarity and promoting decentralisation, consultation at regional, local and partnership level.
- Transparency in drawing up and managing programmes, based on simplified and more accessible legislation.
One of the main innovations in this policy is the method used to improve integration between the different types of intervention, to help ensure smooth and balanced development in all European rural areas. The main features of this development can be defined as follows:
- strengthening the agricultural and forestry sector
- improving the competitiveness of rural areas
- preserving the environment and rural heritage