The essential rules governing rural development policy for the period 2007 to 2013, as well as the policy measures available to Member States and regions, are set out in Council Regulation (EC) No. 1698/2005.
Under this Regulation, rural development policy for 2007 to 2013 is focused on three themes (known as "thematic axes"). These are:
- improving the competitiveness of the agricultural and forestry sector;
- improving the environment and the countryside;
- improving the quality of life in rural areas and encouraging diversification of the rural economy.
To help ensure a balanced approach to policy, Member States and regions are obliged to spread their rural development funding between all three of these thematic axes.
A further requirement is that some of the funding must support projects based on experience with the Leader Community Initiatives. The "Leader approach" to rural development involves highly individual projects designed and executed by local partnerships to address specific local problems.
As before 2007, every Member State (or region, in cases where powers are delegated to regional level) must set out a rural development programme, which specifies what funding will be spent on which measures in the period 2007 to 2013.
A new feature for 2007 to 2013 is a greater emphasis on coherent strategy for rural development across the EU as a whole. This is being achieved through the use of National Strategy Plans which must be based on EU Strategic Guidelines.
This approach should help to:
- identify the areas where the use of EU support for rural development adds the most value at EU level;
- make the link with the main EU priorities (for example, those set out under the Lisbon and Göteborg agendas);
- ensure consistency with other EU policies, in particular those for economic cohesion and the environment;
- assist the implementation of the new market-oriented CAP and the necessary restructuring it will entail in the old and new Member States.