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Rural development

Predominantly rural areas make up half of Europe and represent around 20 % of the population. However, most of the rural areas are also among the least favoured regions in the EU, with a GDP per head significantly below the European average.

In order to help rural regions grow and raise employment and living standards, the European Union’s rural development policy has set three overarching objectives: improving the competitiveness of agriculture, achieving sustainable management of natural resources and climate action, and a balanced territorial development of rural areas. EU cohesion policy shares these objectives. The European regional development fund (ERDF) and the European social fund (ESF) therefore work to complement the European agricultural fund for rural development (EAFRD).

The following are the main areas in which the ERDF is active:

  • Creation of jobs outside the agriculture industry (new businesses, development of tourism related activities etc.);
  • Development of access and connections between cities and rural areas, especially in the context of the information society;
  • Support for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the agriculture industry (support for innovation and the development of new products), the agro-alimentary industry and the forestry industry;
  • Risk control in the agriculture and forestry industries;
  • Development of basic infrastructure in villages, particularly in new member states.
  • Urban-Rural linkages 

No segregation between cities/countryside within the cohesion policy

The structural funds operate simultaneously in rural and urban areas, so it is therefore difficult to determine exactly what proportion of the expenditure goes to rural development. Nevertheless, here is a table showing the distribution of funds available for the Cohesion Policy 2007-2013, according to the type of area.


  • "Urban-Rural linkages fostering sustainable development in Europe" - Seminar - Brussels 23 January 2009

Useful links:


Indicative distribution of structural funds by type of area (in millions of Euros) in 2007-2013:

Areas ERDF ESF Total Structural funds
Rural areas 47,127 6,545 53,672
Sparsely or very sparsely populated areas 7,860 3 7,863
Highlands 6,037 344 6,381
Islands 3,916 281 4,197
Outermost regions 1,031 1,188 5,399
Territorial co-operation areas (between several regions/countries) 9,441 162 9,604
Urban areas 99,261 9,706 108,967
Not applicable 90,509 57,844 148,353
Total 268,361 76,073 76,073
% strictly rural areas 17.6% 17.6% 15.6 %
% rural areas (widest possible definition) 22.7% 22.7% 19.7 %