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27.09.2010 Studies
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Assessing the Impacts of Rural Development Policies

Rural Development Impacts (2010)

A consortium of 10 research institutes has taken an in-depth look at the second pillar of the CAP, examining the rural development programs in all member states and conducting 20 case studies (download a summary here). In addition to calling for more effective use of policy evaluation and bottom-up processes (LEADER), they take issue with the excessive concentration of rural development on agriculture and insufficient integration with other regional policies.

Quotes regarding the excessive concentration on agriculture

The emerging “new rural paradigm” comprises shifts in the objectives, targets, tools and actors involved in the EU’s rural development policy. It is based on the notion of the multifunctionality of rural areas, where various sectors beyond agriculture are acknowledged to play a key role with regard to rural areas’ competitiveness, and where investments across sectors are considered to be a more appropriate tool than farm subsidies alone. This shift can also be viewed as a change from an exogenous model of Rural Development, emphasising policy interventions “from outside”, to a more endogenous approach based on the notion of Rural Development as a process involving multiple levels, dimensions and actors, that is also self-driven.

This study has shown that the strongest single institutional influence upon RDP design across the EU-27 as a whole, is still that of agricultural ministries. Nevertheless, it is also clear that these institutions are becoming, in many cases, more open to influence and expertise from areas other than agriculture including the environment and the broader rural economy and society … Less favourably though, the current policy design process allows also for a rather fictitious integration of various concerns to the RDPs, while using the “rural development” label to legitimize the CAP as a whole.

Expenditure patterns suggest that the targeting of expenditure, both between MS, and between regions is mostly driven by historic patterns, rather than an assessment of patterns of »need« or potential. »Legacy objectives« from previous periods of policy evolution, such as those for some of the Axis 1 measures, in particular, are still very powerful, and continue to drive patterns of planned expenditure in many programmes.

There are a wide range of mechanisms that can seek to overcome this difficulty, from (on the one hand) national strategic plans which seek to integrate both kinds of policy, to (at the other extreme) careful separation with rural development as a “niche policy” closely aligned with agriculture. The study has found that those mechanisms that promote greater integration offer most potential for enhanced policy performance (case studies in Italy, Germany), while those in which Pillar 2 RDPs are seen as separate and highly agricultural/land-based can face problems of perverse outcomes which work against RD goals, and/or have insufficient impact as a result of only a partial grasp of the relevant barriers to development (case studies in England, Czech republic, Romania).

Agriculture may be important but it cannot alone deliver RD, even in the least developed regions.

Ensure that non-farm rural dwellers can be eligible for resource conservation measures

Quotes regarding the insufficient integration with other regional policies

… in many cases, and coordination between the separate policy spheres is reduced to a formal task … For some countries and regions (especially those with large/whole-territory convergence status), the situation has worsened since 2006 due to the separation of EAFRD programmes from those for ERDF and ESF.

The effective coordination and integration of RDPs with other similar programmes at national or regional levels is weak, due to a lack of consistency of timing, vision and process at the upper policy levels (e.g. Slovenia – “lack of coordination at the upper level of decision-making”). There is a potential overlap in scope between measures of different programmes (e.g. measures preventing rural unemployment are implemented both through ESF and Leader) which, due to the strict rules on demarcation between funding sources, often leads to the exclusion of beneficiaries and topics from the programme agenda at a local level, in ways which can create large gaps between needs and funding availability (i.e. in some cases potential projects ‘fall between’ the eligibility criteria of all funding sources).

There needs to be greater appreciation within evaluations of the interaction of RDPs with other funding, particularly at the European level. Omitting the fact that the RD programme is often used by Member States as part of a portfolio of rural and regional development programmes, can make the interpretation of evaluation results somewhat meaningless.

The RuDI study concludes that rural development should nevertheless remain an element of the CAP. Their argument is "that Rural Development policy has a unique value-added element compared to other policy fields (e.g. Regional Development, Social Cohesion), namely: the presence of a physical dimension (environment, landscape, biodiversity) and its explicit requirement for the integration of this physical domain with the economic and social dimensions. The integration of these three dimensions is inherent in, and crucial for, rural development. As a result, there is an inseparable link between quality of rural life, the competiveness of rural areas, and environmental quality."

I wonder, though, why a space-based, sustainable, integrated, bottom-up approach should be run best by agricultural authorities with an agricultural policy label on it. If the approach of rural development is really valuable and different from the approach taken by other regional policies, rural development should still be merged with the other regional policies and its beneficial characteristics be expanded. Indeed, there should be potential for mutual learning. The reformers of regional policy community speak very much the same language as those who want to improve rural development (see e.g. the Barca report). It’s time to think big about the restructuring of competences – and to rename the CAP.