Written by Marie-Laure Augère-Granier
The rural development concept has evolved significantly over recent decades to become a fully-fledged policy at European Union level. It has adapted to an enlarged Europe which, from 2004, welcomed 13 new countries, adding much diversity to an already strongly contrasted rural Europe. Adaptation was also needed to cope with important socio-economic and demographic changes affecting rural areas, and to face new challenges such as climate change, the production of energy from renewable sources, and the need for more competitive and sustainable agriculture.
The new rural development policy for 2014-20, designed to improve quality of life in rural communities, seeks to address these issues and to harness the full potential of rural areas. It forms an integral part of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), reformed in 2013, and relies on an EU budget of more than €99.3 billion. The policy is fully aligned with the Europe 2020 strategy objectives for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. A particular feature of the policy is that national, regional and local authorities are responsible for designing and implementing their seven-year rural development programmes, based on EU priorities and a ‘menu’ of measures proposed in the European agricultural fund for rural development, which provides EU co financing. The increased flexibility of the new policy means that it offers support more closely tailored to the particular needs of each region or country. The European Parliament, as co-legislator for the reformed CAP, plays an active role in shaping rural development policy and pushed for measures for farmers and rural stakeholders more favourable than those originally tabled by the European Commission.