Diversity of rural areas: A new typology for rural development policy

Shifts in the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) acknowledge the value of diversity of rural areas. The RUFUS project has created a new classification system to map the diverse combinations of economic, social, and ecological conditions of European rural regions. This could help target rural development policy and provide insight into the need for CAP’s interaction with other policy areas.

The aims of CAP are no longer focused solely on agriculture but encompass wider rural development. This involves contact with other policy areas such as spatial planning, environment and energy. The RUFUS (Rural Future Networks) project aims to provide policy makers with an insight into how to combine policy regimes to ensure a multi-dimensional development targeted at the strengths and weaknesses of the regions.

The project uses numerical methods to classify and map regions in nine EU countries (the UK, Germany, France, Portugal, the Netherlands, Italy, Sweden, Poland, Hungary) using the concept of multi-functionality, which is the ability for an area to provide more than one good or service, for example intensive agriculture, off-farm employment (the possibility for employment outside the agricultural sector) rural tourism and nature conservation.

The typology is based on current and potential indicators, examples of which are: Gross Value Added from Manufacturing, inclusion in a Natura 2000 site1, number of employees in agriculture, and number of hotels and campsites in a region. Using existing databases like EUROSTAT2 (2005) and CORINE3 (2005), researchers collected values for the indicators, and five types of rural regions were identified and mapped (See figure 1).

Type 1 areas are the most socio-economically successful with low unemployment and high income. No sector dominates in its contribution to the economy and there are a low number of Natura 2000 sites. Agricultural employment plays a major role.

Type 2 regions have a medium level of economic success in which agriculture and the service sector play a major role. They have a low level of immigration and their share of Natura 2000 sites and tourism is high.

Type 3 areas tend to be economically lagging behind with high unemployment and low income. There is a high level of migration out of the regions and a decline in population. The regions contain a high percentage of Natura 2000 areas, although tourism is low.

Type 4 regions are relatively few in number. Similar to Type 3 they are economically lagging behind with a high level of unemployment and a low income. However there is no out migration and a small level of immigration. These regions are orientated towards manufacturing with little potential for nature and tourism.

Type 5 regions have the highest income but higher unemployment than Type 1. They are dominated by the manufacturing sector. Tourism is moderately important although it is not reliant on nature potential as there is a marginal number of Natura 2000.

Figure 1 – Typology of rural regions, Scholz and Herrmann 20104

The classification identified rural areas with common characteristics, development potential and needs. It indicated places where there was an accumulation of the same type of region as well as countries with a variety of region types. For example Poland consists of mainly Type 4 regions in the inner part surrounded by Type 3 regions, whereas Germany has all types of regions.

It also indicated potential for development and where this might need policy integration, such as Type 3 areas which could use their Natura 2000 sites to cultivate the potential for tourism. By comparing the advantages of regions this typology could help the targeting of EU funding and, at a Member State level, it could feed into the co-ordination of strategies in regions of the same type. The five-type classification is best suited to national and European policy makers, however RUFUS has identified three sub-categories for each type which could be more useful to local policy makers.

The project considered 12 case studies from six of the EU countries (not Italy, Poland or Hungary). These included an analysis of documents and regulations relevant to rural development alongside interviews and focus groups with local policy makers and stakeholders (e.g. NGOs and farmer associations). These verified the accuracy of the classification of the 12 areas by the new typology. They also provided some preliminary general recommendations for EU policy:

  • The variety of potential in EU regions needs more consideration in EU policy.
  • Greater consistency is needed between policy sectors involved in rural development. For example, there is a conflict between spatial planning based on self-containment of villages and the economic strategy for connecting urban and rural areas.
  • Regulations should be more flexible. When EU, national and regional regulations add up it can be too restrictive, especially in the Rural Development Programmes.
  • Rules for application to the Structural Funds (European Social Fund and European Regional Development Fund) need simplifying and need to broaden their scope to encourage more innovative approaches.
  • Environmental goals need to be more influential in policy. This could be done through the identification of good environmental indicators.
  • There should be more building of EU competence and training in EU related matters within the regions.

The final step of the RUFUS project will be the development of a handbook covering all the 465 rural regions. This handbook will list the classification of a Region according to its type and subtype, and provide information on the development potential of the region, along with rough policy recommendations.


1 See: http://www.natura.org/

2 See: http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/portal/page/portal/eurostat/home/

3 See: http://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/COR0/page001.html

4 Scholz, J. and Herrmann, S. (2010). Rural regions in Europe: A new typology showing the diversity of European rural regions. Discussion paper. See:

RUFUS – Rural Future Networks (duration: 1/2/2008 – 30/4/2011) is a Collaborative Project funded under the 7th Framework Programme for Research of the European Union, Theme 8: Socio-economic-Sciences and Humanities, Activity 2 – Combining economic, social and environmental objectives in a European perspective.

See: http://www.rufus-eu.de/

Contact: Sylvia Herrmann, herrmann@umwelt.uni-hannover.de