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Strengthening Governance in Europe’s Rural Areas

BLOG – 14/07/2023
by Roxana Vilcu from Ecorys

The future development and growth of Europe’s rural areas depends on establishing stronger multi-level collaborative governance structures. Such structures facilitate the identification of common challenges and sharing knowledge, ideas, and good practices among institutions, stakeholders, and citizens. This blog post explores the concept of governance in rural areas of the European Union (EU). It highlights the need for enhanced multi-level governance processes to address rural challenges effectively.

As defined by international agencies such as United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the World Bank, and the OECD, governance encompasses the exercise of authority or power in managing a country’s economic, political, and administrative affairs. In the context of SHERPA, governance refers to the structures and processes designed to ensure accountability, transparency, responsiveness, stability, equity, inclusiveness, empowerment, and broad-based participation. It involves creating a culture and institutional environment that fosters transparent, participatory, inclusive, and responsive interactions among citizens, stakeholders, and public bodies.

Empowering rural areas via multi-level governance (MLG) policy-making processes is vital for enhancing synergies between EU, national, and regional policies, ensuring they are informed by local rural knowledge and expertise.

Multi-level governance has gained prominence in recent years, highlighting the complex relationships between actors from different backgrounds and territorial levels. It emphasises the mechanisms and methods through which decisions are made. MLG involves coordinated action between the EU, Member States, and local and regional authorities based on partnership and shared responsibility. Effective and coherent policies can be delivered by working together across different levels of government.

The EU has recognised the need to strengthen the position of regional and local level actors in MLG processes. Active subsidiarity and place-based policy-making approaches have been advocated as prerequisites for overcoming geographies of discontent in rural areas. The EU has facilitated the development of rural networks and increased stakeholder engagement in policy formulation through programmes such as LEADER and Community-led local development (CLLD). However, challenges still need to be addressed, including the dominance of EU and national-level actors and limited resources within public authorities.

Over the past year, the 40 SHERPA Multi-Actor Platforms (MAPs)s have addressed the topic at their regional and national level to enhance governance in EU rural areas further, proposing several recommendations that can be captured in four intrinsically interlinked areas.

Structures and frameworks:

  • Encourage bottom-up, voluntarily organised, and flexible inter-municipal associations to plan and implement joint actions, and to promote collaboration among rural areas.
  • Establish structures (e.g. Economic and Social Councils) that link the local level to the national level or EU level, to improve communication and understanding of needs and opportunities among the multiple levels.
  • Involve a multitude of stakeholders (e.g., including organisations, academia, farmers, producers, etc.) by effectively developing networks or multi-actor platforms to address specific aspects of rural areas.

LEADER/Bottom-up approach:

  • Strengthen the local-driven policy by providing more independence and freedom to Local Action Groups (LAGs) in proposing and setting up local development strategies.
  • Support lifelong learning strategies and consulting services that address complex rural issues while addressing ownership and user relations on agricultural land.
  • Promote long-term forms of cooperation, such as coordinating support with structural funds and business promotion funds and integrating the LEADER approach and the work of LAGs.

Stakeholder engagement and communication:

  • Strengthen trust between citizens and government officials through policies that enable citizen participation in decision-making, such as public consultations and advisory groups.
  • Improve participatory mechanisms for information dissemination and ensure the inclusion of citizens in the whole design process of public policies.
  • Provide support for local leaders and influencers in order to enhance social activity and knowledge exchange among stakeholders.

Funding support:

  • Prioritise funding and targeted support for areas most in need to ensure fair and effective distribution of resources.
  • Make funding more available and flexible and streamline administrative procedures for accessing funding and other services in rural areas.
  • Provide long-term funding for continuity in local development work and support initiatives focused on attractiveness, well-being, and sustainable rural development.

These are only a small selection of the multitude of recommendations made by the SHERPA MAPs to strengthen governance in rural areas while promoting inclusive decision-making processes, stakeholder engagement, and sustainable rural development. Enhancing collaboration among different levels of governance and empowering regional and local actors will contribute to the resilience and prosperity of Europe’s rural areas. With a focus on transparency, participation, and responsiveness, the EU can pave the way for a more vibrant and sustainable rural future.

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