New article provides fresh insight into the issue of rural shrinking in Europe

Many rural regions across Europe are threatened by declining population; an increasingly common phenomenon now referred to as ‘rural shrinkage’. Building on the concept of ‘shrinking’, a new article ‘European shrinking rural areas: Key messages for a refreshed long-term vision’ has been published. 

The paper highlights the distribution of shrinking rural areas across Europe and explores the evolution of EU interventions to alleviate the effects of shrinking. Also, it enhances the general understanding of the social, economic, environmental, and territorial drivers of shrinkage, and the adaptation and mitigation policies as potential solutions to the problem. 

How can coordination and effectiveness of rural shrinkage policy interventions be improved? Read some of the key messages below. The article builds on key findings from the ESPON ESCAPE project where Nordregio has been a project partner. 

“Locally-tailored and targeted policies are required to help rural areas to overcome the challenges posed by shrinkage. These policies must reflect broader societal objectives than just economic growth, such as social inclusion, spatial justice, citizen wellbeing, and foster support for the implementation of a Just Green Transition. This can help improve the quality of living for citizens living in isolated and peripheral European rural regions”, says Nordregio Senior Researcher Dr. John Moodie.  

Key messages for a refreshed long-term vision for rural areas: 

  • A very substantial share of rural regions will be depopulated, others are projected to move into negative territory during the next couple of decades. 
  • It is impossible to exaggerate the need to strengthen the ties between evidence and policy approaches,  avoiding “one size fits all” interventions, expressing sensitivity towards regional and local environments and pathways, and at the same time building upon signs that the future is likely to present new opportunities. 
  • The authors reiterate calls which have been heard through several decades, regarding the need for systemic, integrated and coherent approaches, at all levels, and for greater continuity when tackling inherently long-term demographic issues. 
  • In the realm of governance, empowerment and capacity building, the authors point to the widely held  impression that shrinking presents challenges in terms of capacity for territorial adjustment and development,  and  the maintenance  of  sufficient  influence in institutional terms. 

According to the authors, a better understanding of the problem and process of shrinking may lead to more effective interventions within the context of a refreshed long-term vision for Rural Europe. 

This article is closely related to SHERPA project, which contributes to the Long-Term Vision for Rural Areas. The project’s Position Paper presents the key issues identified by 20 regional and national SHERPA Multi-Actor Platforms (MAPs), and by the EU-level MAP. The work helps identify desired rural visions for 2040, alongside enabling factors, opportunities to seize and challenges to overcome.