3 mins

Rural areas should ride the wave of COVID-19 recovery

Andrew Copus

Rural depopulation has been a legitimate focus of EU policy since the early days of the Union. However, in recent years it has become a very visible phenomenon, fuelling popular discontent.

Responses to COVID-19 will accelerate change and stimulate further debate. Repopulation of depleted rural areas, or at least better adjustment to the demographic status quo, are probably more feasible now than they have been for many decades. The first, very simple, step will be to acknowledge the increasing divergence between "accumulating" and "depleting" rural areas, and the need for appropriate policy responses.

"Almost 60% of predominant ly rural or intermediate NUTS 3 regions meet the criteria for rural shrinking"

Depopulation is, in itself, an issue which deserves a specific policy response. However, the various place-specific issues and processes which lie behind demographic trends, reflect the overall condition and "performance" of rural areas.

Analysis of available regional data reveals that rural shrinking is widely distributed across the EU. Almost 60% of predominantly rural or intermediate NUTS 3 regions meet the criteria. These regions cover almost 40% of the area of the EU and contain almost one third of its population.

However, the chronology of the shrinking process, and the relative importance of the two demographic components (natural change and migration) vary considerably between different parts of Europe. In terms of intensity, there is a very clear centre-periphery contrast.

The most conspicuous concentration of shrinking rural regions is along the Eastern edge of the EU, stretching from Finland, through the Baltic States, and across the former socialist Member States and into Greece.

The "belt" of rural shrinking continues along the Mediterranean through Italy, Sardinia, to Spain and Portugal. In these areas "active" shrinking, due to out migration is dominant. Residual shrinking areas (where age structure legacy effects are more in evidence) are found in the Atlantic fringe (Ireland and Scotland).

NUTS 3 is often an insufficiently granular framework to fully capture the phenomenon of rural shrinking, which is often "masked" by the presence of expanding cities and towns, which dominate the regional indicators.

In-depth case studies of shrinking rural areas in Croatia, Bulgaria, Poland, Germany, Hungary, Spain, Greece and Finland have provided fresh perspectives on contemporary shrinking processes.

Depopulation trends are commonly driven by economic restructuring, locational disadvantages, peripherization, or events and transitions. However, these four drivers are variously combined, so that each area experiences a more-or-less unique pathway. An understanding of such pathways should be the starting point for rational and tailored policy responses.

Case study findings very much underline the timeliness of a renewed vision for rural Europe which recognises the contrasting needs of depleting and accumulating rural areas, acknowledging specificities, blending mitigation with adaptation, building upon existing strengths, and responding early to new opportunities.

"it is vital that the long-t erm vision for rural areas 'rides the wave' of the spatial reorganisat ion of economic activity"

A broadening of goals, beyond economic growth, to address (territorial) inclusion, spatial justice, well-being, and a Just Transition to a decarbonised economy, present opportunities for many shrinking rural regions. However, many rural communities would benefit from strengthened and more coherent capacity to respond.

Demographic indicators, together with a place-sensitive appreciation of the processes behind them, can add value to conventional economic measurements.In terms of implementation, the formal recognition of differentiation between depleting and accumulating rural areas, so that the former may more consistently be the subject of the most appropriate interventions should be considered.

At the same time, it is vital that the long-term vision for rural areas 'rides the wave' in terms of opportunities for spatial reorganisation of economic activity in the post-COVID-19 world.

The vision should provide a platform for both strategic mitigation, and adaption, with an emphasis upon well-being, and due recognition of emerging opportunities for economic activities in a rural setting.

This article appears in A regional geography of COVID-19

Go to Page View
This article appears in...
A regional geography of COVID-19
Go to Page View
As Europe experiences the second wave of the
David Sassoli President of the European Parliament
"COVID-19 has revealed many realities: it has revealed
Markus Kerber State Secretary at the Federal Ministry of the Interior, Building and Community of Germany
In his message to TerritoriALL., Markus Kerber highlights
ESPON has a new director: Wiktor Szydarowski
Wiktor Szydarowski is since September 2020 the new
A new reading of the COVID-19 outbreak
 Geography of the covid-19 outbreak and first policy answers in European regions and cities
A regional geography of the first wave in Europe
Between February and July 2020, the uneven circulation
Regions and cities responding to the crisis
The very strong differentiation of trajectories that emerged
The Greater Region acts as a European Laboratory during the COVID-19 crisis
Roland Theis In the Greater Region, we are
Cross-border cooperation in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis
Pavel Branda The current unprecedented crisis has put
Challenges, policy responses and prospects for the EU regions
Bert Kuby Wolfgang Petzold The impact of the
The impact on European cities and metropolitan areas - Brussels-Capital
Alfredo Corbalan COVID-19, pandemics and urban areas When
Spatial features and contributions from EU projects in Lombardy
Luisa Pedrazzini ITALY – COVID-19 Contagion distribution by
Supporting Interreg in its coordinated response to the global crisis
Petra Masacova COVID-19 has radically changed the world
How can the urban environment become a health generator?
Emmanuel Moulin TThe COVID-19 pandemic has undeniably changed
Sharing solutions for COVID-19 recovery
Erwin Siweris Creating an environment and opportunities for
Just Transition Fund: A green blueprint for a resilient recovery in Europe
Manolis Kefalogiannis Europe is now considering how best
Structural change in EU coal phase-out regions
Vassilen Iotzov Recent debates on the just
Restructuring of the Czech coal mining regions
Milada Hronkova Milo Soukup Three regions in Czech Republic are
A just transition for Western Macedonia - an irreversible path to sustainable growth
Tasos Chatzellis The Western Macedonia Region (WMR) is
Structural change in Lausitz
Kathrin Schneider Effective climate action is a task
Territorial Agenda in practice: 6 Pilot actions
Kai Bohme In Europe, increasing inequalities between people
‘A future for lagging regions’
Daniel Meltzian The Territorial Agenda 2030 (TA2030) is
Region-focused Territorial Impact Assessment
I Patrycja Artymowska The partners in the pilot
Climate change adaptation and resilience through landscape transition
Ana Seixas The Territorial Agenda 2030 (TA2030) pilot
Coming soon: The Atlas for the Territorial Agenda 2030
Volker Schmidt-Seiwert The Territorial Agenda 2030 (TA2030) sets
Maritime spatial planning and land-sea interactions
Michaela Gensheimer Population density per NUTS2 within catchment
Land Sea Interactions: an integral part of the maritime and coast al planning
Joanna Constantinidou Understanding and addressing the interaction between
Sustainable management of coast al and marine zones
Michelle Borg The evolution of coastal and marine
No shipping without land, no beach fun without the sea
Holger Janßen With regard to my self-image as
Preparing the Romanian territorial country fiche
- Radu Necsuliu Amalia Vîrdol When the first territorial
Possible and desired territorial futures for the Baltic Sea Region
Liene Gaujeniete How do we plan for a
Taking transnational cooperation forward in central Europe
Anna Sirrocco The ESPON CE-FLOWS targeted analysis is
Natural risk management in the Po Basin, Italy
Adriana May Why is research on the economic
Spatial planning and climate change
Ludwig Scharmann People still remember the state of emergency
Ageing matters to all of us
Julia Wadoux Europe is ageing - there
Demolishing Picasso?
Christin Krohn Zintis Hermansons Cultural heritage can
Rural areas should ride the wave of COVID-19 recovery
Andrew Copus Rural depopulation has been a legitimate
Supporting cities and regions in measuring and monitoring digital transformation
Martin Gauk Digital transformation and the scaling up
Urban and economic transformation of metropolitan areas
Rudolfs Cimdins Metropolitan areas across Europe face visible
Adopting regional policies to support the Fourth Industrial Revolution
Roberta Capello, Camilla Lenzi, Reda Nausedaite A review
Results of the public consultation on the strategic orientation of the next ESPON programme
A contribution from the ESPON Managing Authority
Activities implemented through Thematic Action plans
Fictive example for a TAP
Upcoming ESPON events Transnational Outreach
Due to the COVID-19 restrict ions, all event swill take place online
Outlook of the Portuguese presidency
Ana Seixas As we face great social
Looking for back issues?
Browse the Archive >

Previous Article Next Article
A regional geography of COVID-19
Page 74