Bundesanstalt für Bergbauernfragen, Thomas Dax
The two most important factors underlying Agenda 2000 which sets the frame for EU policies on agriculture and economic and social cohesion up to 2006, are Eastern enlargement and the Millenium Round of trade talks. Both will lead to a diminution of the importance of sectoral agricultural and forestry policies and an increase in the importance of rural development policies.
Experience from comparative work on rural development issues across Europe has shown that the history and nature of rural development policies and actions differs greatly between European countries (and regions). The diversity of development paths has to be addressed through comparative research work. In this respect, starting from interesting exchange activities of rural researchers(which have evolved over recent years, like REAPER, LEADER Observatory, COST activity "Rural Innovation" and specific thematic conferences) might serve as basis to fill into the recently developed concept of the European Research Area. In particular, the REAPER network ("Social and Economic Research on Rural Development in Western Europe") in which Austria participated through the Bundesanstalt für Bergbauernfragen and ÖAR has served as an impressive exchange between researchers and practitioners. Such an activity contributes to the common understanding of the diversity of rural development problems and policy approaches.
Beyond the increasing research interest in the issue (from EU Commission, OECD,FAO; universities, local and regional actors and public debate) there is major concern for providing an institutional framework for scientific exchange at various national and international levels and organisations. Elaborating a Network of Excellence might be a challenge for the European scientific community. This would allow to address the issues of differentiated development of rural areas and the need for inter-disciplinary and trans-disciplinary methods. It seems particularly important to reach also local "bottom-up" activities, of which Austria has acquired significant experience. This link to practitioners will be essential to provide appropriate input for the next policy reforms.
The two most important factors underlying Agenda 2000 which sets the frame for EU policies on agriculture and economic and social cohesion up to 2006, are Eastern enlargement and the Millenium Round of trade talks. Both will lead to a diminution of the importance of sectoral agricultural and forestry policies and an increase in the importance of rural development policies (Blandford 2001).
Rural Policy has been addressed increasingly over the last decade and during the recent policy reform and became a topic of prime concern, especially for agrarian and regional policy. It has been referred to in the European Perspective on Spatial Development (ESDP) and even led to the phrasing of rural development as the “second pillar” of EU agrarian policy. While practise in the EU member states only gradually favours a shift to rural development measures, the issue is not limited to the discussion of EU countries but present in discourse on territorial development of all industrialised countries. For example, since the mid 90s OECD has focused on the unique characteristics of rural amenities as core potential for (economic) development.
Experience from comparative work on rural development issues across Europe, like the EU-network "Social and Economic Research on Rural Development in Western Europe" (REAPER) project and other respective EU research projects have shown that the history and nature of rural development policies and actions differs greatly between European countries (and regions).
The importance of comparative research and analysis for understanding the diverse, and differentiated development paths in rural Europe must be underlined, and is basic for the conceptualisation of research activities. In this respect, EU research and development support plays a crucial role, since very little national research funding is directed at comparative research. Moreover, comparative research is arguably more important in social science research than in research in the natural sciences, and is a vital element of "European value-added".
A number of quite interesting exchange activities of rural researchers have taken place over recent years, including the following:
The concept of the European Research Area calls for a European view and organisation of research problems. In particular, comparative research work addressing the diversity of rural regions across Europe is based on scientific exchange. It is essential to look into the reasons and nature of these differences and to explore the scope for the basic concepts of “rural areas” and different notions of “development” to be found between European countries, and evolving over time.
It has been analysed that research agendas and structures for the support of research have been heavily dominated by agricultural research, with much less attention being paid to the other economic and social dimensions of rural change and development. The marginal position of social science research in this area under the EU Framework Programmes is revealed by the low share in total funds allocated to rural development research (Framework 4: about 4%, Framework 5: about 8%, according to data by Bryden 2001).
However, a common level of understanding of theoretical and policy issues has evolved among the group of European research institutes active in the field. These persons are partially linked to overseas researchers, too. In particular, the following research and networking activities can be seen as a starting point for elaborating a Network of Excellence, as suggested by the concept of European Research Area as core instrument:
At international and national levels there have been specific programmes and initiatives to enhance comparative studies of rural areas and exchange research views towards rural development. These may well go beyond mainstream EU and national research programmes and include innovative actions and co-operative activities by local action groups as well as study programmes by international organisations, like OECD, FAO, University activities or establishing scientific networks under the European Science Foundation (ESF). National working groups, like the Austrian working group on rural development research (organised by Bundesanstalt für Bergbauernfragen) intend to deepen discussion on various issues and research trends.