Project details

The socio-economic impact of rural development policies: Realities and potential – IMPACT

Background: In most regions of the EU, the contribution made by the agricultural sector to the regional economy as a whole is declining. In the long run, this may well have a dramatic effect on the maintenance of landscapes and the natural values embedded in them, the social fabric of the countryside, regional employment levels and quite possibly on society at large. Within this context, the notion of rural development (RD) is emerging as an interesting alternative. Through RD, the countryside could be revitalised although the extent to which this is possible is subject to debate. It is also unclear what conditions and policies are necessary to realise this effectively. The competitiveness, viability and efficiency of rural enterprises, seen as carriers of RD processes, are not yet clearly understood. The lack of knowledge concerning both the possible socio-economic results of RD and its mechanisms might very well become a considerable problem. The appeal and legitimacy of RD are dependent on convincing responses to this knowledge gap. More specifically, this applies to the balance of effects associated with further liberalisation in the WTO context and the entrance of new members to the EU on the one hand, and the countervailing effects of RD on the other. Insight into the interrelations between specific RD policy measures and their socio-economic impact is also needed to provide European, national and regional politicians with the tools to select and to justify the most appropriate programmes and policy measures.

Objectives: The research project aimed to elaborate empirically grounded responses to these questions. The potential socio-economic impact of RD was assessed and the policies most adequate to produce and sustain such an impact were analysed. The research related has been carried out in 6 European countries.

Description: Case studies of the most successful experiences of RD and its impact in terms of employment, income, investment and innovativeness formed the starting point of the research.

Subsequently, possibilities for generalising these experiences over wider areas were studied, using a range of economic and sociological techniques. A comparative approach that takes the highly diversified interaction between policies and practice into consideration is basic. Among other things, the outcome includes the empirically grounded and quantified assessment of the potential impact of RD and a specification of the policies most capable of securing such an impact. 31 case studies have been carried out, each describing a particular rural development practice in Europe. Special attention was given to the socio-economic impact of these practices. This impact was analysed at two levels: at the farm enterprise level, as well as at the level of the regional rural economy. The analyses show that there are large differences in impact. These range from +200% (as compared to income and employment levels in the 'without' situation) to a mere 10%. A comprehensive analysis shows interesting links with the associated policy mechanisms and instruments.

Project no.: 



Research | Agricultural policy |


European Commission, Directorate-General for Research


1999 - 2002

Contact person/s at IfLS: 

Jörg Schramek