Opportunities for development and innovation in rural areas: European experiences

12 December, 2019


Concurrently with the 25th UNFCC Conference of the Parties (COP25) in Madrid, on 12 December 2019 together with the Spanish Ministry of Transport, Mobility and Urban Agenda ("Ministerio de Transportes, Movilidad y Agenda Urbana"; previously known as Ministry of Public Works or "Ministerio de Fomento"), the EUKN organised a Policy Lab on the opportunities for development and innovation of rural areas in Europe. The event was an opportunity to explore the drivers of and possible solutions to the accellerating phenomenon of depopulation which has been affecting differentially small towns and cities all around rural Europe.

The Policy Lab brought together experts and experiences from Spain as well as Slovenia and the Netherlands, generating learnings around the factors of success and failure for governance to address the de-ruralisation of small towns.  Known in the Spanish territory as "España Vacia" or "Empty Spain", the phenomenon of rural depopulation or "de-ruralisation", in fact, represents a policy puzzle to the whole European continent. As remarked by the General Director for Architecture, Housing and Land of the Ministry, Javier Martín Ramiro, in his opening speech, this is a critical moment for Europe to address de-ruralisation holistically, urging for a more integrated and systemic approach to the spatial development of our territory: it is unthinkable to design any solutions if the rural-urban continuum is not taken into account.

Through experts' presentations, a key tension was highlighted around the scope for fighting vis-à-vis adapting through regulation to inevitable trends of demographic and environmental change. A more structured discussion then followed in five thematic working groups delving into the important linkages between de-ruralisation and climate change, the economic and productive sectors, tourism and heritage, as well as policy framework of reference such as the Urban Agenda for the EU. Moderators made use of EUKN's brainstorming tool par excellence: the "speedboat method", now become the "sailboat method". The thematic discussion helped understand different dimensions of rural depopulation in the face of demographic change and the climate emergency, envisioning possibilities to leverage innovation and systemic change, starting from the unusual suspects: small towns and cities in rural Europe.  

The follow-up Knowledge Dossier of the event is now available on this page (in EN and ES). 

More information (in Spanish) on the Policy Lab are also available on the website of the Ministry.