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Integrating Rural Diversity in post-2027 EU Policies

RSA Blog
RSA Blog Europe

One, None or Thousand Ruralities in Europe?

In Europe, rural areas account for 83% of the EU surface and 30.6% of its population (2018). These areas are very different across Europe, spanning islands, mountains, remote areas, shrinking regions and so on. From a theoretic viewpoint, the rural diversity’s notion lays in the recognition that both static factors (e.g., geography) and dynamic factors (e.g. demography, economy) play a key role in characterizing rural uniqueness. Yet, historically rural diversity has mostly been defined based on population size and density (Eurostat), while little and only sporadic attention has been given to mapping rural diversity in relation to a wider range of variables.


To address this gap, new scholarly research just began looking into the notions of multi-spatiality and rural (multi)functionalities to provide a more nuanced characterization of rural diversity and territorial interactions. At the European level, this search for deepening rural characterization was given a strong impulse under the EU’s Long-Term Vision for Rural Areas, particularly with the launch of the EU Rural Observatory (2022), the Functional Rural Areas’s conceptualization and funding of research projects on this topic (i.e. GRANULAR, RUSTIK).


Mapping of rural typologies in Europe

A crucial step to improve our understanding of rural diversity is to examine how rural areas have been so far delimited across Europe. In 2023, a new  “Scoping Report on European Rural Typologies” was published within the framework of the  GRANULAR project. This report provides a comprehensive state-of-the-art of existing territorial typologies at European level and in 27 European countries.

Key findings are:

  • Analysed typologies mainly aim at providing a richer understanding of territorial differences, with an emphasis on rural diversity. Typologies are mainly intended to provide evidence for policy and planning, and/or to support territorial analysis.
  • Two main types of typologies exist: 1) those delimitating rural areas, as homogenous spatial units based on specific parameters; 2) those characterizing rural areas, based on stock and flows.
  • Most typologies are based on a combined approach where rural areas are classified according to multiple dimensions, such as accessibility, economic criteria, employment (e.g. French rural typologies).
  • In a few countries, typologies rely on a single dimension of rurality (e.g. new urban-rural classification of Albania, Settlement classification of Estonia, Norwegian Centrality index).
  • Data granularity used to define rural typologies differ widely across countries, going from more fine-grained typologies (e.g., Finnish urban-rural classification) to less nuanced ones.


Limitations, criticalities and the way forward in post-2027 EU policies

Existing national and EU-wide typologies do not yet grasp fully rural diversity, which is a big hindering factor towards more place-based and tailored rural policies. A reconsideration of rural diversity’s notion and territorial typologies based on spatial diversity, rural functionalities and a multi-criteria methodology, is of utmost importance to enhance rural wellbeing and development, as recalled by the EU Council’s recommendations 15252/23 and the EU High-Level Rural Policy Forum. In this respect, the 7th Cohesion Report made some advances towards a better understanding of functional areas, though this was not translated into legislative proposals for the 2021-2027 period. The recognition of demographics in the EU’s Cohesion Policy has traditionally been resisted due to the distributive effects versus the status quo of allocation criteria, as evidenced during the last period’s resistances to define a new typology of areas facing demographical decline in ERDF.

Yet, following the thread of the 8th Cohesion Report, it is likely that the 9th Cohesion Report will set out some broad policy options towards a more granular and multi-functional classification of territories going beyond the existing Eurostat TERCET Classification.


This blog post shows some of the most recent research which could contribute to an EU approach for characterizing rural diversity through a multi-criteria methodology.  A more granular and comprehensive territorial typology at European level is key to offering a harmonized understanding of rural areas at EU level and support place-based policy making. Such revision could be the antechamber for a successful progress towards the ambitious goals set by the EU’s Long-Term Vision for Rural Areas, as well as policy objectives laid down by the EU Cohesion Policy and Common Agricultural Policy.

While recognizing such potentialities for the post-2027 EU policies, it is important to acknowledge a few crucial points. Typologies are a simplification of reality, and no typology can fully grasp territorial complexity. This is why, when developing a typology, it is crucial to thoroughly consider the intended goal, as well as data availability, accessibility and reliability. If more fine-grained grid-level typology might provide a more nuanced understanding of rural diversity, it shouldn’t be forgotten that less data might exist for an upscaling at the EU level. Additionally, simple and easily understood typologies should be preferred for ensuring comparability and reliability at a wider level and across sectors.


Acknowledgements: We thank you Bock Bettina, Berchoux Tristan, Oostindie, Henk, Pazos-Vidal, Serafin, Stjernberg Mats, for reviewing this blog post and contributing with their research to the outputs presented in the text.

Disclaimer: This article was produced in the framework of the GRANULAR project, which has received funding of the European Union’s Horizon Europe Research and Innovation Proramme (GA No. 101061068) and UKRI (GA No. 10039965 and No. 0041831). Views and opinions expressed are, however, those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Research Executive Agency (REA). Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.



Maria Carla Lostrangio is Rural and Territorial Development Expert for the EU Association for Innovation in Local Development (AEIDL). AEIDL is a Brussels-based association that learns from and fosters community-led innovation to revitalise local communities across Europe.


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