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European Union strategic guidelines for rural development

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European Union strategic guidelines for rural development

With these strategic guidelines the Council identifies the European Union's priorities under the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD). In particular, it ensures the consistency of rural development with other European policies, in particular in the field of cohesion and environment, and accompany the implementation of the common agricultural policy (CAP) and the restructuring involved.


Council Decision 2006/144/EC of 20 February 2006 on Community strategic guidelines for rural development (programming period 2007 to 2013) [See amending act(s)].


Rural regions account for 92 % of the territory of the European Union (EU). These regions generate 45 % of the EU's value added and provide 53 % of employment. Although the situation varies widely, in general income per inhabitant in these regions is around a third less than the European average, activity rates for women are low, and the service sector is less developed.

Rural areas therefore face particular challenges as regards growth, jobs and sustainability in the coming years. The new programming period provides an opportunity to refocus support from the new rural development fund on these objectives. Facing these challenges will require sectoral and territorial assistance measures.

Rural development and the Union’s overall aims

The rural development policy focuses on three key areas: the agri-food economy, the environment and the rural population. The future strategies and programmes will be built around four axes as follows:

  • the "competitiveness for agriculture, food and forestry" axis, targeting human and physical capital;
  • the "land management and environment" axis, providing for measures to protect and enhance natural resources. farming and forestry systems, and the traditional landscapes of Europe's rural areas;
  • the "quality of life and diversification of the rural economy" axis, which helps to develop rural areas by promoting services for the public, micro-enterprises, rural tourism, and development of the cultural heritage;
  • the "Leader" axis, which introduces possibilities for innovative governance through local action strategies.

The EU’s priorities for the rural development programming period 2007 - 2013

The Council sets out the EU's strategic priorities, with indicative key actions for each one. The European priorities will be incorporated into the Member States' national strategy plans and rural development programmes.

Priority 1: Improving the competitiveness of the agricultural and forestry sectors

The objective is to make the European agrifood sector more dynamic. In particular, the EU plans to promote knowledge transfer, and innovation, and strengthen investment in physical and human capital. The following could be key actions in this area:

  • restructuring and modernising the agriculture sector;
  • improving integration in the agri-food chain;
  • facilitating innovation and access to research and development (R&D);
  • encouraging the take-up and diffusion of information and communications technologies (ICTs), in particular for small enterprises;
  • fostering dynamic entrepreneurship, taking advantage of the opportunities provided by the recent reforms, which have created a market-oriented environment for European farming;
  • creating new outlets for agricultural and forestry products, including the development of renewable energy materials, biofuels and processing capacity;
  • improving the environmental performance of farms and forestry.

Priority 2: Improving the environment and countryside

The resources allocated to priority 2 aim to protect the EU's natural resources and landscapes in rural areas, particularly in the fields of biodiversity, preserving high-nature value systems, water and climate change. In particular, the Union encourages:

  • promoting environmental services and animal-friendly farming practices;
  • preserving the farmed landscape and forests;
  • combating climate change, agriculture and forestry having a major role to play in the development of renewable energy and material sources for bio-energy installations;
  • organic farming as part of a holistic approach to sustainable agriculture;
  • environmental/economic initiatives such as the provision of environmental goods, particularly when linked to diversification into tourism, crafts, training or the non-food sector;
  • maintaining territorial balance to maintain a sustainable equilibrium between urban and rural areas in order to make a positive contribution to the spatial distribution of economic activity and territorial cohesion.

Priority 3: Improving the quality of life in rural areas and encouraging diversification of the rural economy

The EU plans to promote employment and improving the conditions for growth in rural areas. Key actions in this field could include:

  • raising economic activity and employment rates in the wider rural economy and creating a better territorial balance, both in economic and social terms (tourism, crafts and the provision of rural amenities);
  • encouraging the entry of women into the labour market by creating child-care infrastructure;
  • putting the heart back into villages by means of integrated initiatives combining diversification, business creation, investment in cultural heritage, infrastructure for local services and renovation;
  • developing micro-business and crafts, which can build on traditional skills or introduce new competencies, helping to promote entrepreneurship and develop the economic fabric;
  • training young people in skills needed for the diversification of the local economy;
  • encouraging the take-up and diffusion of ICT, the use of which will also enable economies of scale to be achieved, facilitating IT take-up by local farms and rural businesses and the adoption of e-business and e-commerce;
  • developing the provision and innovative use of renewable energy sources, which can contribute to creating new outlets for agricultural and forestry products, the provision of local services and the diversification of the rural economy;
  • encouraging the development of tourism;
  • upgrading local infrastructure (major telecommunications, transport, energy and water infrastructure), particularly in the new Member States.

Priority 4: Building local capacity for employment and diversification

The resources allocated to the Leader axis should contribute to improving governance and mobilising the endogenous development potential of rural areas. This involves a horizontal approach combining all three objectives - competitiveness, environment and quality of life/diversification. Key actions in this area could include:

  • building local partnership capacity, animation and promoting skills acquisition, which can help to mobilise local potential;
  • promoting private-public partnership;
  • promoting cooperation and innovation, encouraging entrepreneurship and promoting inclusiveness and the provision of local services;
  • improving local governance by developing links between agriculture, forestry and the local economy.

Priority 5: Ensuring consistency in programming

When drawing up their national plans, the Member States are required to ensure that synergies between the axes are maximised and potential contradictions avoided.

Furthermore, the EU offers a framework for improving the governance and implementation of policies, in particular by creating national and European networks. These networks promote, for example, the exchange of good practice and experience regarding developing and managing rural policies.

Priority 6: Complementarity between European instruments

To ensure synergy between structural, employment and rural development policies, the Member States should ensure complementarity and coherence between actions to be financed by the ERDF, the Cohesion Fund, the ESF and the EFF on a given territory and in a given field of activity.

The demarcation line and the coordination mechanisms between actions supported by the various Funds are defined in the national strategy plan.

Meeting new challenges

This Decision was amended in 2009 in order to integrate into the strategic guidelines the new challenges facing the Union:

  • combating climate change;
  • promoting renewable energies;
  • water management;
  • protecting biodiversity;
  • re-structuring the dairy industry.

These objectives have a cross-cutting dimension and can therefore be integrated into the priorities of the Member States’ national strategy plans. For example, the EU encourages the Member States to:

  • integrate these issues into the local strategies for developing rural areas;
  • support innovation in these areas;
  • adopt agri-environmental and forestry measures for strengthening biodiversity;
  • support local projects related to renewable energy;
  • support investment in equipment which enables energy and water to be saved.



Entry into force

Deadline for transposition in the Member States

Official Journal

Council Decision 2006/144/EC



OJ L 55, 25.2.2006

Amending act(s)

Entry into force

Deadline for transposition in the Member States

Official Journal

Council Decision 2009/61/CE



OJ L 30, 31.1.2009


Council Regulation (EC) No 1698/2005 of 20 September 2005 on support for rural development by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD)[Official Journal L 277 of 21.10.2005] This Regulation creates one single instrument for funding rural development policy: the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD).

Last updated: 30.06.2011