BAB 029/19: ESCAPE – European Shrinking Rural Areas (2)

Challenges, Actions and Perspectives for Territorial Governance

Initial situation

In many rural areas of Europe, a long-lasting population decline can be observed, which could hardly be reduced even with previous policy measures. The concept of shrinking areas was first applied to urban areas ("shrinking cities") and has been applied to rural regions ("shrinking rural regions") for about 10 years. The ESPON Programme, which commissions studies on spatial observation and analysis across the whole of Europe, has issued a call for project ideas to record and reassess the problem in these rural areas.


Accordingly, the project aims to record the European situation of shrinking rural areas and to discuss strategies for action and policy measures to tackle the manifold interrelated development problems of these rural areas. The main objective is to analyse the perspectives on shrinking regions in their respective spatial and cultural context and to assess the contribution of policy programmes to regional initiatives.

Rationale for the need

Previous policy programmes and regional action strategies have essentially been based on the objective of restoring "regional growth". Many observations of shrinking regions and the initiatives designed there show that a complete overcoming of "shrinking" cannot be achieved within the framework of neoclassical economic policy. Therefore, alternative approaches are needed, which have also already been investigated in national studies in various countries. Such a more realistic position with regard to the implementation of measures is particularly important in order to provide effective proposals and implementation indications that can deliver positive and long-term effects for the living conditions of the local population and therefore also for the attractiveness of these areas.

Status of the project and work in 2021

The project has been selected for implementation under the ESPON Programme Call "The Future of Europe's Shrin-king Rural Regions: Trends, Perspectives and New Agenda for Territorial Governance" in Winter 2018/19. The consortium consisting of 7 academic partners (Core Partners) and four local partners to implement specific case studies successfully carried out the project work in 2019 and 2020 and submitted the final report in October 2020. This report, accompanied by a series of annexes to deepen the analysis, will be made available on the ESPON Programme homepage once all comments and necessary corrections have been incorporated. Following this, a series of international publications will disseminate the results to the interested professional public.

Project results

This project focuses upon European rural regions experiencing or threatened by demographic decline. The central objectives are to understand the process(es) driving shrinkage, map the heterogeneity within this group of regions, and devise intervention logic(s) for more appropriate integrated policy approaches, which pro-actively push forward strategies based upon territorial assets and emerging opportunities, whilst recognising the need to ameliorate the effects of some continued decline, and bearing in mind the “intervention tools” available within the EU Cohesion and ESIF policy

It provides knowledge and evidence on the causes and consequences of socio-economic change in Europe’s rural regions and explores innovative territorial governance solutions for rural regions experiencing acute, and often irreversible depopulation and economic decline. It also offers recommendations for the better coordination and effectiveness of policy interventions, particularly for the targeted design, implementation and funding of integrated place-based strategies within the context of European Union Rural Development and Cohesion Policy.

Final report:



Start of the project: March 2019

End of the project: Spring 2021


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