It forms part of an ongoing debate at European level on the importance of urban-rural linkages for territorial competitiveness, and on appropriate support mechanisms to assist these developments in Member States. Currently urban-rural linkages are not a Community competence, yet there is considerable interest in the Commission in strengthening urban-rural links. This interest is particularly timely given wider debates on issues such as migration from rural areas to cities, the emphasis on globalisation of economies in the Lisbon Strategy, and the rapidly developing knowledge economy.
The European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) aims to strengthen economic and social cohesion in the European Union by correcting imbalances between its regions. The ERDF finances a number of areas which are clearly central to the enhancing of competitiveness through urban-rural integration:
- direct aid to investments in companies (in particular SMEs) to create sustainable jobs;
- infrastructures linked notably to research and innovation, telecommunications, environment, energy and transport;
- financial instruments (capital risk funds, local development funds, etc.) to support regional and local development and to foster cooperation between towns and regions;
- technical assistance measures.
In terms of available support for networks of exchange on urban-rural issues, programmes such as INTERREG IIIC and LEADER + have helped Europe’s regions form partnerships to work together on common projects. By sharing knowledge and experience, these partnerships enable the regions involved to develop new solutions to economic, social and environmental challenges.
There are clearly many examples of what could be termed ‘urban-rural development projects’ and also examples of initiatives that are explicitly set up to enhance economic competitiveness. For the purposes of this seminar three initiatives have been selected that illustrate and stimulate debate on the possibilities for urban-rural linkages enhancing economic competitiveness (through for example the development of business clusters, cross-border tourism initiatives, and local food chains). These are the ‘Amsterdam Food Strategy’ in the Netherlands; the ‘Eifel Initiative for the Future’ in Germany; and KOBRA 2010 Urban-Rural Co-operation Bratislava.