You may have heard about it this year. This movement, which originates from the massive depopulation of rural areas, mainly in Spain and Germany, aims to draw attention to regions left behind in national and European development policies, and in particular to the direct link with Eurosceptic electoral trends.

On 12 June 2023, DG REGI published a study on the subject, based on the analysis of the national parliamentary elections from May 2018 to October 2022, which examines the results of the Eurosceptic vote with regard to the “regional development trap” (a concept that itself comes from a 2018 DG REGIO study).

The study concludes that the more a region is caught in a regional development trap, the greater the support for Eurosceptic parties.  The paper also suggests that the longer the period of stagnation, the stronger the support for parties that oppose European integration.

The study suggests several paths to follow to get out of the development trap and end the geography of discontent:

  • Need to better understand the causes of regional development pitfalls and how they can be overcome: improving the quality of administration, increasing innovation and boosting education and training can all help a region escape the development trap, but the right mix of policies and investments will depend on the regional context. The best policy response is likely to differ between more and less developed regions, between cities and rural areas, and between more accessible and more remote locations.
  • Engaging more with residents of small towns and rural areas can help understand why these residents feel that it doesn’t matter where they live. Ensuring that local residents have a say in cohesion policy programmes through strong local involvement, as promoted by the partnership principle, can reduce residents’ feelings that their voice does not matter. Multi-level governance can also ensure that local priorities are heard in regional development strategies.
  • The closure of local public and private services can also generate feelings of discontent and neglect. More research is needed to identify (i) where access to services is deteriorating, (ii) which groups are most affected, and (iii) how policies can ensure sufficient access to essential services.

Read the article of María-José Murciano, President of the Spanish Network for Rural Development on that topic