The key issues
Rural areas provide food, raw materials, environmental services, and spaces for rest and recreation. They are also home to some of Europe’s natural, cultural and historical heritage. More than half of the EU’s land area is classified as predominantly rural, and more than one fifth of its population lives in rural regions. Rural areas also account for a large proportion of economic activity and employment in the EU.
Despite their demographic and economic importance, rural regions lag behind in a number of socio-economic indicators. Inhabitants are often at higher risk of poverty, face difficulties in accessing infrastructure and public services, and display lower levels of employment, income, educational attainment.
Rural isolation refers not only to social, labour and educational exclusion, but also to the mechanisms that perpetuate these trends over time.
Volonteurope, an international network promoting volunteering, active citizenship and social justice, has been engaged in a campaign on the Rural Isolation of Citizens in Europe for the past two years. This campaign aims to explore the challenges facing rural communities and identify possible solutions to these challenges, while advocating for stronger political and financial support for voluntary sector organisations engaged in rural development initiatives.
Over the course of the campaign, Volonteurope has been gathering evidence and best practice from the European voluntary sector. Having published a policy brief in 2014, Volonteurope held seminars in Rome, Riga and Sofia, where rural development experts and civil society actors from across Europe discussed the challenges facing rural communities and shared best practice.
Tackling rural isolation requires governments, businesses, citizens and civil society to be pulling in the same direction. Throughout this campaign, Volonteurope has advocated for a comprehensive and coherent approach to rural development policy, which actively promotes rural areas’ endogenous development potential. The network has also stressed the importance of citizen and voluntary sector engagement, arguing that local initiatives, with adequate support, can make an invaluable contribution to addressing rural isolation.