What will happen in the European countryside in future decades?
There is no doubt that expansion of the agricultural sector will continue. In some regions, that can result in an ageing population and depopulation. There are more developments that can affect the use of land, the economy and biodiversity in the rural areas of the European member states. Consider, for example, climate change. Additionally, the worldwide liberalisation of the global trade in agricultural products will have an impact.
People, profit and planet
Political policymakers can steer these developments in order to reduce the negative effects. The EUruralis program provides an insight into the consequences of scenarios and policy variants on the indicators people, profit and planet. In fact, EUruralis is an integral discussion instrument, a so-called tool, to aid policymakers to make substantiated decisions for the long term.
The program has been developed by staff at the research institutes Alterra and LEI of Wageningen UR and the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency. The Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality is an important client. Over the past years, the explorations of the future that, with the aid of EUruralis, were detailed in diagrams, card images and descriptions, have frequently been used during work conferences and debates in the various member states, in Brussels and The Hague.
The first exploration that was made using EUruralis (EUruralis 1.0, 2004) was performed at the instruction of the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality, in the context of the Dutch presidency of the European Union. The effects of four agricultural political scenarios were explored, varying from preserving the existing system to a complete abolition of that system. The impacts on people, profit and planet were examined.
A remarkable conclusion was that in all four scenarios, the number of inhabitants living rurally dropped significantly, from approx. one hundred million to 75 million in 2030. It was also evident from the calculations that a total abolition of agricultural subsidies and import levies would not result in a battlefield within the agricultural sector.
Over the years, the EUruralis program has been modified and improved. Thus EUruralis 2.0 (2007-2008) enables investigation of the potential impact of the European bio-energy policy. The explorations make it clear that promoting bio-energy crops will result in the depopulation of marginal areas – particularly in Southern and Eastern Europe – with a reduction by more than half.
It is also evident from EUruralis 2.0 that the significance of the agricultural sector in the long term for the economy as a whole in the European Union has little significance. However, agriculture does continue to play an important role in the use of land. In the distant future, farmers will still work almost fifty per cent of the total land surface.
In 2009, with the aid of the EUruralis toolkit, scientists are investigating the impact of proposals from the so-called charcoal sketch of the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality. In this sketch, the Minister of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality describes the long-term vision of the future of the European agriculture and rural policy up to 2020.
According to this vision, the direct subsidy given to farmers will be decreased. Instead of those subsidies there will be premiums for measures in the field of nature and the environment and for areas with natural handicaps. Calculations using EUruralis have to clarify what the effects of this will be for employment in the agricultural sector, biodiversity and the quality of life.
EUruralis is a project that deals with explorations of the future. Because the effect of driving forces will change continually, for example, as a result of the current economic crisis, the explorations have to be continually modified. The instrument enables that to take place.