Limassol Conference on Rural Development Lacking in Policy Direction

The Cyprus conference, held on 16 - 17 October, was the third in the series of major EU rural development conferences organised by DG Agriculture but less significant in policy terms than its forerunners. It was framed as a ‘stock taking’ exercise, with more of a focus on good practice than policy innovation. The new ‘European Network for Rural Development’ was launched at the conference. Beyond this, it was rather unclear what the political narrative behind the conference was.

The conference in Limassol, Cyprus, was the third Commission organised conference on rural development, following Cork in 1996, and Salzburg in 2003. The Cork Declaration paved the way for the Agenda 2000 reforms and Salzburg set out a political agenda and direction of travel for the next few years. As such, the event in Cyprus had the potential to be hugely important, especially given that the CAP is likely to come under attack in the context of the Budget Review and a strong vision will be essential.

However, the event in Cyprus was organised too early in the current programming period to be able to draw on many results. Indeed, it was not conceived as a platform for launching new policy ideas. There was no final resolution. The concluding speech was not a political call to arms as former Commissioner for Agriculture Franz Fischler proffered at Cork, but a more technocratic overview by Loretta Dormal-Marino, who has been in charge of rural development within DG Agriculture for only a year or so.

Perhaps surprisingly, given the current state of negotiations on the CAP Health Check, there was relatively little attention given to the question of modulation during the formal part of the meeting. Agriculture Commissioner, Mariann Fischer Boel, did refer to the need for compulsory modulation to generate further funding, particularly for the new challenges, but did not mount an explicit defence of the Commission’s proposals. The speaker from the French Presidency made it clear that France wanted a lower level of modulation than the Commission was proposing and the issue got little exposure in plenary sessions. was rather unclear what the political narrative behind the conference was.

On the longer term perspective, Mariann Fischer Boel was warm about rural development and Pillar 2, but far from ambitious in suggesting that amongst considerable EU budget pressures, rural development will ‘at the very least keep the share of the cake that it has now’. This led some of the participants to worry about precisely what the political narrative behind the conference was. There were many themes but none of them dominant. Public goods and climate change were both formally on the agenda and the subject of two out of five workshops, whilst value for money was mentioned frequently, not least by a speaker from the Court of Auditors. The Leader approach was also affirmed. Commission speakers often suggested that rural development was a rounded policy and should stay inside DG Agriculture and there were no strong voices from DG Regio to suggest an alternative approach.

Most of those attending will have been drawn by the scale of the gathering and networking opportunities, which were exceptional. It was also the occasion to launch the new ‘European Network for Rural Development’ bringing together national networks. There will be conferences and expert groups, reports and several new sources of information. This is potentially a helpful means of strengthening the implementation of Pillar 2 and deepening the debate across the board at a significant time in the life of the policy.

Limassol seems unlikely to be the last in the line of big rural development conferences. Another, once the conclusions of the Budget Review and the impacts of the current rural development programmes are known, would be welcome.


31 Oct 2008




The Institute for European Environmental Policy coordinates CAP2020. It is an independent not for profit institute which undertakes research in a number of policy areas including agriculture and rural development.