Review: the path to the master plan
Austria’s demographic development is characterised by a marked growth of the big cities and simultaneous population decline in peripheral rural areas. Every year, rural areas lose over 5,000 well-educated people to the Vienna area alone. If this trend continues, this will bring about a brain drift of over 50, persons in the next ten years.
Demographic declines in rural areas are due to various reasons. One component in rural exodus are individual prospects. In our knowledge society the share of persons possessing higher education qualifications is rising. With a view to education and career, moving to central places where enterprises and institutions of the knowledge economy sectors are located is an attractive option for them. Another component in the population decline are low birth rates.
The demographic decline - especially in young women - has adverse effects on the entire social and economic fabric of rural areas. With this in mind, strategic re-orientation and ambitious political priorities are indispensable for the future of rural areas.
Within the framework of a stakeholder and citizen participation process the first Austrian master plan for the future of rural areas was prepared from November 2016 to June 2017, under the leadership of the then Federal Minister, Andrä Rupprechter.
Major milestones of the process:
- First, with the involvement of experts 50 stakeholders representing the different concerns and interests were identified.
- After a first round of exploratory talks with the representatives of some 25 stakeholder organisations, more interviews were held with 25 experts to explore priority subjects in depth and to fathom common needs.
- At eight World Cafés, which dealt with the relevant subject areas, all stakeholders selected had the opportunity to contribute directly to the discussion. At the end of each event, the participants prioritised the results. Altogether, some 250 persons took part in the eight World Cafés organised in eight Federal Provinces.
- Themes or questions that had been rated as high priorities were analysed in greater detail.
- Goals and ideas of the stakeholders were supplemented by those from experts of the Agriculture Ministry.
The open expert interviews and stakeholder discussions clearly showed the challenges we are facing on the different levels for the future of Austria’s rural areas. Essential topics for the future include:
Agriculture and forestry, economy and environment
- Strategic priority-setting in regions - Develop the strengths of the country
- Soil consumption - Use and protect rural areas smartly
- Energy - Country of the energy transition
- Resources - Make more of the country’s treasures
- Economic cooperation - Take more action for the country
- Decentralisation - Close to the citizen
- Cooperation across municipalities: Achieving more together
Living in the country - Fairness, clubs and associations, education, tourism, culinary delights
- Women - The future of the country is female
- Education - Create a future in the regions
- Rural exodus - New perspectives is what the country needs
- Tourism - The country is always in season
- Volunteer work - Promote local clubs and associations
- Culinary delights - Give our culinary heritage a perspective
- Cultural activities: Power for regional future
Infrastructure, mobility and digitisation
- Mobility - Top connections for the country
- Infrastructure - The digital community can do more
- Health care - Better cared for, surely healthy
- Care for the elderly - Together, not alone
- Child care - Improving the compatibility of family and work
- Social services - Green Care
The topics addressed showed great diversity and thereby reflect the diversity of rural areas: They cover agriculture and forestry just as much as the economy, infrastructure and mobility, and the digital village. Based on this strategy, economic and living conditions in the country are to be improved systematically also in the future and sustainable rural development is to be ensured.