On first January 2007, one of the major administrative reforms in a European country came into effect in Denmark. In addition to a number of significant changes of the local, governmental administration, 14 counties turned into 5 regions and 271 municipalities into 98. From the same date, the new program period for EU’s rural area policy was initiated. Until then, 12 LEADER groups had been established in Denmark. They were now replaced by almost 60 Local Action Groups (LAGs) organized as associations.
Most of the new municipalities contain major rural areas and have been handed over the administration of many new tasks concerning these areas. On this background, the Ministry of Social Welfare has asked IFUL to carry out an analysis of the municipalities’ administration of rural areas, including their relations to the LAGs. A web-based questionnaire was sent to 71 municipalities outside the capital area. Out of these, 50 municipalities responded (= 70%). The respondents were either the city manager or the municipal responsible for the rural area, in many cases a person entitled the rural area coordinator.
The analysis shows that, in spite of a large degree of different solutions, some patterns can be seen:
- Rural area policy is not statutory or covered by special economic obligations and is not one of the policy areas the municipalities were assigned by the municipality reform. The Ministry of Social Welfare has suggested that all municipalities formulate a rural area policy, but on a voluntary basis. In general, the municipalities have come a long way in this direction, and many of them use their rural areas to develop new kinds of public involvement.
- A majority of the municipalities have a separate rural area policy and are implementing it or have built it into the municipality’s other policies. Among the municipalities which do not have their own rural policies, we find the three out of five urban municipalities that have responded to the questionnaire. All these three municipalities have population increase. Thus, there is a tendency that municipalities with population growth are less inclined to carry out a rural area policy.
- Apparently, there is no connection between municipalities that have implemented a separate rural area policy and municipalities that have established a committee for a rural area policy.
- There is no connection between municipalities that have carried out a separate rural area policy and the creation of a special neighbourhood council as a unifying body for the single rural areas’ interest safeguard to the municaplity. In the smallest municipalities there has been no need for establishing a neighbourhood council.
- Gradually, there has been established a good relationship between the municipalities and the LAGs. A few municipalities partly finance the rural area coordinator; while a larger number of municipalities offer facilities and are involved by co-financing LAG projects.
- In general, it can be concluded that rural area policy as a non-statutory policy area is not high politics in the municipalities. On the other hand, almost all municipalities are relating positively and actively to their rural areas and the activities taking place there. Many municipalities use the rural areas for experiments, in which they seek to develop couplings between local communities and the political administrative level.