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The multi-level politics of rural and regional governance

Lukas Giessen
Georg-August-Universität Göttingen
Lukas Giessen
Georg-August-Universität Göttingen
Open Panel

Abstract

Rural (or regional) governance is a policy approach to regional development, consisting of a set of instruments, which establishes an additional regional level for political interaction and thus devolutes new responsibilities to the regions. The choice of this set of instruments, however, is not neutral, but represents the preferences of distinct actors from multiple administrative levels (from EU to local). Consequently, a strategy is assumed behind the choice of rural governance and relating instruments, which is driven by the interests of superior political levels as programme providers (e.g. the EU Commission). This contribution aims to unfold the power strategy behind the rural governance paradigm pursued by different political levels and analyses the broader multi-level politics associated with rural governance programmes. It uses qualitative case studies on two rural governance programmes: the EU’s Leader+ and the German Federal Ministry of Agriculture’s Active Regions programme. The paper finds multi-level politics as a major driver of and motivation for the choice of rural governance programmes. The rural governance paradigm is shown as a strategy of the EU’s and national bureaucracies aiming to increase their influence over regional policy and its implementation. In this sense the strategy of “by-passing” political levels is actively applied by higher political levels. Active resistance by the German Federal States against this power strategy could be observed, while the regional level benefits from the political attention. Still, the democratically legitimised regional government and the newly created regional governance institutions actively compete with each other, illustrating the regional-level aspects of multi-level politics under rural governance. The paper finally discusses the function of establishing rather informal regional levels for multi-level politics.