Research has been focused on ten case study regions in eight EU countries, which were selected to illustrate a range of socioeconomic and political contexts and geographical settings, from remote and peripheral regions to peri-urban locations.View a series on short films about the case study regions on the DERREG YouTube channel:
- Oevre Norrland, Sweden
- West Region, Ireland
- Alytus, Lithuania
- Comarca de Verín, Spain
- Goriška region, Slovenia
- Pomurska region, Slovenia
- Jihomoravský kraj, Czech Republic
- Westerkwartier, the Netherlands
- Regierungsbezirk Dresden, Germany
- Saarland, Germany
1. Oevre Norrland, Sweden
Location and Geogrphy
Övre Norrland or Upper Norrland is a National Area of Sweden, composed by the counties of Norrbotten and Västerbotten. It has international borders with Norway (west) and Finland (north and east), and with an overall area of more than 154,000 km² makes up one third of the total national territory of Sweden. Upper Norrland has contrasting landscapes including plains bordering the coast of the Gulf of Bothnia (where the biggest urban centres are located), sand archipelagos in front of the coasts, rocks, mires and hills in the interior (covered extensively by coniferous forests), and high and steep mountain areas in the west with a number of glaciers, low-vegetation patterns and harsh climate conditions. Upper Norrland is also home to a considerable number of natural reserves, bird sanctuaries and national parks from which is worth highlighting the Laponian World Heritage Site (close to Kiruna and Gällivare) composed by the National Parks Sarek, Padjelanta, Stora Sjöfallet and Muddus, together with the nature reserves Sjaunja and Stubba.
Social and economic history
Upper Norrland is a multi-cultural and multi-lingual area, and apart from Swedish, national minority languages such as Finnish, Meänkieli and Saami are spoken here. The Sami People have been living in Upper Norrland and others parts of Fennoscandia for at least 2500 years ago constituting today one of the largest indigenous group of Europe.Economic activities have been always related to natural resources. Woods, fish, pastures for reindeer and other husbandry were the starting point. Later value was added through work to produce timber and food. But mining and production of metals -which can be even traced back to the 15th century- brought to the region after industrialization processes the biggest possibility for massive expansion, jobs and the growth of permanent population. Harsh climate conditions and lack of transportation means avoided major economic activities until the end of the 19th century. It was only after the improvement of communications’ infrastructure to the area (after the construction of railways to Norway and southern Sweden and other roads) that massive expansion of the iron-ore industry took place in the area.
Upper Norrland is additionally home to numerous research and innovation institutions focussed in a diversity of key themes (IT and high-tech, biomedicine and medical sciences, earth sciences among others) and other alternative activities such as winter car testing, the ESTRACK Kiruna Station of ESA (European Space Agency) and the North European Aerospace Test range.
2. West Region, IrelandThe Irish case study is concerned with the West Region of Ireland, with a particular focus on County Roscommon. County Roscommon is one of twenty-six counties of the Republic of Ireland and which together with the counties of Galway and Mayo forms the West Region (NUTS3 statistical region).
Location and Geogrphy
The West region of Ireland stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the banks of the River Shannon, with the latter forming the eastern border of County Roscommon. County Roscommon lies within the central plain of Ireland and is largely comprised of agricultural lowlands, broken in places by low hills as well as many areas of bogs and lakes. It is the tenth largest of the twenty-six counties, covering an area of 2,547 km2. This accounts for 18.5% of the total 13,801 km2 land area of the West Region, which itself comprises 20% of the national territory. Both Roscommon and the larger West Region within which it lies are ‘predominantly rural’ in character, with 100% of the latter’s territory classified as such by Eurostat. The Atlantic Ocean provides a rugged coastline of off-shore islands, including the Aran Islands which lie at the mouth of Galway Bay, and large numbers of quality beaches, fringed by coastal mountain chains running through County Galway and County Mayo. The West Region also has a rich cultural heritage, with prehistoric sites, monasteries, fortifications and castles dispersed throughout.
Social and economic history
Agriculture has been the traditional industry of the predominantly rural West Region, despite less favourable growing conditions in comparison to the large fertile pastures found in the midland and southern regions of Ireland. The agricultural sector has undergone significant structural changes since the 1970s following Ireland’s accession to the EU and again with Common Agricultural Policy reforms introduced in 1992, but remains a relatively important regional employer in rural areas despite the widespread diversification of Ireland’s national economy since the 1990s. The Irish economy as a whole expanded rapidly between around 1995 and 2007, during the ‘Celtic Tiger’ period. This was encouraged both by EU aid and investment, and state policies such as low corporate taxation and subsidies which attracted high-profile companies like Dell, Intel, and Microsoft to locate in Ireland as well as encouraging new business growth. With a lack of traditional industrial heritage, the West Region was largely able to successfully adapt to these processes of economic change and restructuring, with particular growth in the region’s service economy (including tourism), hi-tech, and construction industries.
3. Alytus county, Lithuania
Location and Geogrphy
Alytus county (Lithuanian: Alytaus apskritis) is one of ten Lithuanian counties (NUTS 3) and is situated in the far south of the country within the Dainava plain, which is surrounded by the Suduva and Dzuku hills in the north, and the Eišiškiai plateau in the south (figure 1). The neighbouring county of Vilnius to the east contains the Lithuanian capital city after which it is named. Alytus county has international borders with Poland to the south-west and Belarus to the south-east, and shares strong cultural ties with the neighbouring border regions of these countries which form part of the Dzūkija region; one of five Lithuanian ethnographic/linguistic regions within which Alytus county wholly lies. With an area of 5,425 km² (or 8.3% of the national territory), Alytus county is the sixth largest of Lithuania’s counties by size and is its most forested, with forests and woodland covering 44% of the region’s territory including much of the rural districts of Lazdijai and Varena where rich mushroom forests are located. The landscape also features several hundred lakes (about 400), especially in the western area of Lazdijai district, while Lithuania’s largest river, the Nemunas, flows through the county. These natural features together with the region’s vernacular folk traditions (art, architecture) mean that large areas are afforded protected status by the Lithuanian government.
4. Comarca de Verín, Spain
Location and Geogrphy
The Comarca de Verín is a region of the province of Ourense, situated in the south-west of the autonomous community (Comunidad Autónoma) of Galicia, in north-west Spain. The Comarca de Verín is composed of eight municipalities which are named after their principle town or village: Castrelo do Val, Cualedro, Laza, Monterrei, Oímbra, Riós, Verín and Villardevós. The geographical situation of the Comarca as a cross roads between Galician and Castilian municipalities, as well as Galicia and Portugal, has made of it an important stop-off place for those travelling to Castilla y Leon and Portugal since the Middle Ages.
The Comarca is situated in the high basin of the Támega river and covers an area of 1006.7 km2, making it the second smallest of the DERREG case study regions after the Westerkwartier. The landscape of the Comarca is varied and diverse, but can be characterised by two main features: the Monterrei Valley or hollow, and the surrounding mountain systems to the north, east and west. The hollow is characterised by a soft and flat topography, with the Tamega River crossing the valley and providing fertile sedimentary soils. The lowlands of the Monterrei valley, and specially the area close to the river, is therefore largely occupied by the arable farming of mainly vegetable crops as well as vineyards, with a long tradition of wine production in the region. The river environment has also produced wetlands with high biological diversity. The Comarca shares an international border with Portugal to the south and lies a similar distance by road from the city of Porto as from the Galician capital Santiago de Compostela.
Social and economic history
The economy of the Comarca de Verin has historically been based on agriculture, with the 18th century seeing a process of population growth and economic development in the Monterrei valley thanks to improvements in farming practices, as well as the increase of mining production in 1786 and specially the construction of the road between Benavente (Zamora) and Vigo (Pontevedra). The region remains predominantly rural and based around small-scale subsistence agriculture, with a lack of industrial development and employment opportunities for younger people especially leading to high volumes of out-migration in the 1960s to both parts of Europe (mainly France, Germany and Switzerland) and other Spanish industrial areas. This loss of young people, occurring in rural areas all across Galicia, combined with an ageing population has led to serious problems of de-population. In Galicia between 1860 and 2001, the percentage of people aged 50 years and over increased from 14.9 to 37.6%, while those above 65 years increased from 8-21%. At the same time, the percentage of people younger than 15 years decreased from 27-11.8%. Over the last century, population density in Galicia has continuously decreased in rural areas – mainly in the provinces in Lugo and Ourense – and increased in urban areas – mainly in the provinces of Pontevedra and A Coruña – where there has been a stronger development of industry and services.
5. Goriška region, Slovenia
Location and Geography
Goriška statistical region (Gorizia in English/Italian) is situated in the west of Slovenia and forms part of the country’s international border with Italy. It covers an area of 2325 km2, or 11.5 % of the national territory, with a heterogeneous landscape shaped by its situation as the convergence of topographical regions, i.e. alpine, pre-alpine, karst (of the Dynaric Mts) and sub-Mediterranean. The River Soča Valley functions as the region’s communication, transport, population and economic axis with the majority of the region lying within its catchment, as the river rises in the Julian Alps in the north and flowing south, entering the wide Friuli Plain near Gorica (Gorizia) in Italy. Less favourable conditions for agriculture in the mountainous north have generated significant inter-regional disparities in terms of economic development.
Social and Economic History
The Goriška region was named after the town of Gorica and originally the border area between Italy and Slovenia was an Italian dukedom, before it came to be ruled by the Austrian Habsburg dynasty from circa 1500. During WWI, the region was annexed by Italy and remained under Italian control until after WWII when current borders were established by the Treaty of Paris between Italy and Yugoslavia in 1947. Most of the Slovene-inhabited areas of Gorizia were ceded to the Yugoslav republic of Slovenia, while the town of Gorica/Gorizia was left in Italy. As such, the new town of Nova Gorica (‘New Gorizia’) was established on the Slovene side of the border and has developed into the dominant regional centre. These various boundary changes mean that the contemporary region encompasses a diversity of historical, cultural and natural heritage.
Due to the large geographic variations across Goriška, in terms of natural resources, accessibility and climate, different forms of economic activity have developed in the different areas. This is particularly evident in terms of agriculture, with intensive sub-Mediterranean fruit growing established in the Lower Vipava Valley (followed by food-processing industry in Ajdovšcina) and in hilly Goriška Brda; with the Vipava Hills and Goriška Brda providing excellent condition for the region’s viticulture. Whereas, limited conditions for arable farming in the Upper Soča Valley and Idrijsko-Cerkljansko Hills mean this area is mostly dedicated to stock-breeding, particularly dairy and beef cattle. The Lower Soca Valley (Nova Gorica) is the basis for the region’s traditional wood-processing industry.
6. Pomurska region, Slovenia
Location and Geography
Pomurska (traditionally known as Pomurje) statistical region is Slovenia’s most north-eastern region and shares international borders with Austria to the north-west, Croatia to the south and a long eastern border with Hungary. Pomurska covers an area of 1337 km2 or 6.6% of the national territory and is the largest agricultural region in Slovenia, with extensive flat plains on either side of the central Mura River providing fertile soils and a continental climate suited to arable farming. The region is therefore intensively cultivated, with field crops covering more than three quarters of the total utilised agricultural area in Pomurska, or twice as much as the national average. There are also wine-growing hills along the Hungarian border near Lendava, while the southern and western parts of the region extend into the wine-growing hills around Slovenske gorice.
Social and Economic History
Some limited non-agricultural areas exist, with the immediate floodplain of the Mura River containing a forested area rich in biodiversity, while poor quality soils in the hilly northern area of Goricko on the Hungarian border mean it remains sparsely populated and underdeveloped. Pomurska’s border location has historically shaped the region in distinctive ways, with the area east of the Mura River having been part of Hungary until the end of WWI. As such, the region has a large minority Hungarian population and retains close links to both Hungary and Austria. However, Pomurska’s isolated geographical position and poor transport connections have contributed to particular socio-economic conditions experienced in the region, including low average wages, high unemployment and low levels of population growth due to out-migration.
7. Jihomoravský kraj, Czech Republic
Location and Geography
From the geological viewpoint, the region is divided between older Bohemian massif and younger Carpathian system. The landscape and topography of the region consists of a good accessible landscape of lowlands and uplands in the South with intensive agriculture and a controversial Nové Mlýny water work and limestone Pavlovské vrchy hills as a dominant, from the agricultural viewpoint less favourable areas of northern highlands (mainly Českomoravská vrchovina Highland and Drahanská vrchovina Highland with Moravian karst), landscape of White Carpathians with valuable grasslands in the east and urbanized and sub-urbanized landscape of the Brno agglomeration in the contact zone between flat and undulating landscape in the middle.
Social and economic history
South Moravia was mainly important for its agriculture in the past. It was known as the Czech granary and the most important viniferous region. In fact, it concerns mainly its southern part. Southern Moravia was always a transit country between European north and south and also between northwest and southeast. It led to very early railway connection (1839) which evoked the industrialization in spite of insufficient local row materials. The main industry was situated in Brno (textile, later machinery) and also in some middle and small towns.The ethnic system of pre-war South Moravia was created by Czech, German, Jewish and in some cases also Croatian population. The events connected with the WWII caused the disappearance of the mixed cultural milieu and ethnically based population exchange in the southern part of the region. Closing the border with Austria meant peripherisation of the southern borderland. The industry was supported also by the socialist regime which resulted in localization of industry in all towns. Such industrial structure was based on huge factories (with thousands of jobs) which led often to unilateral economic structure in individual towns. The industry elaborating local products was marginal.
The fall of socialism brought substantial changes: fall of the main industrial plants and more or less successful transformation to the diversified structure of SMEs and service sector including tourism, opening the border with Austria and exposing of the south Moravian agriculture to the international competition.
8. Westerkwartier, the Netherlands
Location and Geography
The ‘Westerwartier’ is a predominantly rural area situated in the West of Groningen province in the North of the Netherlands. It comprises an area of 345 km² -of which 80 % is agricultural land- and includes the municipalities Grootegast, Marum, Leek and Zuidhorn. It is part of the administration unit ‘Overige Groningen’ (NUTS level 3). The landscape of the Westerkwartier is nationally acknowledged for its small fields and diversity. The region possesses a good infrastructure, including train and bus services as well as a motorway connecting the Westerkwartier with the provincial capital Groningen. Accordingly, the “Westerkwartier” is an attractive residential area for young families, leading to a younger age average than in the rest of the province.
Social & economic history
Traditional economic sectors in the Westerkwartier are agriculture (mainly dairy farming) and industry. In fact, one quarter of all agricultural businesses in Groningen province are situated in the Westerkwartier (e.g. 2.65 farms per km²). In recent years, however, agriculture has lost its significance and the economic structure is changing slowly. For example in Grootegast and Zuidhorn, agriculture is still given high importance in maintaining the regional landscape. However, since the motorway crosses Leek and Marum, these municipalities are transforming into residential areas for commuters and providing spaces for industrial parks. Accordingly, non-agricultural economic activities such as transport and logistics, services, tourism and leisure are becoming more and more important for the economy of the Westerkwartier.
As the economy in the Westerkwartier is changing so are future visions for the region. There is still great interest in retaining agriculture as an economic carrier within the region but farmers will be faced with new tasks. For example, ideas exist to create care farms and to engage farmers in nature and landscape management. Furthermore, the “Westerkwartier” wants to create more room for industrial areas, for enterprises and wants to offer more employment opportunities. In this course, the “Westerkwartier” aims to stimulate a diversification of economic activities (e.g. LEADER) and an increase in tourism and leisure activities.
9. Regierungsbezirk Dresden, Germany
Location and Geography
The “Direktionsbezirk” Dresden is one of three Direktionsbezirke together with Leipzig and Chemnitz which form the Free State of Saxony (Freistaat Sachsen), in eastern Germany. DB Dresden is classified as a NUTS 2 statistical region. The DERREG case study area corresponds to the four territorial districts of DB Dresden, but excludes the cities of Dresden, Hoyerswerda and Görlitz. DB Dresden is located in the east of Saxony and has international borders with Poland to the East and the Czech Republic to the South, with this border region of the three countries previously forming the historical central European region of Silesia. The historic state of Saxony has lain at the heart of German-speaking Europe throughout the past millennium and was part of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) during communist rule (1949–1989), before being re-established as a Land in the federal republic following German reunification.
With an area of 7,931 km², DB Dresden comprises lower lying heath and pond landscapes in the north of the region, rising to mountainous terrain in the south. This characteristic sequence of the Saxon landscape is bisected by the Elbe river valley, flowing from the south to the north-west through the Dresden Basin and the city of Dresden and carving the mountainous landscape of Saxon Switzerland out of the region’s sandstone.
Social and economic historyThe economic history of the Dresden case study region is closely connected to its topographic situation and the occurrence of natural resources. Fertile soils along the river plains saw the first dense settlement structures developing in the Elbe valley of Dresden from the 6th Century AD, with the historic Lusatian region along the Saxony-Poland border becoming the focus for the region’s agricultural sector. Later, the discovery of silver and tin ores in the Erzgebirge (Ore Mountains) range along what is now the German-Czech border led to the development of so-called “Mountain Cities” (Altenberg, Schmiedeberg, Glashuette) in the 15th century. The commercial relevance of mining declined in the middle of the 16th century, while the production of textiles developed as a second economic pillar and, later, porcelain and glass manufacture were established in parts of the region (e.g. in Meißen) during the 18th century. The period of industrialization started in Saxony in the year 1835, with the textile industry in the Ore Mountains and Upper Lusatia and mechanical engineering in Bautzen and Neukirch experiencing rapid economic growth. This led to massive increases in energy consumption and the beginnings of brown coal mining in Upper Lusatia, with open-cast mining intensified in the 1970s during the regime of the GDR. Under Soviet occupation following WWII, most economic sectors in the in the Dresden case study region were collectivised, including agriculture, whilst energy production, textiles and engineering remained the most important industries even in the Socialist era. After German reunification in 1990, a transformation of the regional economy occurred alongside wider social change, with deindustrialisation, falling levels of production and high unemployment causing mass out-migration to former West German regions. Rural regions were particularly badly affected by the deep economic depression impacting across the former eastern Germany. The depression continued into the mid-1990s when economic growth and restructuring steadily resumed, with the main focus of this growth being the service sector.A developing sector is the production of High-Technologies for renewable energies (i.e. photo-voltaic) around Dresden and in the former mining areas in Upper Lusatia. In addition to this tourism is a still growing business for a lot of people in the rural areas.
10. Saarland, Germany
Location and GeographySaarland is one of the sixteen Länder or federal states which make up Germany. Saarland is situated on the French-German-Luxembourgian border and has historically occupied a transitional location, with shifting territorial allegiances, until it was formally integrated into the Federal Republic of Germany in 1957 after a referendum (figure 1). The state of Saarland borders the French region of Lorraine to the south and west, Luxembourg to the west and the German state of Rheinland-Pfalz (Rhineland-Palatinate) to the north and the east. Saarland is named after the Saar River which runs through the state from the south to the northwest. With an area of 2,568.65 km2, it is the smallest of the German states aside from the three city-states of Berlin, Bremen and Hamburg. Within this small area the region encompasses a wide variety of topography across its generally hilly landscape, ranging from the lime soil of the Bliesgau and sandy soil around Homburg, the coal mountains near Neunkirchen, thick deciduous and primeval forest only a few kilometres away from the state capital Saarbrucken, to the scenic plateaus of the Saargau with its green hills. One third of the land area of Saarland is covered by forest, one of the highest percentages in Germany.
Social and Economic history
Saarland has experienced a period of fundamental change in its economic, social and spatial structures during the last 50 years since it rejoined the Federal Republic. However, historically another major period of economic change in the region began in the first half of the nineteenth century due to innovations in coal mining and development of a large iron and steel industry based on the region’s vast coal fields. In 1970, coal and steel directly provided 80,000 jobs or one-fifth of regional employment in Saarland in 1970. However, with the increasing pressures of economic globalisation as well as the integration of former West and East German economies following reunification, Saarland’s coal and steel industries fell into crisis in the 1990s. The deindustrialisation of the economy of Saarland saw massive job losses in the formerly dominant coal and steel industry leading to high levels of unemployment in the 1990s.
At the same time, these losses were partly offset by the creation of new jobs in the manufacturing sector utilising modern production techniques. The 1990s saw a massive growth in the automotive industry in Saarland, with Ford having previously opened a manufacturing plant in Saarlouis in 1970. However, since the 1990s industry has been overtaken by the expansion of the service sector as the most important part of the regional economy, with the growth of private enterprise and, in particular, hi-tech and information-communication services. Agricultural production in the whole of Saarland is limited.