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Competence Centre on Foresight

We foster a strategic, future-oriented and anticipatory culture in the EU policymaking process.


Importance of territorial inequalities

There is an increasing polarisation of economic growth, innovation and talent in a few, already strong, high-growth locations.

URBAN/RURAL DIVISION: plants and flowers opposed to buildings in the background
(© Photo by DLKR Life on Unsplash)

Trend: Importance of territorial inequalities

A trend indicates a direction of change in values and needs which is driven by forces and manifests itself already in various ways within certain groups in society

There is an increasing polarisation of economic growth, innovation and talent in a few, already strong, high-growth locations. A shrinking labour supply coupled with ageing and depopulation are making things worse for some territories. And the gap between regions of population growth and regions of population decline is going to get wider in the coming decades.

Territorial inequalities are evident in terms of availability of infrastructure and public transport, access to services and digital connectivity. While rural areas are generally considered to be prime examples of the ’left-behind’ places, small and middle-sized urban areas, or even parts of cities can be affected in similar ways. The changes brought about by the pandemic can also serve as catalysts for transformation of cities into more liveable places. And there is growing interest in using technology to support rural development and sustainability.

This Trend is part of the Megatrend Widening inequalities




Developments happening in certain groups in society that indicate examples of change. 

Post-pandemic cities could be radically transformed

Due to a greater acceptance of remote working following the pandemic, there is a reduced need to commute, more online shopping and less socialising in public spaces. All of these developments could play a role shaping cities after the pandemic. Consequently, the demand for space in city centres, be it for offices or housing, could go down, and more people could move to live in the suburbs, or less populated rural areas. However, since not everybody can work remotely, this trend could produce more segregation and decline in some city centres. At the same time there seems to be a momentum in some cities to push for more liveable, accessible and less polluted urban spaces, which could result in longer-term urban transformation too.

Signals of change: JRC, WEF, McKinsey, JRC

Territorial development shapes people’s political views

Voters in the EU are most likely to support anti-European parties if they live in places defined by long-term economic decline, lower population density, fewer employment opportunities and lower levels of education. Contrary to a common perception, ageing and net migration are less significant factors. There are concerns that widening inequalities between territories could contribute to the socio-political polarisation of societies and growing anti-establishment sentiments in the locations that are lagging behind. 

Signals of change: JRC, JRC, EC

After smart cities, smart villages 

What if inhabitants of rural communities used technology and digital tools to improve their economic, social or environmental conditions and cooperate with other communities and bring social innovation and economic development to their villages? The idea of a ‘smart village’ proposes that by doing this, access to services could be improved. Close geographical and social relations between food producers, processors and consumers could be developed, renewable energy sources could be better exploited (e.g. solar panels, wind turbines, passive housing) and sustainable tourism better promoted.

Signals of change: EP, EPSON, Eurobarometer



Interesting questions

What might this trend imply, what should we be aware of, what could we study in more depth? Some ideas:

  • Will the normalisation of remote working make more people relocate to less populated rural areas?

    • If so, what will this mean for the economic, social and political orientation of these rural places?

    • And what about the working places left behind, and other city centre living quarters?

  • Since anti-European voters tend to live in places with economic decline, should this not be considered by policy-makers when determining policies for rural development? If so, to what extent is it ethically appropriate?

  • To what extent do current policies for rural and agricultural development sufficiently incorporate new trends (e.g. the availability of new sustainable technologies)?