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Abstract

Rural Networks have been implemented as an instrument to enhance EU rural development policies in the funding period 2007-2013. Gaps in European programme documents concerning the networks’ purpose and their evaluation led to a survey of the National Network Units being conducted in 2010. Besides investigating how these gaps are bridged nationally, the survey aimed to provide an overview of the development of the networks, of the initial experiences and challenges faced in running the networks, and to assess their potential impact. Empirical findings show that the networks probably support rural development (policies) and create added value. However, ways of demonstrating this impact in quantitative terms are lacking. Member states tend to stick closely to the specifications provided by the Commission and rarely go beyond them even if they are inadequate – even though this is legally possible. As a result, one purpose originally envisaged for the networks, namely to contribute to improving governance, is neglected. The paper provides proposals for modifying EC Regulations so as to enhance rural networks’ impact and points to the need for further theoretical research corroborating the networks’ value and increasing their effectiveness.

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