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Economic Vulnerability and Regional Resilience

In terms of economic vulnerability and resilience, it is impossible to identify one "typical" economic structure or typical labour market profile that could be dubbed "the mountain economy" or "the island economy" etc. The categories of geographic specificity are much too diverse for that. One similarity of the case study areas is that many (not all) feature an above-average share of employment in the public sector - often due to a generally low diversification of economic activity. This is, however, much more true for mountainous, insular, sparsely populated and outermost areas, and only rarely for coastal and border areas. Often, these areas of "classical" geographic specificity (mountains, islands, SPA, OR) are characterized as being "small economies" (i.e. with a small market and only limited availability of workforce) - and are also often removed from agglomerations - where investment (from outside) is consequently less attractive.

Many of the "specialisations" of GEOSPECS areas are directly or indirectly linked to their geographic specificity as, for instance, the heavy focus on tourism found in many of these areas (as a mountainous or coastal landscape is largely perceived as "beautiful" by visitors and offers opportunities for outdoor recreational activities). Some "specialisations" rely on natural resources that only occur in particular (geographically specific) areas, such as fishing around coastal areas and islands, mining and forestry in sparsely populated areas. A focus on renewable energies is an opportunity in almost all geographically specific areas, since many renewable energy resources are linked to geographic specificities (see also the section on natural resources). A concentration on this type of "typical" activity is not necessarily an advantage, as many of these activities - such as fishing, mining, agriculture, or forestry - require decreasing labour forces due to rationalisation, mechanisation, etc.; and primary products of low added value do not generate high income for these areas. In addition, both agriculture and tourism tend to be marked by seasonality of employment. Many of the examples of particularly successful specialisations in case study areas are those which focus on niche products of high quality: watchmaking in the Jura massif, whisky production in the Scottish Highlands, organic farming in Sicily and Central Spain, aquaculture specialised in seed mussels along the Irish Sea coast, aquaculture and the extraction of marine aggregates on the Belgian coat, even financial services in Luxembourg and Geneva.

In terms of intangible assets / social capital, it has often been stated that rural areas and small towns feature particularly tight interpersonal relations (Ward and Hite, 1998). This was also confirmed by the transversal theme on residential attractiveness, where "closely-knit" communities were found to characterize many GEOSPECS case study areas. Again, this is only true for those areas that were characterized as "small economies" (SPAs, OR, some islands, some mountain areas), but not for any of the coastal or border case studies. Although these high levels of 'bonding' social capital are also an asset in economic terms, it is important to point out that this should be complemented by openness towards extra-local actors, as local communities will not be able to generate development purely from within.


These findings are just some samples from the extensive quantitative analysis that was undertaken for GEOSPECS. The entire analysis can be found in the Draft Final Scientific Report, downloadable on the ESPON website.




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