This project has received funding from the European Union's Seventh Programme for research, technological development and demonstration under grant agreement No 265104


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VOLANTE Vision “Regional Connected

The vision in short

In this vision, most society’s needs are met regionally through a more coherent relationship between the people in a region and their resources. The premise is that economies do not need to globalise to thrive, moving away from regional specialisation.

The concept

This vision is based on a greater appreciation of the resources that are available regionally and of the value of trying to live without external inputs, with the help of technological developments. Key priorities are serving the regional population first and keeping regional coherence: this reduces the need for transportation and therefore its negative impact. However, fostering territorial cohesion on the regional scale should not be seen as an attempt to isolate communities or to re-close borders. More local autonomy does not mean introversion and isolation, but more resilience, more involvement by the population, and more democracy.

Regionally connected

How to reach a vision Regional Connected?

The underlying idea of this vision is that society should try to live with a more regional focus, living closer to the natural environment instead of following a cost-driven approach of continued global development. Such a change of paradigm towards a regional anchoring should dramatically reduce the global consumption of energy linked to transportation of food, people and goods.

How can such a vision be reached? The VOLANTE analysis found five pathways suitable to sufficiently approach this vision. The Greening Europe policy (both starting from A2 or form B2) is one of the most feasible pathways for this vision. A strong focus on nature protection, with expansion of protected zones beyond Natura2000, a robust ecological corridor network and strengthened constraints on land cover conversions and restrictions on forest management would result in more forest and natural areas and improved connectivity of these areas (Figure 13). The principal mechanism of this pathway is land use restrictions in favour of nature protection and limited intensification of land use.

The trade-offs lie mainly in the economic potential of land use in Europe.

Figure 13 We can see trade-offs both within Europe (e.g., negative impact on the shadow value of agricultural land, limited climate change mitigation potential in agriculture) and consequences for land use outside Europe (e.g., increased cropland displacement to African, Latin-American and Pacific OECD regions, and increased roundwood imports). It can also be observed that intensification of agriculture and forestry due to reduction of available area will corrupt some of the positive effects of nature protection actions. 

Figure 13 Landscape of connected forests with agriculture in between, which is a crucial feature of the Greening Europe policy alternative (Mediterranean landscape near Perpignan, FR).

 The other four pathways to this vision and the respective trade-offs are presented in the fact sheets.

Policy implications of the vision Regional Connected

In general this vision may require increased weight of EU policy and implementation, as it deviates significantly from current development and policies. Especially the emphasis on green and blue connectivity is not in line with past trends and current EU policies, as even the implementation of the Natura 2000 network has met considerable challenges, and the designation of conservation areas has often not led to more integrated and connected ecological networks. The call for supplying all land goods and services at a regional level is also contrary to the ongoing trend of international via trade (increasing the distance between the place of consumption and the locations of production) and land use displacement both inside and outside the EU (See Text Box on displacement Effects). The consumption of the EU’s population is thus increasingly affecting diverse regions around the globe, causing considerable environmental footprints abroad. Domestic EU policies potentially increase this trends, e.g., via the increased demand for bioenergy in the EU that may lead to growing biomass imports.

The vision calls for compact cities, which is only partly in line with recent trends of substantial urban sprawl and peri-urban developments, especially in Western and Central Europe. Analysis shows that in general settlement areas increase faster than population number throughout Europe – being in contrast to the notion of compact cities. Some countries, however, have managed to confine urban sprawl through strict public regulation and planning (see also under Best Land in Europe).

Concerning general the ‘greening’ of agriculture (extensification and High Nature Value Farmland), past also development show diverging trends. On the one hand, agricultural intensification is found has been a prevailing trend throughout Europe (box and fact sheet on intensification), and the overall share of agricultural land in Natura 2000 areas is low. Both these trends suggest an increasing separation of conservation and agricultural production areas, and thus speak against a call for a ‘greening’ of agriculture. On the other, hand Agri-environmental Schemes related to the Rural Development Programmes are currently implemented, and an increasing share (though still low) of the CAP budget is allocated to schemes under the Rural Development Program. This indicates a move towards a greening of agriculture, at least at the policy level. Indeed, some empirical evidence for a reduction in land-use intensity is already observable in the last years (e.g. declines in fertiliser use in Europe’s West).

The call for increasing forest areas on abandoned land is in line with past trends, as this is seen at all spatial levels. The development is driven by a combination of support schemes for afforestation, and abandonment of agricultural lands based on either changes in agricultural practises implying less need for pastures or small farms in remote areas becoming economically non-viable. Some of these abandoned lands develop into forest by means of natural succession.

Restrictions on green belt development means planners are having to think about new ways of housing people in cities (or rehash old ways). Current road development trends help the connection aspect although in this vision. Sustainable agriculture does not necessarily mean low yields – there are several technologies that can allegedly achieve both, e.g., precision farming. Agri-environmental schemes are already well established in most EU countries. Forest area is increasing in many EU countries mainly as a result of government support through grants. In some areas, abandoned land is slowly converting to forest.

Many opportunities for nature are available; small gains (roofs, gardens, abandoned industrial sites, road verges) can all make a difference. Agri-environmental schemes have laid a foundation in some areas. The EU is currently already supporting green infrastructure and nature based solutions. Strong support for this vision also consists in several government policies trying to improve rural-urban connectivity.

Stakeholders’ views on Regional Connected

For this vision the stakeholders suggested a strong but slightly more central governance, banning urban sprawl and focussing on green and blue networks, increased growth in smaller, compact cities, and a diversified and liveable rural space by introducing economic functionality. However, there should be more coherence to the regions we live in, that is to say we should live closer to our direct environment instead of following the monetary cost-driven approach of global development. The development of a highly efficient transport infrastructure is essential to enhance a sustainable and ecological neural network of settlements, and to allow people to live in the smaller towns and in largely self-sufficient villages in the countryside without being isolated from society. Such a change of paradigm towards a regional anchoring should dramatically reduce the global consumption of energy linked to transportation of food, people and goods.

Agriculture in a considerably reduced land area will need to focus on sustainability, supporting interconnections of larger forest areas. Land resource in regions should be used for what it is the best suited, but always with the objective to serve the regional population first, in order to decrease transportation needs and the related negative externalities. The development of agro-tourism, eco-tourism, the harvesting of timber, or biomass and bio-energy production are suggested important functions of the rural ideal.


Vertical growth could be difficult to implement in several cities, particularly historic cities with restrictions on skyscrapers (e.g., London, Paris), so urban planning development may need to adapt. Similarly, connecting to smaller towns may require careful changes to the planning laws, possibly implying costly and controversial land use change. ‘Well connected’ implies massive economic investment, whether that is road, rail (tram), cycle path or superfast internet.

This vision has huge implications for how we farm today – a large-scale move towards extensive farming is contrary to the vast bulk of EU agriculture. If predominantly marginal farming would become High Nature Value, that would provide jobs, if economically viable. This would require major political and policy changes to enforce and establish small scale farming.

While land use change is not always popular, even on marginal land (if privately owned by farmers for example) and the long-term aspect of forest creation is also off-putting to many, loss of marginal land to forest would be fairly easy to incorporate into policy and is indeed already a facet of woodland creation in many countries.

This vision would require radical re-writing of most planning policies to incorporate biodiversity aspects. This includes, business, housing development, transport, etc.


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