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The ESPON 2013 Operational Programme
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Sparsely populated and poorly connected areas, 2011

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Map
 

  • The extent of economic and social development challenges linked to sparsity does not depend on the proportion of ‘sparse’ or ‘poorly connected’ areas at both regional or national level
  • The interest is not on uninhabited areas, but on local communities whose economy is vulnerable due to the small size of the labour market. Besides, the limited ‘reachable population’ makes it difficult to deliver cost-effective services, both private and public
  • Sparsely populated areas are mainly to be found in Northern Europe, including large parts of Finland, Sweden and Norway
  • In contrast, poorly connected areas can be observed in Turkey. The same applies in the Balkans

Observations for policy

The analysis of sparsely populated and poorly connected areas suggests a wide range of relevant fields of intervention, including seasonal employment, investments in local small and medium scale renewable energy production, and specific measures to develop higher education. Additionally, it constitutes a window of opportunity to promote access to ICT and innovative methods of service provision.

Policy context

Following the accession of Finland and Sweden to the EU in 1995, sparsity gained European recognition as a unique characteristic of the northernmost regions due to particular challenges and assets. Nowadays, sparsely populated areas belong to the type of areas identified in article 174 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union and more recently on the Green Paper on Territorial Cohesion.

Map interpretation

The map shows areas with low population potential. this includes sparsely populated areas and poorly connected areas. Sparsely populated areas are mainly to be found in Northern Europe, including large parts of Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Finland, among others.

Poorly connected areas are often to be found just next to sparsely populated areas. In general, large parts of the Balkan Peninsula are poorly connected. The same applies to the Alps.

The extent of economic and social development challenges linked to sparsity does not depend on the proportion of ‘sparse’ or ‘poorly connected’ areas at the regional or national level. The focus is not on uninhabited areas, but on local communities that are economically vulnerable because of the small size of the labour market and where the limited ‘reachable population’ makes it difficult to deliver cost-efficiently private and public services.

Concepts and methods

Traditionally, sparsely populated areas are identified on the basis of population densities with threshold levels of 8 inhabitants km2 for regional policy and 8 to 12,5 inhabitants km2 in the guidelines for national regional aid. The resulting delineations are largely determined by administrative boundaries.

This map works with a new approach based on population potential and connectivity. Here, sparsely populated areas are those areas that have population potential below 100 000 inhabitants for both 50 km and 45 minutes calculations. In contrast, poorly connected areas are those that fall below this threshold only for the 45 minute calculation. Population potential describes the number of persons that can be reached within a generally accepted daily commuting or mobility area.


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