Rural areas and the geography of discontent
This study applies a rural-urban lens to the outcomes of recent national and subnational elections of European Union (EU) Member States, with the aim of analysing Eurosceptic (anti-EU values) voting patterns and identifying possible explanations for voter discontent in rural areas.
Findings show high Eurosceptic voting in many rural areas across the EU. At national election level, this rural-urban trend is most marked in Member States that are the most Eurosceptic overall. In Italy, for instance, the largest share of support for anti-EU parties comes from rural areas. In Poland and Hungary, Eurosceptic support is primarily driven by rural areas. However, rural Euroscepticism also occurs in less Eurosceptic countries: in the Netherlands, while most regions did not reach a 25% vote threshold for anti-EU parties, the country’s only rural region, Zeeuwsch-Vlaanderen, reached a 33% vote share. Similarly, in countries such as Portugal, Croatia and Estonia, the one or few Eurosceptic regions are all predominantly rural.
The study identifies electoral patterns in anti-EU voting, which demonstrate how rural areas can be central to the success of Eurosceptic parties at both national and subnational level. Overall, these findings underscore the potential repercussions for the EU in neglecting rural areas. They validate institutional actors’ concerns in relation to ongoing initiatives targeting the strengthening of rural areas (such as long-term vision for the EU’s rural areas 2040) and underscore their urgency, particularly in a year of important upcoming elections across different levels of administrative bodies in Europe. More broadly, the study’s conclusions provide a useful basis to reflect and debate the rural dimension of Eurosceptic and anti-EU sentiment, including origins and consequences, which impact not only the well-being of EU citizens, but the values and future of the EU itself. The study concludes with a series of questions for further reflection by European Committee of the Region members and the wider stakeholder community.