The purpose of this chapter 1 is to foster discussion about rural development in the Mediterranean context 2 and, with this aim in mind, we take as our point of departure two fundamental assumptions concerning rural economy and society. The first is a matter of empirical fact: agriculture still constitutes the vital core of the rural economy, particularly in the least favoured areas of the Mediterranean countries of the European Union (EU), though undoubtedly the centre of gravity of the rural economy has shifted (Portela, 1994c; Portela, 1999b). Farming is nowadays increasingly undertaken in combination with other activities such as rural tourism, local handicraft production, hunting and environmentally-linked recreational activities. 3 Needless to say, farming and forestry play a key role, currently occupying approximately three-quarters of the combined area of the EU’s fifteen member states (CCE, 1993). The majority of analysts and policy-makers now recognize – or at least their discourse suggests as much – that agriculture is much more than just a specific economic activity and that, to have a future, it has to be liberated from the narrow, abstract and technicist approaches of the past, or from what Massot (1998: II.8) calls:

typically sectoral, archaically productivist policies that emphasize the quantity of output rather than rural people and the territory that sustains them; designed – as it was – with the six founding member states in mind, it is now, in the final analysis, internally unbalanced (our translation).