THE PATH TO BALANCED RURAL DEVELOPMENT IN THE VISEGRAD AND NORDIC-BALTIC COUNTRIES OF THE EUROPEAN UNION
This study raises the question whether or not rural areas in the Visegrad and Nordic-Baltic countries have been approaching the state of balance between the triple dimensions (economic, social and ecological) of the sustainability paradigm. To answer it, we assessed the multidimensional rural development level, determined the distance between genuine state of development and its sustainability equilibrium, and identified distance changes over time for each country. The quantitative results for the 2000-2013 period were derived by using factor analysis to build synthetic indexes for each dimension and then to aggregate them into the composite index providing overall measure of sustainable development; the 3D Cartesian system to find the development distances to perfect sustainability, and time-series analysis. The findings indicate that over the whole period rural development was generally higher in Nordic-Baltic countries but Visegrad rural areas were relatively much closer to their equally balanced state, with top positions of Hungary (EU-28 leader), Czech Republic and Poland, than these in Nordic-Baltic region with the largest unbalance in Latvia (last-place in EU-28), Estonia and Sweden. Development patterns ranged from ‘high and sustainable’ in Finland through ‘high but unsustainable’ in Sweden to ‘low but sustainable’ development in Poland. From 2000 to 2013, the progress towards rural sustainability took place merely in Poland, Finland and Denmark. The other Nordic-Baltic and Visegrad countries faced increasing deterioration of this sustainability – the most intensive in the Czech Republic. Our results suggest that synergy between high level of rural development and its high sustainability degree may exist without making trade-offs between the sustainability dimensions. How this balance can be achieved depends on various factors that need further research.