The European Union, sustainable tourism policy and rural Europe
Rural areas in Europe are estimated to account for 91 per cent of the European Union (EU) territory and for 56 per cent of the population (EC 2005a). These rural areas across Europe have been shaped and managed, to a greater or lesser degree, by agricultural and forestry practices for centuries. But agriculture as the main bulwark of rural economies has been in decline while tourism has grown, generating substantial visitor spending. It is now the biggest sector of the economy in many rural areas, overtaking such established land uses as farming, forestry, fishing and field sports, both in terms of employment and Gross Domestic Product (GDP) (Leslie 2007). However, tourism during the early decades of the European Union received little attention (see Robinson 1993); essentially it was seen as the responsibility of the Member States.