Regional, rural and urban development

RDPC Plenary 1: Looking Back, Looking Ahead


Chair’s Opening remarks by Angel Gurría

OECD Secretary-General

19 March 2019 - Athens, Greece

(As prepared for delivery)



Ministers, Ambassadors, ladies and gentlemen, 

Thank you for joining us for this important celebration. We are here today to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the OECD Regional Development Policy Committee – although to be fair, when the Committee was created, it was the TERRITORIAL Development Committee.


The importance of regional development policies

Regional development policies have become an essential tool for governments, parliaments and international organisations. They have become strategic instruments to promote national cohesion, regional economic integration and shared prosperity.

These policies are particularly important today at a time when we are facing significant regional divides, growing inequalities, a backlash against globalisation and an erosion of citizens’ trust.

Let me provide some stark numbers: The top 20% of regions are more than twice as rich as the poorest 20% in over half of OECD countries; the richest 10% of the OECD population now earn almost 10 times more than the poorest 10%, up from 7 times in the 80s; and the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer – presented at the OECD in January – shows that overall less than half of the general population trust their government.

Acknowledging the importance of regional development policies to promote economic growth the OECD Council decided to create the RDPC in 1999. Since its creation, RDPC has shaped the international debate and has accompanied policymakers as the objectives of regional development have shifted: from top-down subsidies to reduce regional disparities, to broader approaches to improve regional competitiveness, and to the more comprehensive pursuit of economic, social and environmental objectives.

Moreover, RDPC has accumulated a deep pool of knowledge that we can draw from. This includes: 190 plus publications – that’s on average, one publication every month for the past 20 years; ground-breaking databases and analysis of internationally comparable subnational statistics; as well as dialogue with thousands – if not tens of thousands – of Ministers, mayors, and stakeholders in the private and public sectors, and in civil society.


Looking ahead

But we are here to talk about the future! Megatrends, such as: digitalisation and technological change; ageing populations and urbanisation; climate change and resource scarcity are already having profound implications for regions, cities and rural areas and will continue to do so. We need to harness megatrends, make the most of the opportunities that they present us and tackle the emerging challenges that they create.

We need a cross-cutting policy approach that takes “place” into account, that takes people in to account, that takes firms into account. In fact, in 2014, this Committee developed the first international standard acknowledging the importance of place-based approaches and coordination across levels of government for effective public investment. What is today known as the Recommendation of the OECD Council on Effective Public Investment Across Levels of Government.

Let me briefly offer three key lessons, from the work of the RDPC, that I believe are particularly relevant going forward and can provide food for thought for our discussions here in Athens:

First, the long-term vitality of communities depends not only on economic growth and competitiveness, but also on inclusion and environmental sustainability – in other words, resident well-being. This notion was absent from the discussion 20 years ago.

Second, regional development is not a zero sum game. The fates of our communities are interconnected. The old urban vs rural debate is obsolete. There are different rural realities and there are different urban realities. This means that we must look beyond administrative boundaries to work on a scale that leverages – rather than overlooks – these connections, for example, how to better leverage urban-rural linkages.

Last but not least, governance can help grease the gears of regional development. Already, well-functioning decentralisation systems are a pre-condition for effective regional development. Megatrends however, are expected to bring new pressures on local and regional budgets so we need to find new ways to address our challenges. And that is precisely why our discussions during this Ministerial are so important.

I hope you keep these points into account during your discussion.


Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would now like to invite our first lead speaker, Senatrice Barbara Lezzi, Minister for the South, Presidency of the Council of Ministers, Italy to take the floor.

Italy has been a longstanding partner of RDPC. From RDPC’s first chair, Mr. Fabrizio Barca, a former Italian Minister and a global thought leader on regional development, to Ms. Flavia Terribile, the current Chair.



See also:

OECD work by Centre for Entrepreneurship, SMEs, Regions and Cities

OECD work with Greece



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