MATILDE Manifesto: The Renaissance of Remote Places


April 26, 2021

10 theses on migration and resilience in European mountain and rural regions.

Why a Manifesto?

MATILDE project has the aim of producing scientific-based knowledge and, at the same time, enhancing socio-cultural change about the perception and role of foreign immigration in rural, mountainous and remote regions of Europe. And to re-define the role of these marginalized regions is crucial within the process of EU building, in particular in times of pandemic and necessary social resilience.

In order to clarify some basic and normative assumptions of MATILDE project, and to contribute to a wider public debate at EU level, we decided to write and share an open declaration in the form of a Manifesto. We would like to underline that 10 theses are not predefined presuppositions, but a set of key assumptions that guide our work.

The Manifesto is composed of 10 theses, that are based on scientific evidence, existing research and literature, conclusions of academic and public discourses. At the same time, it is intended to be provocative and visionary with respect to the future of the European Union.  

What do we emphasize?

We move from the assumption that immigration, in all its forms – comprising internal one but especially international – actually affects the overall development of rural, remote and mountain regions of Europe.

We highlight immigration’s potential contribution to societal change, economic transformations and policies that put these ‘places left behind’, and their inhabitants, back at the center of the construction of a European Union, which is experiencing an unparalleled socio-economic and health crisis.

We finally underline the new attractiveness of these territories in the COVID-19 era. Scattered living, the return to the local dimension, the re-peopling of inner and depopulated areas of these territories may well offer ample opportunities to invest in EU enhanced by adapted national and regional policies.

MATILDE Manifesto with its 10 theses will be developed as a collective volume* that will be published in the very next months, under the coordination of Andrea Membretti (UEF, MATILDE Scientific Head), Anna Krasteva (NBU) and Thomas Dax (BAB).


MATILDE Manifesto: the 10 Theses


1. Remoteness needs to be reframed as a resource and place-based value for Europe.

The neo liberal globalization captures space and opportunities from people, integrating them into global networks of capital, exchange of goods, and even on hegemony power. It tends to produce “non places” and, at the same time, to marginalize a wide portion of the globe, also within the EU.

In a global framework of neoliberal pressures on state policies, the national states seem to privilege the central power versus the local autonomy; often pushing remote areas into a residual role, marginalized them and cut off from the dynamics of the metropolitan space. Leaving that reductionist perspective, remote places needs to be re-conceptualized as:

  • People’s vital and multi-faceted world of experience, resisting homogenization due to its cultural and positional resources;
  • The basis for sense-rich and place-based policies, profiting from the physical distance as well as from the space in-between that characterizes scarcely populated areas;
  • A call for a new and different public voice, a “lateral vision” rich of potential innovation in respect to a wider arena dominated by “central places” and narratives.

Inhabitants of rural and mountain territories need to be fully considered as citizens by European and national policies and institutions, with the same rights as the inhabitants of urban areas. To avoid a potential engagement in anti-systemic movements and political parties to express their social-economic and political discontent.

2. Rural, mountain and remote regions should be considered as the new heart of Europe.

Despite the dominant vision based on metrophilia[1] and the ongoing trends of (even forced) urbanization, the regions have been assuming a leading role in the process of European integration in the recent past. However, in the 2000’s European institutions began paying less and less attention towards these territorial actors. This is particularly true for rural and mountain regions. Despite various funds invested in local development,  the feeling of being on the margins of economic and social policies grew stronger for these regions.

The role rural and mountain regions can play for Europe’s shared wealth and wellbeing is clear for all to see. Agricultural production, forests, water reserves, cultural heritage, diversity, languages and local autonomy… These areas make them simply irreplaceable.

Furthermore, in the face of the radical changes imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, what these regions have to offer in terms of differing modes of settlement, production and consumption is likely to be increasingly sought after, as their local systems are characterized by less anthropic pressure, and more circular economies.

3. It is time for a new rural and mountain narrative.

Schematic and stereotype mainstream narratives tends to stabilize and reinforce existing spatial concentration versus peripheralization processes. At the same time, rural and mountain space is often represented in contraposition the metropolitan. Alternative narratives have to adopt more realistic concepts and engage in new pathways, considering the interlinkages between different spaces and the new narratives.

Neo-ruralism as “new highlanders” movements are important phenomena that can lead innovation and transformation within these regions, while promoting a different approach to rural-urban interactions, following even a “metro-montane”[2] perspective. It´s time to re-write the history of rural and mountain areas, with a participatory and pro-active approach, profiting from the momentum for re-conceptualizing their place within a different vision of the European continent.

4. International migration to rural and mountain areas is an important but neglected phenomenon.

It is often neglected – at least by scientists and policy makers-, both in quantitative and qualitative terms, regarding its geographical effects and distribution, and its fundamental impact on demographic change and cultural innovation. Not enough investigated by the scientific community, this phenomenon is not really considered also by policy makers, who more often focus on metropolitan areas, and on security policies related to urban peripheries. We don’t assist neither to societal awareness and recognition of ongoing shifts in migration patterns, and the emergence of new rural destinations. It is time to radically change our perspective on migration flows, considering their contribution to the renaissance of ‘places left behind’.

5. Migration impact assessment is a powerful tool for local development.

It provides a fundamental and scientific-based contribution for understanding the role of new inhabitants within local societies and economies; to foster their role with respect to local resilience and revitalization.

There is need to develop and enforce a conceptual framework and a strong transdisciplinary methodology for contextualizing the phenomenon of immigration towards rural/mountains areas and its main drivers/effects: a toolbox for conducting evaluations, and a participatory approach for engaging all the territorial actors in the construction of shared and negotiated visions of future.

6. Inclusion of migrants into rural/mountain territories is a multi-level and multidimensional process

It is a process that needs to equally involve newcomers and receiving societies. Inclusion has to be considered as non-linear and reciprocal interaction through which new population groups negotiate new cultural meanings and concrete rights of citizenship with the existing populations, within systems of socio-economic, legal and cultural relations that need to be considered in their basic characters. Avoiding any assimilation expectations by locals, inclusion refers to co-creating new transcultural spaces, economies and communities, within process of negotiated emplacement more than of one-way integration.

Social innovation and continuous negotiation between different populations are the most relevant aspects related to these processes of inclusion and mutual recognition: There is the call for dedicated policies at different territorial levels, based on a new understanding of being local, of belonging to transcultural communities.

7. International migration has to be considered as one expression among diverse m

Foreign immigrants are part of a broad category of ‘people on the move’, encompassing diverse groups whose boundaries are blurred and shifting worldwide.  In rural and mountain regions of Europe, such mobilities include depopulation/repopulation trends, “new highlanders” movement, leisure, and amenity migration, asylum seekers and refugee’s resettlement outside urban centres; it also relates to labour-induced migrations particularly seasonal work in the agricultural and tourism sectors.

A new idea of mobility need to be enhanced. Migration and mobility need to be considered not as a special case that gives rise to fear and concern about additional burdens, but as the new normality. 

8. Rural-urban relationships are fundamental assets in terms of policies aiming at the inclusion of even remote places.

These relationships are made up of material and immaterial flows. People (in and out migration flows; temporary as well as permanent inhabitants), economic resources, information, cultural and social capital, skills and practices are all elements that constitute the urban-rural linkages. The mountain dimension – where present –  represents an additional and important factor in articulating these dialectics within a multi-dimensional and even ‘metro-montane’ approach. Spatial justice, overcoming territorial inequalities, should be the framework and the goal of policies targeting rural-urban interactions, following an inclusive approach.

9. Social and economic development, attractiveness and collective well-being of remote, rural and mountain regions strongly depend on foundational economy.

The foundational economy is built from the activities which provide the essential goods and services for everyday life, regardless of the social status of consumers. These encompass, for example, infrastructures, utilities, food processing, retailing and distribution, health, education and welfare. Migrants contribute in several ways to these sectors, while they are also final users. Foundational economy represents the basis of social and territorial cohesion at regional and local levels, in terms of integration of the newcomers as well as shaping quality of life and opportunities for the entire population. This is particularly true in mountain and rural regions, where the concrete possibility of renaissance depends mainly on the development of these kind of economies and their contribution to territorial cohesion.

10. The COVID-19 pandemic can be not only a threat but also an opportunity for remote, rural and mountain regions of Europe, and for their inhabitants.

Dispersal living in a natural environment have become a value for many sectors of the EU society, especially for those who suffer from the consequences of the pandemic due to the crowded metropolitan space, considering also the context of climate change. After decades characterized by an increasing de facto “compulsion to mobility”, a new “compulsion to locality” seems to be affirmed at different levels. This new compulsion – actually related to the specific temporality of the pandemic – can be turned into a new appeal.

Remoteness – while positioned in a frame of physical and digital interconnections with the outside world – can play a significant role in managing the pandemic as its future structural consequences. Migrants, hard hit by the pandemic due to their fragile and precarious living conditions, can play a new role within sedentarization processes (e.g. new forms of reduced mobility, rooting in local dimension) that create new opportunities for local economies and attractiveness in remote regions of Europe.

*Among MATILDE researchers, the main contributors to the forthcoming volume will be,

Baglioni S., Caputo M. L., Dax T., del Olmo N., Gruber M., Hanson U., Kaya A., Kordel S., Krasteva A., Lardiés-Bosque R., Laine J., Lund P.O., Machold I., Membretti A., Schomaker R., Stenbacka S., Weidinger T.

[1] A belief that considers metropolitan as the only relevant dimension for human life.

[2] An approach emphasizing the interconnection between urban and mountain territories, within a complex system of socio-cultural and economic interactions.