Rural development has been recognised by the European Union as a significant sector of European economic development over the past 20 years. Indeed, several funding programmes and policies have been introduced by the European Commission to support either sectoral (e.g. the Common Agricultural Policy) or integrated actions (e.g. the LEADER Initiative) for the development of rural areas. It has been commonly accepted that the development of rural areas is very often a difficult task, which needs to been encouraged and “animated” especially in the less developed or less accessible areas of Europe.
The animator of rural development, or “rural animator”, is a new concept that has been given considerable attention during the end of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st century, although it has not been formalised as a profession. The role of “rural animator” as a mediator, helping rural regions to achieve economic, social and cultural development by releasing the hidden potential of the individuals and organisations that operate in them, has been discussed widely, but only applied in practice in an ad hoc way. The European Academy of Sustainable Rural Development (Euracademy Association) has given a more tangible expression to the rural animator’s role over the past 10 years by organising annual summer schools for “managers and animators of rural development” on different aspects of rural development; and by establishing in its publications the multi-disciplinary and multi-functional profile of this role as well as its significance, which justifies its transformation to a profession. However, to achieve the establishment of the profession of rural animator, an appropriate qualification needs to be introduced at university level, vested with appropriate knowledge and skills: in EMRA, seven European universities and Euracademy Association – The European Academy for Sustainable Rural Development- join forces to introduce such a qualification at post-graduate (M.A.) level.