Landscape and employment: beyond the labour market

Landscape Dimensions - Reflections and proposals for the implementation of the European Landscape Convention

Joaquín Romano, avril 2017

This study, carried out by Joaquín Romano, expert to the Council of Europe, examines the links between landscape, as conceived by the European Landscape Convention, and the main objectives of the economy: social welfare, job creation, availability of public goods and public structures, in order to get closer to the real concerns of European societies and to make progress in the knowledge of the risks caused by the disconnection between economy and landscape, as well as the opportunities generated by their union.

We have shown that the quality of the landscape, in all its interpretations, has a close relationship with social well-being. It is also generally recognised that without employment for individuals, well-being is impossible, and it is known that well-being depends on the quality of employment generated in a society. These two determinants of well-being, employment and landscape, are thus inseparable. Employment creates landscapes and in turn landscapes create employment. The difficulty in understanding these links is due to the excessive specialisation and disciplinary atomisation discussed above, which, far from helping us to conserve the landscape and create employment, is an obstacle to the achievement of these two objectives. This was one of the most culturally rooted capacities in Europe, as can be seen in the history of its territories. If we look at the rural landscape of the French region of Poitou-Charentes, and more specifically at the area where the town of Cognac, which gave its name to the famous brandy, is located, we can see the predominance of vineyards. This culture is part of the most ancestral landscape of this territory, but in the 19th century phylloxera destroyed this vineyard and half of the vines in Europe. The perception of the landscape by the inhabitants of this region, linked to their work and food needs, determined the decision to replace a large part of the vines with cereal crops, and this change implied drastic changes in terms of employment and lifestyle, as did the colour of the fields in summer, which changed from green to yellow. The citizens accepted this change of landscape by force of circumstance, but in fact, in their memory, this original landscape endured, which made possible years later the gradual reintroduction of vineyards around Cognac, where the production of the liqueur has continued to increase. The Poitou-Charentes region has a lower level of unemployment than the French average, which is not only due to this sector but also to others that are closely linked to it, such as tourism. The quality of employment is also determined by these activities which dominate the landscape of the region. It is possible to observe a strong seasonality of employment in tourism as well as in harvest periods, which require more labour, and this has transformed the region, now offering jobs to people from different places and whose population has been growing.

This case is one of many in Europe, which shows that there is a symbiotic relationship between landscape, economy and employment. Thus, the European Union encourages the valorisation of territories according to the diversity of landscapes by promoting the gastronomic varieties existing in these territories. This helps to promote and protect the richness of agricultural and food products, while fully respecting the right of citizens to make well-informed choices in order to enjoy quality products. To this end, assessment and protection systems have been developed for certain products with added value in socio-economic terms, insofar as they are produced in a particular region and following a specific method.

The European Landscape Convention contains an explicit and implicit reference to this relationship between landscape and employment. Its preamble states: « Noting that the landscape makes an important contribution to the general cultural, ecological, environmental and social interest, and that it is a resource for economic activity, the appropriate protection, management and planning of which can contribute to the creation of employment…". Thus, the recognition that « the landscape contributes to the formation of local cultures », whose economic activities and employment are inseparable, confirms that the protection, management and planning of the landscape are at the same time those of employment.

This relationship is reflected in the projects submitted to the Council of Europe Landscape Award. The winning project in 2013, « Preserving the ecological value in the landscape of the Szprotawa River Valley », presented by the Lower Silesia Association of Landscape Parks in Poland, recognises this: « The integrated approach goes beyond the biodiversity dimension and combines nature, culture and people. In this sense, this achievement can inspire other projects. It shows a good level of stakeholder participation in the decision-making process as well as in the management of the territory. Farmers and beekeepers are stakeholders; this project has also made it possible to bring together economic interests that appeared to be competing’ (Council of Europe, 2014). This positive relationship, which the Convention recognises, is in response to recent processes of landscape degradation in Europe as well as to labour market transformations related to production processes, institutional frameworks for labour negotiation, the resizing and relocation of enterprises, and other factors, which influence the level and stability of employment.

The increase in the size of firms in an increasingly globalised economy has generally been linked to the need to increase productivity, considered by liberal economic doctrine as the engine of progress in modern economies. But this progress based on improving the capacity to produce more with fewer people promotes vicious circles, because from the point of view of employment it offers only one alternative: to condemn many people to unemployment or to encourage an unsustainable process of growth based on the ever-increasing supply and demand for the production of goods and services, accustoming individuals and societies to an abundance of material wealth which requires the continuous increase in the consumption of raw materials and natural resources. Adopting a landscape view of the economy is essential to recognise these vicious circles and find a rational solution to the paradoxical economic, social and ecological problem of employment. This can be formulated, among other things, by the following question: is it possible that the dignified work of a person, often inherited from a traditional know-how, represents a problem for society? An essential contribution of the landscape to work is that it recognises the different interpretations of work. In the landscape, work is understood both in its generic condition of action that a person performs in order to accomplish a series of tasks or activities, both physical and intellectual, and in its more specific condition, which we will call formal or declared work, which includes legal paid activities declared to public authorities.

The broad understanding of work, linked to the person as a citizen of a territory, makes it possible to grasp all the manifestations of human activities and their complexity. In addition to the economic functions, work, as one of the main manifestations of social participation, fulfils positive psychosocial functions such as structuring the life of individuals and communities, creating opportunities to develop skills and acquire knowledge, transmitting values, norms, beliefs and expectations rooted in culture, contributing to personal and work identity, giving status and prestige as well as power of relationships and the capacity for social insertion. But it also fulfils negative functions such as dissatisfaction, frustration, stress and a range of widely studied physical and mental illnesses, which are intensified and transmitted when the recognition of work is limited to its monetary remuneration and productive function. Working time should not only be valued as paid time, but it is essential to acquire the feeling of participation in a collective work, as well as the will to build a model of society with solid social values created collectively and to examine the opportunities to have free time dedicated to the realisation of particular and social projects developed outside the market, without profit.

John Maynard Keynes, in an essay entitled Economic Prospects for our Grandchildren published in 1930, foresaw a future where we could work less and spend more time with family, friends or in our community. This is certainly a strategy worth thinking about. The landscape tells us that infinite growth is difficult to achieve, and often not even desirable given the ecological and social imbalances induced by a model where growth requires the extraction of non-renewable resources. It is now essential to reflect on this question, which Keynes posed more than eighty years ago. The notion of landscape leads to a holistic approach taking into consideration its economic, social, cultural and ecological dimensions. While the market economy reduces work to its lucrative condition, the landscape allows us to recognise other values and other forms of work, linked to the modes of economic activity mentioned above: reciprocity, redistribution and self-production.

The development of the social economy sector offers an interesting model for the orientation of employment in the private sector. Cooperative solutions for employment, reintegration of work for people with disabilities, and many other forms of organisation resulting from the incorporation of values other than those of a strictly economic nature into employment, appear to be more innovative in strengthening work structures. This change requires a strong political will and the conviction that if the landscape is a manifestation of democracy in which everyone participates through their daily activities, employment must be recognised as a right inherent in being an active member of society.

Another dimension of employment that the landscape helps to perceive is the difference between declared and undeclared work, which is closely related to the phenomena of immigration and labour exploitation (European Commission, 2007). The sectors of activity, the size of companies and the geographical extension of their activities are aspects of the landscape that affect the level of legalisation of work, but in addition to identifying these situations of illegality with a view to enforcing compliance with their tax and social security obligations, the main objective must be to guarantee the protection of working conditions for all workers, as proposed by the International Labour Organisation. Furthermore, considering the relational and emotional aspects of the human being from a meaningful knowledge point of view, it is possible to recognise that, in order to consume, man must carry out work, and in order to produce he must consume. The classical functions of supply and demand, on which the decisions of economic markets are based, turn out to be academic constructs responding to technical criteria, to which important value judgements are associated.

The transformation of a landscape due to ‘progress’ brings as many difficulties as it solves, with a marked impact on employment. When a landscape degenerates or is abandoned, a population stops working to share a common destiny. The landscape leads to the conception of the work environment as the result of a shared perception of the members of an organisation, produced by the interaction of an objective reality - linked to tasks, responsibilities, hierarchy, work standards - with a subjective reality, linked to ways of thinking, emotions, previous knowledge, skills and expectations. The leadership style appears to be a determining factor for the work atmosphere, and better working conditions are observed in organisations that adopt a participative leadership model.

In addition, consumers need to be aware of their fundamental role in the spread of undeclared work. Indeed, their purchasing decisions have a responsibility in determining social and ecological behaviour practices. When the landscape is not taken into account by consumers, their loyalty to goods and services produced under better working conditions is reduced, thus limiting the pressure they could exert to improve these working conditions. If we consider the relationship between landscape and employment in the case of a sector as basic as textiles - a sector in which Europe has become a clear importer, mainly from the two Asian giants, China and India - it is possible to see that something more than the sense of local identity that used to be transmitted through the picturesque costumes of each region has been lost. In Belgium, a country where the textile industry has traditionally been one of the most important in Europe, there is a decrease in the degree of capacity utilisation. Textile product groups are suffering from a loss of turnover, with obvious consequences in terms of employment.

The costume culture of each territory must be preserved, in its production and consumption, as part of the human landscape whose personal and collective identity corresponds to the cultural adaptation to natural and climatic conditions. It must be representative of local know-how and transmit a desire to belong to a community in the face of the destructive desire of individuals to identify with an exclusive and excluding social class. Moreover, the landscape shows the cross-sectoral, as well as social and ecological, scope of these employment effects. These values introduced by the landscape in the textile sector are common to other sectors that satisfy essential needs and should be part of the collective bargaining strategy for employment between all social actors, companies, trade unions, public authorities and civil society. Awareness of this process of transformation of the landscape from development without growth to growth without development based on the exploitation of non-renewable resources should also lead to the orientation of employment towards the search for a better quality of work and the development of inclusive policies, enabling all citizens to participate in the preservation of the tangible and intangible heritage that forms the landscape and guarantees quality of life. This orientation should be translated into a demand for public sector workers to be at the service of the community that perceives the landscape and to respond to its social vocation by using cooperative methods of selection and organisation, which are the opposite of competitive practices.

In terms of employment, the integration of young people into the European labour market must be recognised as a priority, as they represent the new wisdom that will feed the vitality of the landscape. As the European Commission has stated: « Youth unemployment has profound implications for individuals, but also for society and the economy. Unless the current trend is rapidly reversed, the current level of youth unemployment risks jeopardising their longer-term employment prospects, with serious consequences for future growth and social cohesion. As part of Europe’s wider strategy for growth and jobs, it is therefore a top priority for the EU to help young people enter and remain in the labour market and acquire and develop the skills that will pave the way to the jobs of the future’ (European Commission, 2013:2). The difficulties that young people face in entering the labour market, when not satisfactorily resolved, have extremely serious consequences for the landscape, as has been seen especially in the rural environment in recent decades. The industrialisation of the rural world, which has produced an impressive increase in the productivity of the workforce, has led to an unceasing exodus of young people from the countryside. Especially women, who have traditionally been the most active in this environment, working both outside and inside the home, despite the lack of recognition and opportunities, which has favoured their silent exit from this rural landscape.

But a youth without a future condemns these territories to a future without youth. Young people are not against the rural world, but the rural world acts against them, and against itself, because when the cultural dynamics of the rural world stop the renewal of generations, it is the rural world that loses. Territories may not change physically, but the landscapes and the individual and collective perceptions they transmit are being profoundly and surely irreversibly modified. The knowledge of the parallels and synergies between the landscape approach developed by the European Landscape Convention and employment makes it possible to overcome these limits thanks to a work culture based on the traditions of each territory, which reinvents itself in order to develop the necessary defences to face the threats and pressures of the global economy. The Convention anticipates these eventualities by considering the importance of landscape training. In accordance with Recommendation CM/Rec(2008)3 of the Committee of Ministers to member states on guidelines for the implementation of the European Landscape Convention, we would like to make the following conditional statement if landscape is an educational resource in that it confronts pupils with the visible signs of their living environment, which are relevant to spatial planning issues, and if reading the landscape also makes it possible to understand the current and historical reasons for the production of landscape as an expression of community identity, then the curricula at the various levels should provide for education in landscape themes by teaching them to read the landscape and by introducing them to the relationship between living environment and landscape, to the relationship between ecology and landscape and to social and economic issues. In short, the European Landscape Convention provides the keys to tackling the threats to employment and work posed by an economic system based on growth and profit, which generates social inequalities and environmental degradation. The Convention provides a strong impetus for participation, awareness raising, training and education on landscape, on which our ability to recognise all these forms of work around us depends. It also offers the means to address the issue of its renewal and conservation, as Europe’s landscape is the result of a continuously changing social and ecological metabolism that requires a broad and more inclusive vision of employment.


In conclusion, the interpretation of the landscape proposed by the European Landscape Convention « bridges » the gap with the economy so that it can promote a context adapted to the ecological scenarios and cultures of each territory, the safeguarding of which must shape private and public, individual and collective actions, starting from and beyond the markets and the powers that represent them. Insofar as this renovation of the economy is carried out, favoured by taking into account the landscape dimension of the territories, citizens develop a « culture of cultures » that contributes to promoting the diversity of perceptions of their territories and to reducing the inequalities that threaten social cohesion. This renewal strengthens democracy by giving the economy a humanism that best values each individual. It becomes a force that re-fuels well-being, employment and social life.


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