Strategic policy making for rural regions has gained increasing importance during the last few decades in the European Union. A coherent framework for the development of agricultural and rural policy measures has been made available (Council Decision 2006/144/EC), which integrates Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats (SWOT) analysis as an essential step in regional stocktaking and ex ante appraisal. The authors start with an outline of the SWOT tool as part of the EU's overall strategic approach and follow this with an overview of the conceptual backgrounds in management theory and organizational development. Then, on the basis of two examples, the tool's recent use in agriculture and rural development is demonstrated and discussed. Conclusions are drawn for the instrument's future application.