an abbreviation from the French language of the Liaison entre actions de
développement rural and means “Links between rural development
policy is part of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which has become
increasingly important over the years. It promotes sustainable development in
Europe’s rural areas and aims to address economic, social and environmental
problems in different areas. More than half of the EU’s population lives in
rural areas, which cover 90% of the EU’s territory.
is an innovative approach in the framework of EU
rural development policy, which is applied individually in each member state.
The name LEADER skillfully combines the
meaning of the English word “LEADERship” with the true meaning of an
integrated link between development activities in a rural area in Europe.
LEADER is a method
and tool for mobilizing local rural communities that add and support rural
development. LEADER should contribute to
improving the quality of life in rural areas for farmers’ families and, more
broadly, in rural areas.
The purpose of the LEADER approach is to encourage
local communities in rural areas, to look for new ways to become competitive,
to make the most of their resources and to overcome the challenges they face
such as: an aging population, low quality of service delivery, lack of services
and employment opportunities.
has been implemented since 1991 in order to improve
the potential for rural development, relying on the initiative and skills of
local communities. Different approaches to rural development applied before the
early 1990s were typically sectoral, aimed primarily at farmers, and aimed at
promoting structural change in agriculture. In the early 1990s, the EU’s Common
Agricultural Policy (CAP) began to change in the direction of integrating
sectoral with territorial policy. The diversity of rural areas, the richness of
local identities and the growing importance that society attaches to the high
quality of the environment are taken into account. These characteristics are
considered to be the main advantages of EU rural areas.
LEADER begins as an experiment
to bring together, at the local level, different projects and ideas,
stakeholders and resources. It evolves over time along with the rest of the
CAP. Information gathered from evaluations and from local stakeholders shows
that the LEADER approach is a tool that works well in different conditions and
types of areas and adapts rural policy-making despite large differences in
needs. For these reasons, it is becoming an integral part of rural development
policy. Politically, LEADER is founded as a “Community Initiative”
funded by the EU Structural Funds. So far, there are three generations of LEADER:
LEADER I (1991-1993), LEADER II (1994-1999) and LEADER + (2000-2006). During
this time, Member States and regions support LEADER programs with non-funding
for rural development programs for the relevant period. In the period
2007-2013, the LEADER approach is integrated into the EU’s Common Rural
Development Policy and becomes a horizontal priority and part of this policy.
From 1991 until now, LEADER has moved from a pilot initiative to a core policy.
The main idea of the LEADER approach as part of rural development policy is
based on the understanding that due to the diversity of rural areas in Europe,
development strategies are much more effective and efficient if they are
addressed and implemented locally by local actors. , accompanied by clear and
transparent procedures, supported by local community teams and disseminating
good practices. The difference between LEADER and other more traditional rural
development policies is that LEADER indicates “how” to act, not
“what” needs to be done.
Seven key features
summarize the LEADER approach and should be considered as a common
toolbox. Each feature complements and interacts positively with others
throughout the implementation process with a long-term effect on the dynamics
of rural areas and their ability to solve their own problems.
1. Territorial approach: The territorial approach based on the region
covers a small, homogeneous, socially connected territory, often characterized
by common traditions, local identity, sense of belonging or common needs and
expectations, as a target area for the implementation of a policy.
2. Bottom-up approach: Of the seven characteristics of LEADER, the most distinctive is the bottom-up approach.
It means that local actors are involved in strategy decisions and the choice of
development priorities in their local community. Rural policies that follow
this approach must be designed and implemented in a way that best suits the
needs of the community they serve.
3. Public-private partnerships (LAGs): The establishment of local
partnerships, known as the LAG, is an original and important feature of the LEADER
approach. The LAG aims to identify and implement the local development strategy
by deciding on the allocation of financial resources and their management.
4. Integrated approach (multisectoral): LEADER is not a
sectoral development program. The local development strategy should have a
multi-sectoral (multi-sectoral) focus, integrating several sectors of activity.
The activities and projects contained in the local strategies must be linked
and coordinated as a coherent whole.
5. Innovative approach (facilitating innovation – innovation): LEADER can play an important role in stimulating new and
innovative approaches to rural development. Such innovation is encouraged by
giving the LAG a wide margin of freedom and flexibility in deciding on the
activities they want to support. Innovation must be understood in a broad
sense. It can mean introducing a new product, a new process, a new organization
or a new market.
6. Networking: Networks cover the exchange of results, experience and
know-how between LEADER groups in rural areas, administrations and
organizations involved in rural development within the EU, whether or not they
are direct beneficiaries of LEADER. Networks are a way to share good practice, spread
innovation and build on lessons learned from local rural development. Networks
create links between people, projects and rural areas and thus can help to
overcome the isolation faced by some rural areas.
7. Cooperation: Cooperation
can develop into something more than making contacts. This includes a Local
Action Group that undertakes a joint project with another LEADER group or with
a group using a similar approach in another region, Member State or even a
third country. Cooperation projects are not just an exchange of experiences.
They should involve the implementation of a specific common idea and action,
preferably managed under a common structure.