LEADERis an abbreviation from the French language of the Liaison entre actions de développement rural and means “Links between rural development activities”.
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.
LEADER 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.
LEADER 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.
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