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Special LEADER Symposium

Towards a new Initiative for rural development:
800 leaders give their views

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In a Word...

by Yves Champetier,
Director, LEADER European Observatory


This sixteenth issue of LEADER Magazine constitutes in a way the "proceedings of the LEADER II Symposium", a major event which, one year to the day after the Cork Conference on rural development, brought together over 1200 people, including some 800 heads of LEADER local action groups and other collective bodies.

Entitled "Towards a new Initiative for rural development: 800 leaders give their views", this symposium convened by Commissioner Franz Fischler had three objectives: to bring together for the first time all the beneficiaries of LEADER II, to reflect on a new Community Initiative for rural development and to stimulate exchanges and transnational cooperation between rural areas.

The first objective was already achieved well before the opening of the symposium since most of the current beneficiaries of LEADER II, including many new LAGs, said that they would attend as soon as the meeting was announced.

In the case of transnational cooperation, the symposium was, as the title of an article in this issue says, truly an opportunity "to move into high gear": in concrete terms, the "Cooperation Area", which throughout these three days enabled the LEADER beneficiaries to identify and meet in person potential partners, could already lead to over 100 cooperation projects. This new dimension of LEADER is therefore now firmly established.

The reflection on the new Community Initiative was the source of exciting debates whose main points were largely taken into account by Commissioner Fischler in his closing speech at the symposium: the future Initiative, which could be extended to all the rural areas of the Union, should reinforce and deepen the principles of LEADER, this "laboratory of rural innovations", while benefiting from simplified procedures of implementation.

This symposium is therefore a major success and I would like to put "in a word" to thank all the people who participated and spoke there, contributing to the success of this undertaking. Like Commissioner Fischler, I would like to thank in particular the 300 or so "LEADERs", local action groups, LAG administrations and associations, which, prior to the symposium, sent us their views on LEADER and their proposals for the future. In addition to this success, however, this symposium must especially mark a new phase that will enable increased mobilisation of the various partners of the Initiative - from the local level to the European network -, a deepening of the work begun seven years ago, generalisation of this approach to all the areas of the Union and, gradually, to the countries concerned by enlargement.

Lastly, this symposium is an encouragement for all those who on the ground, in often difficult conditions, innovate by creating new jobs, new activities, inventing a new future for rural Europe.

source: LEADER Magazine nr.16 - Winter, 1997/98

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