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Special LEADER Symposium

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

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Stands, "Meeting Points", "Forums", "Rural Cyberspace"...
An interactive symposium

In addition to the plenary sessions and
workshops, the LEADER Symposium included
a large number of activities reflecting
a vibrant, enterprising and convivial
rural Europe.


Still in large numbers on this long November weekend, the tourists on their way to the Grand Place in Brussels who were passing through the gardens of the Palais des Congrès where an unobtrusive "LEADER" banner was flying certainly had no idea that the lower levels of the immense and austere building had been turned into a genuine "Aladdin's cave". To parody another tourist attraction of the Belgian capital, the Palais des Congrès was a kind of "Mini-rural Europe" for the period of a symposium, with each of the Union's fifteen countries having set up for the occasion a stand overflowing with local products from its "LEADER soil".

A stroll through the exhibition halls was a little like travelling through rural Europe. And the trip was even quite fun since, for promotional reasons, each stand tended to magnify the characteristics, if not the stereotype image of the country represented: thus, Italy's stand cleverly combined gastronomic products and socio-economic brochures, Greece's stand resembled an oriental bazaar, Portugal's also brought together an impressive variety of food and craft products, France recreated a "country bistro", Austria presented a wide range of ecological products, Germany had a deliciously innovative "apple beer" for tasting...

The LEADER exhibition clearly reflected an essential preoccupation of a number of the participants at the symposium: to communicate one's development action through a product, a service, an actual achievement. Thus on the first day of the symposium (Sunday, 9 November), 33 "Meeting Points" were held; in small groups of twenty or so people, LAG officials were able to present, usually with an object, an action that in their view exemplified their approach.

During this same day, six "Forums" were also organised. These were a series of mini-conferences presenting the specific features of LEADER in the different Member States and the action of several Directorates-General of the European Commission to promote rural development. The aim was to better acquaint the participants with the socio-economic, institutional context of LEADER and the procedures to implement it in each of the countries of the Union and to provide a better understanding of the various Community policies concerning rural development.

Because one of the major objectives of the symposium was to facilitate the setting up of transnational cooperation operations between LEADER areas (see corresponding articles), a whole section of the Palais des Congrès was reserved for a "Cooperation Area". Over 300 LEADER II beneficiaries were thus able to meet potential partners and to explain their cooperation project.

As for the handful of tourists, less in a hurry and more curious than the others, who dared open the door of the Palais des Congrès, it was impossible for them not to see the "Rural Cyberspace" in the centre of the entrance hall which throughout the symposium drew crowds of visitors: 7 computers were there for participants wishing to present their Web site, consult databases, send messages or simply "surf on the Web" from the "Rural Europe" site. Jean-Charles Nadé, computer specialist in charge of the Cyberspace, estimates that about 600 people took advantage of this service during the symposium.

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

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