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Special LEADER Symposium

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

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The LEADER method from A to Z:
Employment, quality of life,
local democracy, subsidiarity,
innovation, networking...

Each of the six thematic workshops of the
symposium showed that the LEADER method,
even if it sometimes "disrupted" certain
institutional practices, was a rather
adequate response to the major
challenges of rural society.

 

The six workshops which were held in parallel during the afternoon of 10 November were without a doubt a highlight of the symposium. Six themes were identified, each corresponding to a challenge facing rural society and LEADER:

  • employment (workshop 1), a major problem for Europe given the continuing high level of unemployment;

  • quality of life, the environment and landscapes (workshop 2), essential components of sustainable development which seeks to reconcile well-being and economic viability;

  • local democracy, participation and equal opportunity (workshop 3), major challenges - and achievements - for a programme like LEADER which is based on the bottom-up and partnership approach to development;

  • innovation (workshop 4), a fundamental dimension of LEADER, the "underpinning" of the competitiveness of rural areas;

  • subsidiarity and the sharing of responsibilities of implementation (workshop 5), decisive challenges for the success of LEADER II and the future Community Initiative;

  • rural solidarity, opening up, cooperation and networks (workshop 6), key elements of the "LEADER philosophy", which is based on the transfer of experiences, know-how and good practices between rural areas.

 

Objectives

For each theme and on the basis of the experience of the LEADER groups, each workshop had:

  • to come up with proposals that could facilitate the search for and implementation of new ways in the context of Agenda 2000;

  • to identify new challenges that a new Initiative for rural development will have to face;

  • to define the types of support, procedures, work settings, etc. needed to better manage at the local level the problem concerned.

In addition to these general objectives, each workshop specifically had:

  • to identify the new stakes and challenges for the theme concerned;

  • to examine the specific methods and procedures for implementing LEADER;

  • to analyse and assess the results of the LEADER method.

 

A common language

The texts that follow aim to give a rendering of the content of each of the workshops. These are always summaries: indeed it is impossible to convey the entire richness of the debates and exchanges that involved numerous people (about 200 participants per workshop) for several hours.

In addition to the highlights mentioned in the article corresponding to each workshop, it is worth noting certain aspects that emerged from the six working groups and which shed additional light on the reflections of the LEADER symposium (some were expressed by Heino von Meyer when he presented his summary of the workshops at the plenary session):

  • the diversity of rural areas is so great that it is sometimes disconcerting;

  • to meet each challenge, the links between the different rural areas have to be strengthened;

  • the challenges of rural Europe are also the challenges of urban Europe. Rural development is not only the business of rural dwellers: the quality of life, of the environment, of landscapes, the need for recreational spaces, for example, also correspond to an urban demand. It is important that city-dwellers become aware of the contribution of the rural world to society as a whole;

  • LEADER has helped create a new vision of rural Europe;

  • LEADER has helped impose a shared language and overcome the isolation of each group taken individually;

  • LEADER "popularises Europe", enhances the image of the Union at the local level;

  • the LEADER method is often disrupting and "LAGs are strange animals", to repeat the metaphor used by two participants;

  • LEADER corresponds to a "bottom-up" approach to rural development, but it must not be forgotten that it is the "top" that encouraged it and will have to continue encouraging it in the future;

  • LEADER is an extremely modern policy because it has virtually no money, a "homeopathic policy". That is why being innovative is important, even if it is only to make up for the lack of means.

 

Employment: an indirect impact

At a time when the European Union has over 18 million unemployed people, employment is a key issue on which the future of the rural world obviously depends. The workshop entitled "Employment and rural development: the LEADER method" sought to assess the impact of LEADER in terms of the creation or consolidation of jobs and activities and then to arrive at recommendations for the new Community Initiative.

New sources of employment

Today, the solutions to the problem of employment in rural areas no longer depend solely on the structures traditionally concerned by the problem, i.e. enterprises and the public authorities: for enterprises, productivity and competitiveness are making it harder to hire; in the public sector, budget cuts are resulting everywhere in a reduction of jobs. On the other hand, new needs are appearing, opening up new prospects of employment. But for these new sources of employment to emerge, a new approach is necessary that is based on strategies taking into account local human resources and the assets (natural resources, amenities, etc.) and constraints specific to each area.

Carola Bell, head of the Scottish LAG of Western Isles, Skye & Lochalsh, showed how LEADER had helped set up a teleworking centre which has so far created some one hundred quality jobs in publishing: "new rural jobs do not necessarily have to look to the past but to the future; they must be modern jobs that meet the area's needs and the expectations of those living there."

The primary objective of LEADER is not the direct creation of jobs, but by making partnership and the integrated approach the main focus of implementation, LEADER has opened up prospects for new solutions to the problem of work: support for local initiatives, consultation between partners have become in the LEADER areas the preferred ways to create and support new activities, gradually enabling existing jobs to be consolidated and new sources of income and occupation to be created for people in rural areas.

Micro-enterprises

LEADER has therefore had an indirect effect on employment, and this in the framework of projects often not covered by conventional programmes. "The project holders who we support," Tommaso Marsano of the LAG Capo Santa Maria di Leuca (Italy) said, "are above all enthusiastic people driven by the spirit of enterprise who until then had never had access to Community funding."

LEADER is centred on micro-enterprises and micro-activities which, by combining various ways of organising work (self-employment, part-time work, seasonal work), can ensure a more diverse and more stable income for rural people: it should be recalled that people who have more than one activity account for nearly half of the Union's farmers.

The job of the LEADER partners is to identify and make use of resources until now unexplored, e.g. in terms of identity and amenities. This involves organising the supply and demand of new products and services and encouraging in this way the creation of economically viable activities translating into jobs and a better quality of life for the local population. Training obviously plays a determining role in this course of action. Yet, here too, the traditional approaches have often shown their limits and new ways of training-learning must be invented, especially since, Michel Laine of DG V insisted, "there can be a gap between existing skills and those that are truly needed, between today's skills and those that will be necessary in ten years time."

Links

The LEADER experience shows that the creation of jobs in rural areas is a long-term endeavour whose results only appear gradually. Job creation does not depend solely on financial support: those concerned have to be informed, mobilised, specific local assets have to be discovered, the emergence of new ideas has to be encouraged, there is the networking of entrepreneurs, new consultation between public and private sectors, etc. Referring to the example of the Territorial Employment Pacts, Michel Laine notes that "the success of entrepreneurship does not depend so much on the content of the measures but on the implementing procedures proposed. (...) More than anything else the indispensable links between the different groups of people have to be created to arrive at a level of social cohesion that will help solve the problems of employment."

There are other arguments in favour of involving the different segments of population: e.g. the diversification of rural activities offers new prospects for women. Traditionally, activities related to agricultural production tend to be carried out by the farmer but as soon as the farm diversifies and branches out into rural tourism or the marketing of farmhouse products, for example, the role of the spouse becomes much more important. Problems relating to equal opportunity, the professional integration of young people, etc. must be specifically dealt with. For this, LEADER provides support and assistance services adapted to individual cases, creates links between the actors and sectors, facilitates cooperation.

The workshop's participants concluded from this that it was necessary:

  • to keep LEADER's indirect approach to employment, encouraging entrepreneurship;

  • to retain the multisectoral approach which is essential to the diversification of activities;

  • to continue promoting intangible investments and "soft" financial assistance which are complementary to the other investments and often have more multiplying effects than heavy investments.

 

Quality of life, environment, landscapes: reconciling protection and development

The workshop devoted to the environment, quality of life and landscapes covered a whole range of challenges, since, as Ritva Partanen from the LAG RaJuPussu (Finland) clearly demonstrated when she presented the development process under way in this remote and sparsely populated area: "the quality of life is not only dependent on quality air, water, landscapes but also on services that meet people's needs."

Four elements are essential in improving the quality of life in rural areas, however diverse they may be:

  • stronger social links;

  • the utilisation of space, heritage, landscapes;

  • access to information, training and employment;

  • accessible local services.

Sustainable development

What matters most, however, is the economic viability of rural areas, because "even if the region is beautiful, people leave it when there are not enough economic activities," a participant pointed out.

The ultimate challenge is sustainable development. Going well beyond the simple preoccupation of environmental protection, sustainability is a concept that encompasses a dynamic process of economic efficiency, social cohesion and respect of the integrity of the environment, biodiversity and landscapes.

Reconciling all these elements is not simple. More often than not it is a question of seeking a balance between two apparently contradictory poles: "we are forced to sell natural resources to protect them," says in short Reinhard Lechner of the LAG Bregenzerwald (Austria).

The participants in the working group insisted on the importance of environmental awareness and training actions: "environmental protection is still too often considered by many to be a threat to economic activities," noted Jacqui Cuff of Birdlife International, speaking from experience.

The environment as lever

Many LEADER groups have nonetheless helped turn existing or potential conflicts into positive synergies. The most obvious examples concern local action groups that intervene in protected areas, be they national or regional nature reserves or biosphere reserves. These LAGs are successful in making environmental protection and restoration of heritage an asset and even a lever for the development of the area concerned, involving this area in the processing of farmhouse or artisanal products, in tourism, etc., even creating highly skilled jobs related to environmental research and assessment. These are all possible ways of "putting economic activities at the service of people and limiting the brain drain from the rural world.," said an official from the Aragon LAG (Spain).

Since 1992, the global approach of LEADER has made it possible not only to improve the management of resources and the quality of landscapes but the training and qualification of the local actors concerned, leading to very professional development plans. For Christian Anz of DG VI, "LEADER has made rural areas multifunctional and the LEADER philosophy should be transferred to other Community programmes."

Services

On a more general level, LEADER is participating in the maintenance of sustainable rural communities, enhancing local identities and cultures, fighting against exclusion and also ensuring a balance between the know-how, opportunities and needs of all the categories of population.

As far as these needs are concerned, a key problem for the workshop's participants concerns the offer of public and private services and the efficient use of new technologies. "In isolated areas, modern communication technologies are fundamental to reduce isolation and keep people in the area," noted the representative of the South West Limerick group (Ireland). However, according to the workshop's participants, it is a sector where LEADER has perhaps not been sufficiently present. In this field, there should be a review of strategies and the eligibility criteria of the programme in order to obtain maximum benefit from a sector that has major job possibilities.

Focusing on the vitality of rural areas, on the strengthening of synergies and complementarities between local actors means a rigorous selection of the actions to be backed. Another balance has to be found between the necessary consideration of the specific features of each area and the necessarily general nature of global policies which have repercussions at the local level.

Quality

The LEADER rural innovation programmes have provided certain solutions in terms of adjustment and diversification in the use of space, scenery and natural resources. It is nonetheless essential that the relationship between development policies and environmental policies be deepened and that the notion of space in activities supported by the LEADER Initiative be better integrated.

The workshop also proposed that the experimental nature of LEADER be retained: the programme's pilot approach allows for considerable flexibility when intervening to achieve an objective - sustainable development - that is both complex and ambitious.

Another conclusion, which concerns the LEADER method as a whole, has to do with quality: "the high criteria of quality that are set in the case of the environment must be extended to our entire development action," stated a participant: "quality of the animation, quality of the partnership, quality of the projects, quality of innovations, etc." <

 

Local democracy, participation and equal opportunity

Contrary to the two previous workshops, this workshop was more concerned with the means to be implemented - democracy, local participation, equal opportunity - than the objectives to be attained - employment, quality of life, sustainable development.

The involvement of local people, social and economic cohesion are in fact key elements for development that is balanced and sustainable in the long term. For Joan Asby of the South Pembrokeshire LAG (United Kingdom), "a development process only involving the local institutional and economic actors would be sterile. The conditions must be created so that as many people possible, young and old, men and women, are mobilised and this at every stage of the process."

New attitudes

By making the largest partnership possible a requirement for devising a common strategy for area-based development, LEADER has had a decisive influence on the behaviour of rural actors, be they institutional or private. Moreover, the emphasis on the role of animation has opened up concrete areas of participation by the different local actors and been an incentive for the organisation at local level of a series of information and training activities whose effect has been increased prospects of development through the diversity of ideas, points of view and aspirations of the different local actors.

It is difficult to quantify in the short term LEADER's contribution here. While technical and financial assistance can be measured, the degree of involvement of the local people, new partnership practices, the renewed perception of "social rifts" in the areas concerned are difficult to measure.

All these elements have nonetheless been instruments specifically used to help increase local democracy and improve equal opportunity at the local level.

The European Union's rural areas greatly differ from one another in terms of how their social fabric is organised and the spaces where ideas and relationships are expressed between institutions and citizens. Noting these differences, the workshop's participants also wondered "what the ideal size of an area was for democracy to work as best as possible" (Thomas Schaumberg, LAG Vogelsberg, Germany).

This diversity, which is one of the most precious features of rural areas, requires flexible strategies and can lead to certain difficulties when applying European policies and implementing programmes like LEADER. Thus, for some areas, the development process has had to be launched using totally elementary methods of animation given the level of deterioration of the socio-economic fabric; elsewhere, animation has been a way to make a qualitative leap in already existing activities. Similarly, in some areas, the new practices introduced have rather easily created common working habits whereas in others, "sectoral" ways of thinking still dominate.

New practices

Often, the LEADER partnership has had a positive impact in ordinary institutional practices: thus, consultation of the various parties concerned, consultation between partners have been gradually incorporated in the "normal" management of the projects. Several LEADER groups would currently like to have greater autonomy in the elaboration and implementation of local development strategies and would like to have better control over the external decisions affecting their area. These processes call for new methods of consultation and collaboration between local actors. Recounting the experience of the LAG Ouest-Aveyron (Midi-Pyrénées, France) and conveying the thoughts of the French network "Sol et Civilisation", Raymond Lacombe sees four dimensions to the renewal of local practices: "renewal of the organisation of areas (reactivation of the notion of 'land', 'region'), new partnership and networking practices (creation of working groups comprising a diversity of actors), adapted decision-making processes (involving the coordinating team, financial backers and LAG) and rehabilitation of the system of 'contracts' between government agencies and the area's actors (...). The relationship is no longer one of hierarchy or that of beggar and donator, but one of equality. Here too we find the democratic challenge."

Democracy, participation and equal opportunity imply in particular greater consideration of new forms of exclusion, shortcomings in terms of access to resources and opportunities. The LEADER programmes have helped start the return to a balanced situation at the area level or in the case of disadvantaged groups of people. It is essential, however, that this relationship between development policies and enhanced democratic practices be deepened while at the same time incorporating the notion of equal opportunity in the participation in the activities supported by the LEADER Initiative.

The workshop concluded that LEADER had triggered a new way of looking at everything "rural". The Initiative generated real dynamism in the organisation of actions and mobilised human strengths, including people or groups of people who had given up any involvement in development, no longer even recognising the existence of opportunities in their area.

LEADER has helped create new relationships between the different categories of the local population, between the public, private and voluntary sectors, and between the different government agencies.

One-stop shop

As far as the future Community Initiative is concerned, it is imperative that flexibility be ensured and maintained in order to optimise the participation of all, men and women alike, at the local level. Here, the workshop advocates the granting of a global grant, even if the method sometimes poses problems of application. It is important to clarify this mechanism, to check that it is compatible with national and in particular regional administrative rules and procedures, because in some regions what was supposed to make LEADER's implementation simpler instead complicated it.

A lot of the participants also called for the "one-stop shop" system which, by channelling the different financial flows to the local level, only imposes one set of rules and ensures that the local groups do not have to negotiate with three different European Funds, to write up three reports as a result, etc.

 

Subsidiarity and responsibility. Coordinating the different levels.

This workshop, which was attended by a number of representatives of national and regional institutions and administrations, focused on subsidiarity and the "vertical partnership". The aim was to discuss the adequate level of responsibility - local, regional, national, European - to maximise the "LEADER effect".

Powers

The first observation made was that everything depends on the way in which power is shared and on the administrative tradition of the different countries, not to mention the often very big differences between the terminologies and concepts used. This explains the difficulty encountered in reaching definitive conclusions at the end of the workshop.

Sometimes considered a threat by the authorities higher up, LEADER has been confronted with institutional rigidness and shortcomings. "The local development approach is poorly perceived by the financial backers and government agencies. LEADER loses credibility because of its administrative management," deplores a French LAG official.

There have often been delays: the Carrefour of Lower Saxony notes that it can take up to three years for an application to be processed. However, "in the meantime, the project's objectives will have evolved and the initial financial application may very well no longer correspond to this change".

Similarly, the right balance has to be found between the imperatives of implementing projects at the local level and the constraints inherent in any management of public funds at the regional, national and/or European levels. The LEADER groups often have to face the incoherencies between these different levels. If it is already difficult at the European level, for example, to coordinate the intervention of the three Structural Funds, how can local groups be expected to do so? Each level therefore needs to improve its management practices. "People know what they want. It is up to us to identify the synergies between the different public funds," said Anthony Leddy of the Cavan-Monaghan LAG (Ireland) with regard to the responsibilities of the local level.

Model

"Disrupting" for some institutions, the LEADER method has not, however, only met with indifference or opposition. On the contrary, it has sometimes been copied: JosŽ Emilio Guerrero, representative of Andalusia, emphasized the fact that LEADER had considerable potential in terms of social coordination. Drawing inspiration from the LEADER method, Andalusia is currently elaborating "territorial strategic plans" based on community mobilisation. Meanwhile, Mikael Lindau from the Swedish Rural Development Agency (GBV) insisted on the reforming nature of the Initiative at national level: in Sweden, a reform is currently being discussed that could eventually apply the multisectoral approach to all public interventions in favour of development and regional planning.

For Michel Cadot from the French rural planning agency, DATAR, LEADER is first and foremost an "important method". He suggests certain directions for the future: "strengthen the bottom-up approach through employment 'territorialisation' actions in particular and by simplifying administrative constraints (...) favour rural development in the context of regional planning (...) retain the pilot nature of LEADER."

Coherence

For Jean-Charles Leygues of the Directorate-General for Regional Policy and Cohesion (DG XVI), everything local is not the panacea. In his view, there has to be a clearer division of responsibilities and a more coherent working method based on the relevant territorial level. It is also important to place LEADER within an integrated approach to the territory, which raises the question of the relationship between the countryside and the city. Similarly, the complementarities with the programming must be better identified: "what influence does LEADER have on programming tools and vice versa?" In this regard, Jean-Charles Leygues indicated that DG XVI was busy examining new procedures based on the principle of reimbursement rather than on the principle of advances.

Wim van Gelder of the Committee of the Regions indicated that rural policies should be extended to all rural areas, beyond the typology of the Structural Funds: "it should thus be possible to implement the laboratory of experiences comprising LEADER in all the regions of Europe."

Simplification

For Laurent Van Depoele (DG VI), three key words should inspire the elaboration of the future Community Initiative, "clearness", "simplification", "flexibility". The question of subsidiarity cannot be delegated to the local level alone. The most appropriate level must be identified according to the tasks to be accomplished: planning must be done at the lowest level, the closest to the ground. "As for planning, the course of action must be clarified," he said; "once a 'picture' of the area has been painted, objectives and a strategy must be defined. The Commission's role is not to create programming ex nihilo, but to ensure that this programming is coherent throughout the Union." According to Laurent Van Depoele, the levels of intervention must, moreover, be simplified. As far as the involvement of actors is concerned, LEADER means shared responsibility: the partnerships must therefore be clarified, which raises the question of the sharing of powers. "The major question raised by Agenda 2000 for the future concerns the convergence between multisectoral agriculture and rural development."

The workshop ended with several recommendations. It is important to share responsibilities in a way which:

  • ensures local participation;

  • improves the coherence and complementarity between LEADER and the major structural financing policies;

  • implements an area-based strategy of development of a new kind which goes beyond the conflicts between local and regional levels, between rural life and agriculture ("LEADER has aroused a lot of suspicion among the traditional actors of the rural world, particularly farmers," complained a participant from Extremadura). All sides must recognise the mutual benefits that they can derive from LEADER. None are opposed in the absolute: "rural" does not mean anti-urban or anti-agricultural. The future solutions will depend on a just balance between sometimes divergent interests and the continuation of common objectives in favour of development. The quality charters, the Chartes de Pays ("Regional Charters") in France and other schemes of this kind are already examples of this approach. <

 

Narrowing the gap between technological innovation and territorial innovation

"LEADER is highly concentrated fertilizer." Josef Mayerhofer of the Austrian development agency Waldviertel Management used a long agricultural metaphor to describe the importance of organising and coordinating actions, of taking into account duration and the step-by-step approach in the development process.

From the start, the workshop devoted to "differentiated strategies of innovation" insisted on the fact that rural innovation is first of all a process, from the need to be able to count on a "group with a project and a vision" (Fritz Wittemann, LAG Oberes AltmŸhltal-Mittelfranken, Germany), to the "harvest" and marketing of innovative products and services.

Global dimension

Taking the example of the exploitation of river salmon in his area of Haut-Allier (France), Jean-Marc Schlick underlined the global dimension of innovation in rural areas: "the innovation already appears in the project's objectives. It is the global nature of the project, all the transversal actions that help bring it about that will be innovative, even if individually the actions are not in themselves novel."

Like others who spoke, he also pointed out that innovation was a source of difficulties (e.g. corporatism was a hurdle), that risks had to be taken and the actors made responsible in all the phases of the process.

Often, innovation also has a ratchet effect in areas that seem to be removed from the primary object: "an innovative action can be an excellent way to 'popularise Europe'; our transnational project, 'Ecorail' (the use of old railways as cycling trails), carried out with Spanish and German partners, has in the villages led to a whole series of cultural and festive projects between the three countries."

RTD and LEADER

After analysing innovation as a process, the workshop's participants discussed the links and apparent contradictions that existed or could exist between territorial innovation and enterprise innovation. Philippe Galiay of DG XII ("Scientific Research") compared in particular the approach of the "First Plan for Innovation in Europe" published by the European Commission and the LEADER approach: "for the Plan, the source of innovation is the market whereas for LEADER it is the individual, the local actor... In the first case, the methods of analysis are econometric, in the second case they are sociological. The solutions being sought are also different: for the Plan, they are macro-economic, for LEADER they are "micro", at the human level."

But the two approaches are only contradictory in appearance: to be competitive and still be able to combine them with local know-how, rural areas must also resort to research and technological development (RTD). There therefore exist strong de facto complementarities between territorial innovation and technological research which can even be combined in terms of financial support. As several of the speakers underlined, it would be a good idea if European research funds could be added to the LEADER fund more often.

The debate between RTD and territorial innovation was fuelled by the head of the LAG Sierra de BŽjar y Sierra de Francia, Angel de Prado Herrera, who showed how in this very disadvantaged area of Spain the problem of processing waste from olive oil was solved with the collaboration of the LEADER group and the University of Valladolid: "we rapidly settled a problem that major multinational companies had not yet managed to solve. We now even have a world patent for a system to purify and utilise the waste."

This success story enabled Jacques Burtin of the Research Unit of DG VI to point out that "rural areas are perfectly capable of innovating, including the most disadvantaged areas." He added: "innovation in rural areas is a social, organisational, partnership innovation. It is the area as a whole that is going to bring about the innovation and development. Rural innovation and 'conventional', technological... innovation should not be prevented. But we should not 'innovate for the sake of innovating'; whatever the innovation it must be finalised, aim at a specific goal." According to Jacques Burtin, the questions that should be asked are indeed: "how should the technological innovative mechanism be tied in with the LEADER mechanism? How can the next Community Initiative be improved to facilitate rural innovation? How can risk-taking be better taken into account in the instruments of support for innovation, which is LEADER's 'calling card', its essential added value?"

"A delicatessen for innovation"

"Innovation stems from the combination between the local genius and codified know-how," concluded the rapporteur, Gilda Farrell, of the LEADER European Observatory. "How can RTD be brought closer to the ground, in particular in the most disadvantaged areas? We see that local producers rapidly find solutions there where RTD structures are close to the rural environment, like in Northern Italy, for example... Similarly, couldn't certain transversal technical problems be handled at a level higher than the local level in order to avoid the dispersal of funds? I know for example that several LEADER groups are separately doing research on olive oil..."

The new Community Initiative should therefore enable "pools of expertise" to be created at the service of several areas to solve the transversal and/or specific problems of the local context while increasing the added value of the available resources.

However, Eric Andrieu of the LAG Pays Cathare (France) had the last word. Also calling for "innovation in the support procedures," he said: "This morning, Commissioner Fischler spoke about LEADER, a supermarket for innovation', I would say instead that what we should try to do is create a 'delicatessen for innovation."

 

Rural solidarity, opening up and cooperation: strengthening the LEADER network(s) and enlarging it (them) to Eastern Europe

In addition to the local and integrated approach, solidarity between rural areas and the active participation in local, regional, national and transnational networks of rural development are all dimensions that have made LEADER a pioneering programme.

With the tools that it makes available (publications, electronic network, seminars, etc.), LEADER has enabled rural actors to consolidate practices of openness and cooperation, and this tremendous movement to transfer know-how, often informal and little visible, has largely contributed to the success of the Community Initiative for rural development.

Cooperation

A genuine antidote to localism, to "parochialism", cooperation enables the LEADER groups to discover the interest of their diversity, while creating common references and a common language for themselves, which in turn generate new links of solidarity. It is a major asset for sustainable rural development. Cooperation also makes it possible to achieve relevant levels for each development problem. It often leads as well to a harmonisation of strategies between neighbouring areas. It is at the basis of the organisation of networks, making it possible to enlarge the product ranges, to reach new markets, to coordinate complementary know-how, to facilitate transfers of technologies and to introduce complementarities between different development approaches. It weaves links between actors from different areas, confronted with similar problems.

The workshop nonetheless noted certain difficulties. The lack of experience in networking is one: Carmen Furelos Gateiro (Portodemouros, Spain) showed how, through a local network built with the help of the Poverty programme, this LAG opened up to other projects but had difficulty in managing an excessive number of actors. She suggested creating at national level a "network of project coordinators".

The closeness of the LEADER areas can paradoxically be a source of difficulties: for Paolo Tola, of the training institute FORMEZ (Sardinia, Italy), "cooperation projects at the regional level are essential, but a balance has to be found between solidarity, cooperation... and competition between LAGs."

Another Italian speaker, Nerino Galerani, of the LAG Antico Frignano, regretted the lack of contractual procedures and legal instruments to formalise transnational cooperation ("what legal value do our letters of intent have?") and indicated that in this regard, the European Commission could make a substantial contribution.

It was also noted that in some countries informal associations of LAGs coexist alongside national coordinating units of the LEADER network. "There exist in fact different types of networks - institutional, voluntary, informal - with different functions," explained Maurizio Giannini, President of Assoleader, the association of Italian LAGs and coordinator of the workshop. "These networks are usually complementary. There is in particular considerable complementarity between the informal associations of local action groups and the national coordinating units of the LEADER network."

Enlargement

Solidarity with other areas is also opening up prospects of extending the local and integrated approach to rural development to areas outside the European Union. Thus, LEADER is certainly a tool to be promoted for the transitional phase of integration of the countries concerned by the Union's enlargement. The Initiative in fact involves essential aspects put forward in Agenda 2000: citizens' rights, democracy, respect of minorities, reconstruction of a social fabric, creation of areas of consultation (partnerships), search for relevant levels to manage development, economic competitiveness of rural areas through the diversification of activities and integration between sectors.

Wojciedch Magnowski presented the training programme that the Region of Rzeszow in Poland put together with the LEADER groups of Rota do Guadiana (Portugal) and Pays Cathare (France) as part of the ECOS-OUVERTURE programme: a certain number of Polish trainees took theoretical and practical training courses in rural development for five months. Among the results of the programme was the elaboration of a local action plan with the participation of the inhabitants of Rzeszow. "The LEADER method is well suited to our needs and we apply it as well in the training centre that we have set up with Slovak and Hungarian partners," noted Wojciedch Magnowski. David Machado, of the Rota do Guadiana LAG, said that, reciprocally, the experience had had an energising effect for the Portuguese area. Paulette Salles (LAG Pays Cathare) recognised as well the positive aspects of the project but noted that "the collaboration with the countries of Eastern Europe poses specific problems, particularly in terms of preparation, coordination and follow-up, which supposes a suitable methodology."

Matthiew Wyatt, of DG I, sees in LEADER complementarities with the PHARE programme: the strategy for accession has to be strengthened by creating "accession partnerships", that is to say cooperation between the local groups of the Union and non-EU countries, which would give a boost to national programmes of accession (assistance in setting up institutions, assistance for enterprises and key infrastructures). "There is no 'rural PHARE' per se," said Matthiew Wyatt, "but assistance focused on fulfilment of the conditions of accession: the bringing up to European standards of slaughterhouses, dairy farms and other rural enterprises concerned." The presence of a programme like LEADER would therefore be entirely appropriate.

Mediation

If the LEADER approach is in itself a vehicle of cooperation and solidarity between areas, experience proves that the implementation of cooperation links does not occur spontaneously: it is the result of a clear desire, often involving years of effort and access to adequate financial instruments. This poses the problem of mediation (information, networking, technical assistance), essential in maximising the fruit of the cooperation approach. "The assessment of LEADER I highlights the necessity of the network, which enables LAGs to learn from one another, and the great interest of a coordinating structure," said Doriane Givord of DG VI.

While underlining the need for rules of the game and clearer contractual methods in cooperation matters, the workshop reached the following conclusions:

  • an operational framework needs to be defined so that "LEADER can be transferred to Eastern Europe" (Samuel Thirion, INDE agency, Portugal);

  • a structure for network coordination and mediation, such as the LEADER European Observatory, is very important to facilitate cooperation between rural areas;

  • the future Community Initiative should provide for the financial means to support the informal associations of LEADER beneficiaries, which like consumer associations, also play a mediating role;

  • the LEADER network has to be strengthened to satisfy even better the needs of LAGs and government agencies (improved possibilities for the transfer of know-how, rural development training, technical assistance; assistance with cooperation actions between LAGs, etc.);

  • enrich the LEADER Initiative by combining it, when necessary, with other European programmes.

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


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