[ Summary ]
1.1 New opportunities for rural areas
It was not until the late eighties, notably with the emergence and
dissemination of the concept of “rurality”, that pilot policies were
introduced in a number of marginalised areas to help them recover
their economic competitiveness. These policies paved the way for a
micro-economic analysis based on processes of development and social
change. This analysis has led to the identification of elements that
are specific to the development (or non-development) of different
rural areas, highlighting the concept of the “area” [territory] as a
key element in structuring the relationship between institutions,
the economy and social organisation.
The term “territorial economic competitiveness” means the ability of
local players to create and retain value added by integrating local
resources into products and services that meet new consumer
expectations in response to changing markets. The approach is based
on redirecting public intervention policies, as well as on
organising production and distribution processes in ways that create
competitive advantages by promoting the distinctiveness of each
Now, more than ever, there is a need for Europe’s rural areas to be
economically competitive. Preserving landscapes and diversifying
product and service provision on the basis of each area’s specific
assets have become the key for repositioning the rural economy in a
context of world competition.
Since 1992, the LEADER Initiative has been the European Union’s
“pilot” political response to the need to restore the economic
competitiveness of rural areas in difficulty.
As a back-up to European, national and regional policies, which
focus on more tangible factors, local LEADER measures seek to
influence intangible and cultural factors of development. What is
more, LEADER does not confine itself to supporting primary
production activities but aims to improve the social environment,
whilst promoting the natural and cultural heritage.
Eight years after the launch of the Community rural development
Initiative, a number of lessons can be drawn concerning the
pertinence of local intervention policies and the need to deepen,
and even broaden, the fields of intervention.