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Territorial competitiveness

Creating a territorial development strategy
in light of the LEADER experience
[Part 1]

[ Index ]


Territorial approach to rural development


In the face of the crises experienced by many of Europe’s rural areas, there is no doubt that the LEADER Community Initiative has mapped out new paths of development which can now be seen as an important initial response to the need to revitalise and develop rural areas to the full.

The question remains as to whether the paths mapped out by LEADER can be consolidated to allow rural areas to acquire a genuine “territorial competitiveness”.

This matter has become all the more crucial now that LEADER II is nearing completion and making way for LEADER+. The transition to the new LEADER phase, which is expected to provide a “plus” in relation to the previous Initiative, could offer an opportunity for the qualitative leap forward. This will require each area to draw up its own “territorial project” aimed at achieving what we term “territorial competitiveness”.


What does “territorial competitiveness” mean?

The usual meaning of the term competitive is “to be able to withstand market competition”. On the face of it then, the term territorial competitiveness has a strictly economic sense. Yet can an area that, for example, produces agricultural raw materials very cheaply, but under deplorable social conditions and with no concern for its environment, really be described as competitive? Such considerations have led us to attribute a broader meaning to the term competitiveness, as expressed by the concept of territorial competitiveness: an area becomes competitive if it is able to face up to market competition whilst at the same time ensuring environmental, social and cultural sustainability, based on the dual approach of networking and inter-territorial relationships. In other words, territorial competitiveness means:

  • taking the area’s resources into account in a bid for overall coherence;
  • involving different players and institutions;
  • integrating business sectors into an innovation dynamic;
  • cooperating with other areas and linking up with regional, national and European policies as well as with the global context.

The aim of developing a territorial project is therefore to ensure that local players and institutions acquire four types of skills: the skills to assess their environment, to take joint action, to create links between sectors by ensuring that maximum added value is retained, and lastly to liaise with other areas and the rest of the world.

These four skills can be linked with what we call “the four dimensions” of territorial competitiveness, which will be combined differently for each area. They are:

  • “social competitiveness” - ability of the players involved to act effectively together on the basis of shared conceptions about the project, and encouraged by cooperation between the various institutional levels;

  • “environmental competitiveness” - ability of the players involved to make the most of their environment by making it a “distinctive” element of their area, whilst at the same time ensuring that their natural resources and heritage are preserved and revitalised;

  • “economic competitiveness” - ability of the players involved to create and retain maximum added value in the area by strengthening links between sectors and by turning their combined resources into assets for enhancing the value and distinctiveness of their local products and services;

  • positioning in the global context - ability of the players involved to find the area’s role in relation to other areas and to the outside world in general, in such a way as to develop their territorial plan to the full and to ensure its viability within the global context.

In many areas the processes we describe have already begun. However, the crux of the matter now is to ensure that they form part of a long-term approach that is at the core of each area’s development strategy.

In presenting this five-part publication, the European LEADER Observatory draws on the experience of LEADER I (1991-1994) and LEADER II (1994-1999) with a view to fuelling the debate among Europe’s rural players who are seeking a new form of territorial competitiveness founded on consultation and cooperation.

Part 1 takes the starting situation as the focus for developing a territorial strategy; part 2 tackles “social competitiveness”; part 3 concerns “environmental competitiveness” as an element of this strategy; part 4 deals with “economic competitiveness” and part 5 addresses “competitiveness on a global scale”.

Each part reviews one aspect of territorial competitiveness, in the following manner:

  • analysis of the context;
  • lessons learned from LEADER and from the experience of local action groups (LAGs);
  • proposed tools and methods;
  • presentation of possible strategies.

Many of the examples used in the different parts of this series refer to measures, activities or enterprises which are presented in more detail in the directory “Innovative actions of rural development”, published in seven languages by the European LEADER Observatory in 1997 and available in six languages on the “Rural Europe” Internet site.

This site also contains a great deal of relevant information about the LEADER rural development Community Initiative, as well as most of the publications produced by the European LEADER Observatory.

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