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Territorial competitiveness

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

[ Index ]


Chapter 1
The territorial approach in rural areas -
lessons learned from LEADER


The aim of this first part of the
series “The rural territorial
development strategy in light of
the European LEADER programme” is
to lay the foundations for a
development strategy which promotes
the distinctive character of a
rural area in order to ensure its
long-term competitiveness.


1.1 The territorial approach, a recent concept


Following the agricultural modernisation/intensification scenario that has profoundly marked rural areas since the Second World War, as well as the parallel scenario of government subsidy policies, we have seen the gradual emergence of a new development scenario over the past 20 years or so. This is based on the search for a new form of competitiveness covering all of an area’s activities and on the implementation of territorial-based rural development strategies.

Launched in 1991 on the basis of a bottom-up, partnership-based, multi-sectoral, integrated approach to development, the LEADER Community Initiative has played an instrumental role in the emergence of this scenario. New town planning and rural development policies have also contributed. They include the various national policies “for mountain areas”, the French “contrats de pays”, the Italian “contratti d’area”, the German “Dorferneuerung” (village renewal) policies, etc.

Far from precluding the continued existence of previous scenarios, the territorial approach is complementary to them.


Summary of rural development scenarios
Type of scenario Type of policy Anticipated effects Time span
Agricultural intensification Aid for agricultural intensification, decided at central level Sector-based agricultural competitiveness, rural depopulation Medium-term effects
Aid Subsidies for farmers and other groups Maintaining activities and communities instead of competitiveness; dependence on public funding Immediate effects
Bid for territorial competitiveness Territorial approach, integrating the area, the players involved, markets and public aid policies Gradual revitalisation/ restructuring of rural areas; adaptation to new functions and requirements Long-term effects


In most LEADER areas, all three scenarios exist side by side, with the specific weight of the first two scenarios determining how much room for manoeuvre there is for the third scenario.

However, the territorial competitiveness scenario is the only one that is able to ensure the long-term viability of a rural area. Furthermore, it makes the other two more relevant because:

  • it encompasses agricultural modernisation within the perspective of managing an area and its natural resources - no longer confining agriculture solely to its food-producing function;

  • it leads to greater coherence throughout the area by ensuring that public funding is allocated on the basis of local consultation between public and private sectors.


Meath, in Ireland, is a county with a strong agricultural tradition. Its dependence on agriculture has made it vulnerable to the changes that have occurred in agricultural models and techniques. The proximity of Dublin and the proliferating number of dormitory towns around the Irish capital have had repercussions on the region’s social fabric, leading to poor development of the county’s non- agricultural activities. Aware of this situation, the priorities of the Meath LEADER group included developing the evocatively titled pilot project “Kick Start”. This brought in key players and enabled valuable data about the area to be collected, as well as action plans to be developed. As a result, ten villages presented quality development projects (involving around 120 people per village), which were then publicised (two-day municipal poster campaign). This enabled the players and institutions involved to make comments and even suggestions for improving the original proposal. The LEADER group allocated part of its budget to projects developed as part of the “Kick Start” programme, with others being financed by other development organisations in the North Meath area. Skills audits of the participating local players were also carried out in order to evaluate the potential for creating new jobs and businesses.

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