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Transnational cooperation between rural areas

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Cooperation, an excellent tool to build
Europe and to promote rural development

Anne-Marie Comparini
[ President of the Rhône-Alpes Regional Council - France]


The LEADER II programme is very important for the Rhône-Alpes. Although our region has the second most dynamic economy of all the regions in France, it also has rural areas, mostly in the mountains (Alps, Massif Central), which have been in decline for the past several years and in some cases have reached the point of exclusion. However, the policies traditionally implemented have not always been very appropriate for the local realities of these areas.

That is why the LEADER II programme - because it develops a comprehensive approach for these areas and includes actors, areas and projects in an action that is as local as possible - is a tool that provides a specific answer suited to these problems.

Complementary to existing programmes, LEADER helps bring together the living strengths on the ground in an optimal manner by identifying and taking advantage of the full potential of areas.

Supporting the local and innovative dynamics of rural development is an approach that the Region of the Rhône-Alpes has adopted for its own regional development action.

The Rhône-Alpes Regional Council has a lot of experience of cooperation at the European and even international level, ranging from the “Four Engines for Europe” institutional partnership with the Regions of Catalonia (Spain), Lombardy (Italy) and Baden- Württemberg (Germany) to decentralised cooperation with certain countries of Africa, not to mention agreements with the Central and East European countries. The Region therefore wanted the LEADER groups to benefit from its expertise in transnational cooperation.

The LEADER II Technical Support Unit, the central instrument of this support policy, is an experimental mechanism that was started up by the Regional Prefect (chief government representative in charge of regional administration) and that is run in partnership with the Regional Council. The Unit’s operating and activity costs are therefore equally divided between LEADER and the Regional Council to the tune of EUR 1,200,000 over a period of three years.

The Support Unit’s mission was defined in close coordination with the LEADER European Observatory in order to provide technical assistance “on the ground” that was complementary to the technical assistance developed in a more global fashion by the LEADER European Observatory.

In concrete terms, the LEADER II Technical Support Unit first worked to collectively mobilise the Rhône-Alpes groups: the late selection of these groups meant that they were giving priority to their local programme and they therefore had to be made aware of the importance of transnational cooperation and helped to define their need for cooperation. For this, the Unit, in partnership with the LEADER European Observatory, organised in particular a seminar on “The challenges and methodology of transnational cooperation” which was held in Dieulefit from 2 to 5 April 1997.

But the Unit is primarily concerned with helping LEADER groups set up their projects on a day-to-day and personalised basis: this assistance has ranged from helping define local cooperation needs to the implementation of Measure C, from partner searches to helping apply for technical assistance (EUR 5,000 and EUR 20,000). For this, the Unit has organised exploratory missions abroad for partner searches, accompanies LAGs when they travel, provides interpreting services and takes care of the translation of documents, or coordinates working meetings with European partners. “Rhône-Alpes Transnational Days” were organised in June 1998 to enable the LEADER groups of Rhône-Alpes, virtually all involved in a cooperation project, to progress faster and more effectively.

In parallel, the Region of Rhône-Alpes lends financial support to the Rhône-Alpes LEADER groups for their cooperation projects. This support has included funding for exploratory missions to find partners abroad and a contribution to complement the EUR 20,000 granted by the European Commission. The Regional Council also funds about 30% of each Measure C submitted by the local action groups.

The results of the Unit’s action have been very positive and we can now contemplate the consolidation of these achievements. Today, the Rhône-Alpes LEADER groups have succeeded in taking over the Unit’s work and some twenty cooperation projects are under way, seven of which have been approved for Measure C. Our intervention has therefore achieved its objectives and we must now think about the future.

And as it is true that transnational cooperation takes a lot of time and requires considerable means to coordinate, we would like the future LEADER+ Initiative to provide for the necessary means of assistance to implement cooperation projects begun under LEADER II.

LEADER is an excellent tool to build Europe, and cooperation is therefore an essential element of this that the Regional Council would like to continue to promote.


source: LEADER Magazine nr.21 - Autumn, 99

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