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[ Contents ]
Global tendencies, local responses
In a word...
Laurent Van Depoele,
This 18th edition of LEADER Magazine is devoted to the "local responses" that the rural community can bring to the "global tendencies" affecting it. In this context, on 18 March 1998, the Commission presented a series of proposals giving rise to a new European rural development policy. Currently under discussion at the Council, these proposals make rural development a fully-fledged policy; it will no longer merely be a component of economic and social cohesion policy but above all a policy to accompany and complement agricultural market policy.
Rural areas must be able to walk on their own two feet: on the one hand, farming must continue to be supported, as it remains an essential, often principal component of the rural economy; on the other hand, complementary or alternative activities need to be encouraged, as farming alone cannot secure the viability and stable development of many rural areas.
In the context of the CAP reform and the main challenges which are at stake for the European Union on the horizon of the year 2000, such as employment and the future enlargement to Central and Eastern European countries, key Union policies needed to be adapted. The overhaul of the Community structural policy was one of these priorities.
Several main lines of development have been favoured beyond 1999 to improve the effectiveness of existing tools. The principle of a larger concentration has been retained, as well as the desire for a simplification of procedures and the strengthening of subsidiarity. Therefore, all of the regulations which currently govern aid for rural development must be merged in a single legal context, instead of there being nine regulations as is the case today.
However, the most important change to note is that under this single regulation, all of the Union's rural areas will be able to take advantage of the complete range of rural development measures, which until such a time will be partly reserved for Objective 1 and 6 areas, as well as for Objective 5b areas.
By greater concentration, the Commission means a better targeting of the financial means available for structural operations in regions which need them the most. From this angle, and also taking into account the general concerns of simplification, the Commission is proposing to reduce the Structural Fund Objectives from seven to three, and the number of Community Initiatives from thirteen to three.
With these same concerns in mind, the population of regions eligible under the new objectives 1 and 2 will have to be reduced from 51% to 40% of the population of the 15 Member States at the end of the next period. Provisional support is planned for currently assisted areas which would no longer meet the eligibility criteria for the period 2000-2006, so that the assistance granted does not end suddenly.
The financial effort will continue, since the amount available from the Structural Funds will be 210 billion euro (at 1997 prices), to which must be added the 20 billion euro from the Cohesion Fund and the 45 billion for the future Member States. We will then reach a total of 275 billion euro for the economic and social cohesion effort between 2000 and 2006, instead of the current 200 billion or so Euros at an equivalent price.
The amount devoted to the three Community Initiatives will be 10.5 billion Euros, or 5% of the total amount of the Structural Funds, although how this amount will be distributed between the three Initiatives is not known at present.
The future Rural Development Initiative to succeed LEADER will concern all European rural areas. Furthermore, it will be funded by the EAGGF Guarantee Section alone. As a result, the scope of intervention of this fund should increase. As Commissioner Fischler pointed out during the LEADER Symposium, the future Initiative should retain its specific features, particularly the bottom-up approach, the network's size and the laboratory notion, which enable an area's actors to be mobilised around an innovative and transferable development project.