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Unifying theme(s),
integrated territorial development

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In a word...

Jose Manuel Silva Rodriguez,
Director General for Agriculture at the European Commission

 

The publication on 18 May this year of the Communication to the Member States concerning LEADER+ signalled the start of the countdown for programming the new Community Initiative on rural development. The Member States have six months as from this date to make their proposals for national and/or regional programmes to the Commission, which, for its part, will have five months in which to examine them. Intensive consultations are therefore in progress throughout the European Union and some programmes have already arrived at the Commission.

The objective of the twenty-fourth edition of LEADER Magazine is not to provide a LEADER+ instruction manual but to illustrate how the LEADER+ central concept, the “unifying theme”, can be put to work in the service of sustainable development in rural areas. As the many examples presented in this edition show, Local Action Groups did not wait for LEADER+ to experiment with this approach in the field: from the “Cathar Country” to the “Land of Song”, not forgetting the “Land of the Sorabes” and the “Don Quijote” and “Dulcinea” LAGs, many groups wanted their names to reflect an aspect of their territorial identity capable of mobilizing the local population.

Although today it is largely accepted that development interventions should be integrated into a global territorial strategy, methods that allow such integration are often still at the experimental stage. It is precisely this experimental dimension that prompted the Commission to express its desire through LEADER+ that the local strategies should be built around a strong theme, representing the identity of the territory concerned.

The unifying themes proposed by the LEADER+ candidates must fall within the thematic priorities defined at European level, or one or more of the supplementary themes proposed by the Member State from which they come. This should allow my department to draw lessons from the use of the unifying themes and enable other development programmes implemented within the framework of the European rural policy to benefit.

The four priority themes proposed at European level concern key aspects of development in rural Europe: improving the competitiveness of rural products and services through the use of new know-how and new technologies; improving the quality of life in rural areas; better promotion of local products through collective marketing approaches; enhancement and protection of the natural and cultural heritage.

The identification of a unifying theme used to define an “area- based project” and the gradual construction of an integrated development strategy to which the local population subscribes are two key dimensions of the new Community Initiative. In a context of increasing globalization, rural areas within the European Union need to forge a new competitiveness through the progressive affirmation of a strong and distinctive image, countering the all too common rural image of a backward world in decline.

 

source: LEADER Magazine nr.24 - Autumn 2000


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