The Community Initiative Leader+ is part of the Community's rural development policy, the second pillar of the common agricultural policy (CAP). In the period 2000-06, it is geared to the diversification of economic activity in rural areas by applying innovative, integrated and participative territorial development strategies. This communication defines the Commission's guidelines for Leader+, focusing on cooperation between territories and networking.
Commission Communication of 14 April 2000 to the Member States laying down guidelines for the Community Initiative for Rural Development (Leader+) [See amending acts].
Changes in the agricultural sector as a result of the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the increasing demands of consumers, environmental pressure, the rapid spread of new technology, the ageing population and rural depopulation are all factors affecting the countryside today. Under the Community's innovative rural development policy, rural areas have embarked on a debate on their socio-economic role and are making structural adjustments in order to meet these important challenges effectively.
As the second pillar of the CAP and a major factor in economic and social cohesion, the Community's rural development policy is not restricted to boosting the competitiveness of agriculture. It also encourages the development of new activities and sources of employment. The Community Initiatives Leader I (1991-94) and Leader II (1994-99) also played an experimental role, which has made it possible to define and implement innovative, integrated and participative local schemes.
All those participating in the experiment had such a positive overall view of it that the Commission wished to proceed further along this road. It therefore included Leader+, the new Community Initiative for rural development, in the general rules on the Structural Funds for the 2000-06 programming period.
Drawing on the specific resources of rural areas as part of a development strategy which is relevant and tailored to the local circumstances seems increasingly to be the only way of adapting them to an ever-changing socio-economic context.
Leader I and II taught the following lessons:
- Strengths: the mobilising of local actors to take control of the future of their area; decentralised, integrated and bottom-up approach to territorial development; the exchange and transfer of experience through the creation of networks; the ability to include small-scale projects and support small-scale promoters.
- Weaknesses: delays in the selection of beneficiaries in some Member States, and consequently in the launching of programmes; fragile partnerships; the accumulation of disparate procedures and the dispersal of financial resources.
The Leader+ Initiative continues its role as a laboratory, which can encourage the emergence of new approaches to integrated and sustainable rural development. These approaches will complement national and European rural development policy in the context of the "mainstream" programmes, in particular under Objective 1, Objective 2 and Objective 3 of the Structural Funds.
The aim of Leader+ is thus to encourage rural actors to think about the longer-term potential of their area. The local actors implement the original strategy that they themselves have designed, experimenting with new ways of:
- enhancing natural and cultural heritage,
- reinforcing the economic environment in order to create jobs,
- improving the organisational capabilities of their community.
Cooperation is a key component of Leader+, be it between different areas in the same Member State, between rural areas in several Member States and even beyond if necessary. Relevant new rural development models will be exploited and disseminated through a major networking exercise.
The Community budget for Leader+ for 2000-06 is 2 020 million at 1999 prices under the European Agricultural Guidance and Guarantee Fund (EAGGF) Guidance Section.
Leader+ supports all measures eligible for financing by the EAGGF Guidance Section, the ERDF and the European Social Fund. All expenditure related to participating in the networks and running them, providing information, and managing, monitoring and evaluating the programme is eligible for part-financing. With the exception of small-scale projects, investments in infrastructure and productive investments of a unit cost higher than a certain ceiling are not eligible.
The rules on the rates of Community contribution laid down in the general Regulation of the Structural Funds apply. In particular, the maximum EAGGF Guidance Section contribution is 75% of the total eligible volume in the regions covered by Objective 1 and 50% in other areas.
Unlike Leader I and II, all rural areas are eligible under Leader+, in particular those which did not take part in the earlier Community Initiatives. In order to concentrate Community resources on the most promising proposals, Community funding under actions 1 and 2 is granted to a limited number of rural territories only. Accordingly, the national authorities must set up an open and rigorous procedure for selecting which rural areas may benefit under Leader+ through one (or more) national call(s) for proposals. Selection is based on general criteria laid down in the Commission's guidelines and specific criteria taking account of both the specific situation of the rural areas concerned and the objectives that the Member States are seeking to attain through Leader+.
The rural areas designated do not necessarily coincide with national administrative boundaries or with zones established for the purpose of eligibility under Objectives 1 and 2 of the Structural Funds. These are small rural territories which form a homogeneous unit in geographical, economic and social terms and which have the resources needed to implement a development strategy. As a general rule, the population of the territories selected should not number less than 10 000 inhabitants, and not more than 100 000 in the most densely populated areas (around 120 inhabitants/km²). However, in some areas of northern Europe, properly justified exceptions to these criteria may be accepted.
The final beneficiaries of assistance under Leader+ are the local action groups (LAGs). These groups draw up the development strategy for their territory and are responsible for implementing it on the basis of a specific development plan.
The LAGs create an open local partnership which clearly allocates the powers and responsibilities to the different partners. They are made up of a balanced and representative selection of partners drawn from the different socio-economic sectors in the local area. The economic and social partners and non-profit (voluntary) associations must make up at least 50% of the local partnership.
The members of the LAGs must be locally based. They either select an administrative and financial head qualified to administer public funds, or come together in a legally-constituted common structure which fulfils the same function.
Leader+ is structured around three actions:
- Action 1: Support for integrated territorial rural development strategies of a pilot nature based on the bottom-up approach and horizontal partnerships;
- Action 2: Support for inter-territorial and transnational cooperation;
- Action 3: the networking of all rural areas in the Community, whether or not they are beneficiaries under Leader+, and all rural development actors.
Action 1: Integrated territorial rural development strategies of a pilot nature
This action provides support for rural areas which devise and implement an integrated and sustainable pilot development strategy. These territories present the national authorities with a development plan based on a representative partnership and structured around a strong theme typical of the identity of the territory concerned.
The development plans drawn up by the LAGs must take into account the following:
- The strategy must encourage interaction between actors, sectors and projects built around a strong theme typical of the identity and/or resources and/or specific know-how of the area.
The priority themes are: the use of new know-how and new technologies, improving the quality of life, making the best use of natural and cultural resources, including enhancing the value of sites of Community interest selected under " Natura 2000 " and, lastly, adding value to local products, in particular by facilitating access to markets for small production units via collective actions. Lastly, enhancing job opportunities and/or activities for women and young people is a Community priority.
- The development strategy must demonstrate its roots in and relevance to the area, particularly in terms of socio-economic viability and sustainability.
- The strategy must be demonstrably innovative and a pilot scheme.
Original and ambitious approaches to rural development intended to take further the experiment started under Leader I and II. Strategies should explore innovative approaches to development which are new to the areas concerned and not yet attempted under the Leader method.
The "pilot" nature of a strategy can be assessed in a variety of ways: the emergence of new products and services; the adoption of innovative methods for managing available resources; interaction between economic sectors which have traditionally been separate; development of original forms of organisation and involvement of the local population.
- Strategies must complement the operations under the mainstream programmes.
Action 2: Support for cooperation between rural territories
Only the areas selected for Action 1 of Leader+ are eligible for Action 2, which supports cooperation between rural territories. Under Action 2, financial assistance covers both upstream expenditure on technical assistance to set up cooperation and the joint project proper.
Cooperation often enables rural territories to achieve the critical mass necessary for a joint project to be viable and encourage complementary actions between partners. It involves pooling know-how and/or human and financial resources which are usually dispersed across the territories. Two types of cooperation are possible:
Inter-territorial cooperation within the same Member State.
While the cooperating territories are not necessarily beneficiaries under Leader+, the cooperation themes are primarily those defined in the development plans of the eligible territories.
Transnational cooperation between territories in several Member States.
In addition to territories selected under Leader+, transnational cooperation is also open to territories that took part in Leader I and II or other rural territories organised in line with the Leader approach. While only Leader+ territories are eligible for Community part-financing, promotion expenditure is eligible for all the territories involved. Where a Leader+ territory develops a transnational cooperation project with a territory which is outside the European Union but is organised in line with the Leader approach, the relevant expenditure by that territory is also eligible.
Action 3: Networking
Exchanging know-how, experience and information on rural development successes is a priority of Leader+. Active participation in the network is therefore mandatory for beneficiaries under the Initiative.
The networking of all rural areas in the European Union, whether or not they are beneficiaries under Leader+, and all rural development actors, such as the rural information and promotion carrefours, which act as relays for information about the European Union located in rural areas, stimulates cooperation and the exchange of expertise.
Each Member State lays down the rules needed to set up a network organisation unit at national level. The job of this unit is to coordinate the network, identify, analyse and disseminate good practice, organise exchanges of experience and know-how for the benefit of less-advanced territories and provide technical assistance for local and transnational cooperation.
The Commission is setting up an Observatory of rural areas at European level, which may not cost more than 2% of the total budget for Leader+. The Observatory will be responsible for organising the network of rural territories at Community level, for the purpose of:
- gathering and disseminating information on Community rural development measures and trends in rural areas throughout Europe,
- collecting, consolidating and disseminating good practice in rural development at Community level,
- organising meetings at Community level for beneficiaries under Leader+ and stimulating transnational cooperation,
- assisting the national authorities in their coordinating role and facilitating cooperation,
- drafting reports on the implementation of and lessons learned from Leader+.
Leader+ Community Initiative programmes
The Commission makes an indicative financial allocation to each Member State (see the table at the end of this sheet). On this basis, the Member States consult the most representative partners at all the appropriate levels. The Member States then have six months following the publication of the Commission's guidelines in the Official Journal in which to submit their Leader+ Community Initiative Programme (CIP) to the Commission. The Commission must approve these programmes within five months of receiving them, whereupon it adopts the contribution of the EAGGF Guidance Section. 56 programmes were approved in 2001, of which 11 were at national level and 45 regional. The 17 remaining programmes will be adopted during the first quarter of 2002 (see the summary table at the end of this sheet).
The Member States all opted to draw up Operational Programmes accompanied by a programming complement. In line with the results of the ex ante evaluation, all the CIPs deal with:
- the strengths, weaknesses and potential of the territory;
- the objectives sought and the strategy to attain them;
- the criteria, procedure and timetable for selecting the LAGs.
Member States must inform the Commission of the number of LAGs they intend to select by means of one or more calls for tender no later than two years after their programme is approved;
- the method chosen for selecting transnational and inter-territorial cooperation projects;
- a financing plan for each priority by year and by source of funding;
- the provisions needed for implementation, economic and financial management, monitoring and checking operations on the ground and evaluation;
- arrangements for informing the end beneficiaries and the general public;
- the coherency and value-added of the proposed measures and the expected impact on the territories concerned.
Management, control, monitoring and evaluation
The parts of the general Regulation on the Structural Funds dealing with the management, control, monitoring and evaluation of assistance apply to the Leader+ Initiative.
In terms of financial management, programmes must clearly describe the management arrangements and the procedures for the mobilisation and circulation of financial flows, in particular of Community funds. Moreover, the procedures set up must ensure effective control of expenditure.
At the level of the LAGs, a monitoring committee monitors the operations using financial and structural indicators to analyse financial execution, the actual implementation of operations and their impact on the territory. The results are then transmitted to the European Observatory for processing and dissemination. At regional and national level, a steering committee must meet at least once a year to analyse the progress on implementing Leader+.
To find out about the Community Initiative Programmes at the relevant level in each Member State, please consult the pages on Leader+ on the Directorate-General for Agriculture's website.
|Act||Entry into force||Deadline for transposition in the Member States||Official Journal|
|Commission communication of 14 April 2000||-||-||C 139 of 18.5.2000|
|Amending act(s)||Entry into force||Deadline for transposition in the Member States||Official Journal|
|Commission communication||-||-||C 262 of 31.10.2003|
|Commission communication||-||-||C 294 of 4.12.2003|