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Brussels, 25 February 2002

Sicily gets go-ahead for Euro 65.133 million Leader+ rural development programme

The European Commission has approved a programme under the Leader+ Community Initiative for the Italian Region of Sicily. Welcoming the decision, Franz Fischler, Commissioner for Agriculture, Rural Development and Fisheries, said: "The programme aims to apply new ideas to help build a more sustainable society, economy and environment for rural Italy. We want to improve the quality of life of Sicily's rural population. Leader+ will help to add value to local products and to make the best use of natural and cultural resources." Over the period 2001-06, total expenditure under the programme will be €65.133 million, including €39.080 million of public funding, of which €29.310 million will come from the European Union.

The Leader+ programme for Sicily, covering all the Region's rural areas, aims to promote new development strategies and develop the innovative and pilot approach of this Community Initiative to raise the profile of rural areas.

The main objective of the Leader+ programme for Sicily is to promote the process of socio-economic development in rural areas by means of new, integrated development strategies that are geared to local needs. It will experiment with new ways of adding value to the natural and cultural heritage and improving the economic environment to help create jobs and improve the organisational ability of local communities.

The programme focuses in particular on increasing competitiveness in the social, environmental, cultural and economic fields as well as improving the human resources situation in the areas concerned and updating the skills of the workforce.

The main measures concern support for creating and bringing into use structures for providing services to the population and firms; making better use of natural resources and historical and cultural assets and protecting and promoting the cultural identity of the areas concerned; increasing and maintaining employment, with particular emphasis on traditional activities; creating new businesses and promoting innovation; training schemes for the unemployed and those in work to facilitate access to the labour market and the acquisition of skills to improve existing activities and encourage new ones, and encouraging inter-regional and international cooperation.

The Region of Sicily will select 12 local action groups to implement the programme. In order to ensure a bottom-up approach, each local group will draw up a development plan setting out specific measures and goals based on the characteristics of its area in accordance with the general priorities and strategies laid down in the programme. The local action groups will be selected on the basis of their structure and organisation and the quality of the strategies proposed in their development plans.

What is Leader+?

Leader+ is the new Community Initiative for rural development, one of the four Initiatives implemented under the Structural Funds in 2000-06. Total EU funding for Leader+ in this period will top €2 billion, financed from the EU agriculture budget via the EAGGF Guidance Section.

As its name implies, Leader+ is not merely a continuation of the Leader II Initiative: this new, more ambitious Initiative is aimed at encouraging and supporting high-quality, integrated rural development strategies. It will also put a strong emphasis on cooperation and networking between rural areas. All rural areas of the EU are, in principle, eligible under Leader+.

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