1. Key messages about local development and CLLD in this country
The application of the LEADER approach in multisectoral local development planning began in the late 2000s with the involvement of civil society organisations and through the European Pre-Accession Fund PHARE, when the first 4 LAGs were established. A key role in the preparation for the implementation of LEADER, in the period 2010-13, was played by the UNDP office in Croatia, which, through various projects within the reconstruction of war-affected areas, prepared a methodology for establishing LAGs and LDS development. During this period, 64 LAGs were established.
Formally, LEADER implementation started in Croatia with the EU pre-accession funding under IPARD, when 40 rural LAGs were selected, covering nearly 70% of the national territory and 1.4 million inhabitants.
Croatia joined the EU in July 2013 and from the 2014-20 period started complete LEADER/CLLD implementation in a mono-Fund approach, through the Rural Development Programme (RDP) with 54 LAGs and OP for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (OPMAF) with 14 Fisheries LAGs only for fishery communities in the Adriatic Region. Altogether 68 LAGs are under the responsibility of one MA within the Ministry of Agriculture. The paying agency for agriculture fisheries and rural development (PA) is the intermediate body for LEADER/CLLD implementation. A strong and professional counterpart in the implementation of the LEADER/CLLD approach is the LEADER Network Croatia, which unites and represents the interests of the majority of LAGs and FLAGs.
3. Possibility of multi-funding (linking several Funds in one strategy)
There are no multi-Fund LAGs. Rural LAGs (EAFRD) and fisheries LAGs (EMFF) are mono-funded and separate independent legal entities, civil society organisations.
4. Number of LAGs
Number of LAGs using this Fund
Total number of LAGs
5. Purposes, objectives for which CLLD is used
LEADER implementation is limited to standard national RDP types of operations. The objectives are: support rural development by means of local initiatives and partnerships; improve and promote rural development policy; raise awareness of the bottom-up approach and the importance of defining a local development strategy; raise the education and information level of rural population; improve rural living and working conditions, including welfare; create new, sustainable income earning opportunities; maintain and create new jobs; diversification of economic activities. More specific objectives are to: encourage and develop rural population activities so that they act jointly by means of cooperation projects; develop integrated local development strategies and prepare their implementation; promote local initiatives and partnership through involvement of local communities as well as representatives of business and local government; transfer of achievements, experiences and expertise, and availability of information and conclusions.
The objectives supported by the OPMAF are: increase in added value, create jobs, attract young people and promote innovation at all stages of the supply chain of fisheries and aquaculture products, encourage diversification within or outside commercial fishing, lifelong learning and job creation in fisheries and aquaculture areas, strengthening and reaping the environmental benefits of fisheries and aquaculture areas, including operations to mitigate the effects of climate change, promoting social well-being and cultural heritage in fisheries and aquaculture areas, including fisheries, aquaculture and maritime cultural heritage strengthening the role of fisheries communities in local development and management of local fisheries resources and maritime activities.
6. State of play
LAGs started to fully implement LEDAER/CLLD through the RDP in 2018, as the assessment of strategies (approval of LAG support) by the Ministry of Agriculture was completed at the end of 2017 and the PA prepared the framework and guidelines for LDS implementation. Although they were only allowed a limited distribution of national RDP measures, LAGs were very active in local development. By March 2021, they had published 274 public calls and selected 2029 projects for 80% of the planned amount, of which 69% were approved. 26% of selected projects are finished and reimbursed. FLAGs started with CLLD implementation in 2019 when the LEADER Network Croatia in close cooperation with the Directorate of Fisheries of the Ministry of Agriculture prepared a framework and complete guidelines for fisheries LDS implementation; by March 2021, the FLAGs had published 86 public calls for more than 86% of the total allocation; 159 projects were selected by FLAGs of which 108 are approved by the MA and of these 2.8% are finished and reimbursed.
7. Key achievements so far
The bottom-up approach of LEADER/CLLD has been assessed very successfully, LAGs and FLAGs are widely recognised as main the driving force and cohesion platform for local communities. Three main issues are important to emphasise so far.
First, the Croatian LAGs significantly increased their influence over two programming periods. From the pre-accession IPARD until the implementation of the RDP as Member State, the number of approved LAGs in Croatia increased by 35%; territorial coverage included in the LEADER-CLLD implementation increased by 31.5%; the number of included inhabitants increased 74%. Their achievements are recognised by the MA, which increased the contracted amount from RDP up to € 68.6 million.
Second, through OPMAF 2014-20, the approved FLAGs are allowed to address local development interventions more widely, without limitation to national measures.
And third, since LAGs and FLAGs can implement their mono-funded strategies only from EAFRD or EMFF, through applications to national tenders for EFRD and ESF as well as other national and international sources of funding, they have implemented projects totalling more than € 60 million, which clearly show that they have the capacity to manage far larger allocations and other ESIFs in the next programming period. Today, the Croatian (F)LAGs have an increasingly strong role in the implementation of integrated local development, which was achieved to a large extent through the daily technical assistance of LEADER Network Croatia, cooperation and negotiations with national authorities.
8. Key barriers encountered
According to findings in a recently finished study by the MA “Qualitative evaluation of the implementation of the LEADER approach in Croatian RDP 2014-20” (05/2021), LAGs indicate the following main issues/barriers regarding implementation approach. The overall opinion was that there was too much dependence on the dynamics of the process “from above or top-down” to start the implementation of certain measures, approval of changes in allocations, changes in criteria and framework, waiting for tender documentation issued by the PA for national measures – so that LAGs are perceived almost as an “extended arm” of the MA. LAG achievements are closely dependent on PA performance. National guidelines for LAGs and LDS implementation were not sufficiently comprehensible. A major problem was the significant reduction of the type of operations eligible for support under LDS, compared to those allowed in the approval phase and chosen by LAGs according to local needs. LAGs have a huge administrative burden – LAGs are CSOs but, at the same time, are accountable for public funding in the same way as public entities. LAGs have less time for animation activities, they have problems to motivate and explain to local development stakeholders this top-down approach (inflexibility of measures). Insufficient national promotion of the LEADER approach, availability of relevant data and background information was emphasised as important barriers for the performance of LAGs.
Under OPMAF, the MA has not yet carried out an evaluation of CLLD, but overall FLAGs are of the opinion that their main issues relate to lack of information and capacity building activities from national level (the main reason for this is the low staffing level of the MA and the lack of a specific unit dealing with FLAGs and CLLD in fisheries).
9. Some national specificities
LEADER/CLLD in Croatia 2014-20 is characterised by the following:
- 68 Croatian (F)LAGs cover almost the entire country, excluding large urban settlements (Zagreb, Rijeka, Osijek, Split) and have strong roles in integrated local communities development;
- LAGs and FLAGs are mono-funded and separate independent legal entities – CSOs. In most cases, they cover the same territory and implement LEADER/CLLD through different methodologies (which they hope to be unified in the next programming period); and
- daily assistance and capacity building to (F)LAGs are provided by the NGO – LEADER Network Croatia, which is the representative network of most Croatian (F)LAGs in policy creation and cooperation with the MA and Paying Agency.
July 2021 (subject to final review)
Main author: Bojana Markotić Krstinić
Series coordination and editing: Urszula Budzich-Tabor, Stefan Kah, Haris Martinos