1. Key messages about local development and CLLD in this country
The interest in rural areas as a place to live and work, which in France dates back to the 1970s, has resulted in a number of experimental approaches to local development policy at the initiative of the state or regions. At the start, in the 1980s, an important role in these experiments was played by the ESF. LEADER as a Community Initiative, which started in the 1990s, brought an important innovation – the cooperation on equal terms of public, private and social partners (in the French tradition, that local development was the responsibility of local authorities). In the late 1990s, in line with the national legislation on sustainable development of territories, a key role was given to the inter-municipal bodies called “pays” which bring together public and private actors around a local strategy. During the 2000s, LEADER could cover all rural territories and was implemented in a large number of “pays” as well as larger entities called “regional natural parcs”. In both cases, the role of LEADER was to support the most innovative projects, often of collective nature. Since 2007-13, in coastal areas local fisheries actors can also receive funding from the European (Maritime and) Fisheries Fund. In many coastal areas, the “pays” manage both a LAG and a FLAG, working in a complementary way.
3. Possibility of multi-funding (linking several Funds in one strategy)
There is no formal “multi-funding” in the European sense, although rural areas with a coast line can benefit from both EAFRD and the EMFF (but under complementary strategies). In the region of Brittany, there is also some use of regional and social funding for CLLD. However, the staff of the “pays” and regional natural parcs are often able to mobilise a wide range of funds, also from European sources, in addition to LEADER/CLLD.
4. Number of LAGs
Number of LAGs using this Fund
Total number of LAGs
5. Purposes, objectives for which CLLD is used
LAGs and FLAGs can support projects covering local food pacts and short value chains, new services to the population, new forms of tourism, valorisation of local heritage, cultural development, creation of “third places” (co-working spaces, fab labs etc.), energy transition, support to people in need. The LAGs or FLAGs provide animation support to beneficiaries and encourage them to work together in a collective approach to maximise the impact of projects.
6. State of play
At the start of the 2014-20 period, implementation of LEADER and fisheries CLLD in France encountered serious obstacles that resulted in very significant delays and high administrative burden for both LAGs and project promoters. This was partly due to changes in the delivery system (with regions taking the role previously played by the national administration), changes in the regional organisation of the country (from 23 regions to 11) in the course of implementation, and delays caused by the dedicated software for managing EU funds. High complexity of administrative procedures was often combined with the difficulty to find public co-funding for some projects. Because of this situation, many experienced LAG and FLAG managers left their job and new people had to be recruited months or years later when the programme finally became operational.
In 2020-21, a huge effort was made to make up for the delays and find solutions to implementation and funding issues. There are significant differences between regions and between individual LAGs, some of which were more successful than others, having well-qualified staff, with strong experience in managing European funding.
7. Key achievements so far
In spite of all the difficulties, LAGs and FLAGs have managed to develop and support many highly valuable and innovative projects on the ground. Each year, the LAG network, LEADER France, selects and promotes the most inspiring initiatives reflecting local dynamics, based on nominations submitted by LAGs. LEADER France has also played an important role in advocacy for LEADER, highlighting the implementation issues as well as explaining the LEADER specificity and its role in rural areas’ development.
Some regional networks have supported LAGs to deal with the difficulties they were facing and foster cooperation around common themes. The national network (NRN) has organised meetings and webinars on key rural development topics.
Under the EMFF, the national FLAG network has played a key role in identifying and overcoming implementation barriers, and in supporting cooperation and exchange of experience between regional authorities as well as FLAGs.
8. Key barriers encountered
The main barriers were linked with the complex administrative systems and delays described above. As a result, and also due to the lack of access to co-financing or pre-financing, many beneficiaries were unable or unwilling to apply for funding, or had to give up their project idea.
9. Some national specificities
In France, LEADER/CLLD is integrated into a wider strategic approach for the development of rural areas, which has been developed over decades and includes a multitude of initiatives, such as:
- a “rural agenda”, an action plan covering 181 measures including health, education, economy, justice, mobility etc., which results in the creation of third places and “connected campuses”, and the establishment in each canton of a service facility bringing together services essential for the local community, and specific programmes such as “small towns of tomorrow”;
- the setting up of dedicated bodies such as the National Agency for Territorial Cohesion, which coordinates all the initiatives and facilitates their implementation; and
- the State Secretary for Rural Affairs to ensure a consistent approach to rural issues by all the relevant ministries.
This rural agenda is animated by the spirit of LEADER.
France is also active at the European level, arguing for a rural agenda for the whole EU, and the LAG network is strongly involved in these efforts. Although LEADER in France, as in many other countries, has gradually become burdened with heavy bureaucracy, such efforts aim to bring back, in the funding period 2021-27, the true spirit of LEADER as a permanent laboratory for innovative local solutions to the challenges facing rural areas.
This new country profile, the 23rd in this LDnet series on CLLD in Europe, offers an overview of CLLD in France in the 2014-2020 period and beyond: local development approach, use of EU funds, number of LAGs, achievements so far, barriers encountered, national specificities – May 2022
Main author: Yves Champetier
Series coordination and editing: Urszula Budzich-Tabor, Stefan Kah, Haris Martinos