1. Key messages about local development and CLLD in this country
In the early 2000s, European pre-accession funds such as ISPA and PHARE played a key role in initiating administrative capacity building processes in Romania’s rural areas. In the wake of the country’s accession to the EU in 2007, this task has shifted to the LEADER programme, which has since been implemented as part of the EAFRD-funded National Rural Development Programme (NRDP), managed centrally by the Ministry of Agriculture with eight regional Agencies for Financing Rural Investments (AFRI) acting as Intermediate Bodies. At the same time, the CLLD approach was implemented under the European Fisheries Fund (as Axis 4 of the EFF).
Starting with the 2014-20 programme period, the LEADER approach was expanded to CLLD LAGs set up in urban areas. The latter are eligible for funding through two OPs:
- the Human Capital OP (ESF), managed by the Ministry of Investments and European Projects and implemented through eight regional Intermediate Bodies (OIR POSDRU); and
- the Regional OP (ERDF), managed by the Ministry of Regional Development and Public Administration and implemented through eight Regional Development Agencies who act as Intermediate Bodies.
3. Possibility of multi-funding (linking several Funds in one strategy)
At the time of writing, only the urban LAGs were providing funding through ESF and ERDF. Eligible local authorities (i.e. those with more than 20,000 inhabitants) may finance infrastructure investments through the Regional OP (ERDF) and soft interventions through the Human Capital OP (ESF). LEADER LAGs and fisheries LAGs under EMFF are mono-funded.
4. Number of LAGs
Number of LAGs using this Fund
Total number of LAGs
5. Purposes, objectives for which CLLD is used
The EAFRD-funded NRDP, through which LEADER is implemented, is Romania’s single rural development policy. As an integral part of this programme, LEADER is used primarily to encourage cooperation between public administrative bodies in promoting local development. Among the key goals, are fostering local initiatives, upholding local traditions, diversifying the local economy through investments in tourism, and adding value to local raw materials. Under the EMFF, CLLD is mainly used to support investments in adding value to fishery products, diversifying local economies, and improvements in the infrastructures of coastal and inland fishery areas. The average project size under EMFF CLLD in Romania is among the highest in the EU (over €140,000 total public support).
The approach followed in the urban CLLD LAGs, on the other hand, is Romania’s only multi-funded ESI initiative for local development. The key aims of this approach are to reduce the number of people at risk of poverty and social exclusion in marginalised communities. Central to these interventions are disadvantaged people, most of whom belong to the Roma minority. Formal procedures demand that measures are multi-sectoral and integrated, complementary, and synergetic. Measures eligible for ESF funding include:
- improving access to education and loering the percentage of early school leavers;
- support for accessing, and remaining in employment (e.g. by offering apprenticeships);
- providing integrated services (e.g. through multi-functional centres, or a single point of contact for social services); and
- fostering entrepreneurship both in the mainstream and social economy.
Complementing these social interventions are the following infrastructure projects which are eligible for ERDF funding:
- physical investments in social housing, health and educational infrastructure, integrated community centres; and
- upgrading the quality of public spaces and public utilities.
6. State of play
The Ministry of Investments and European Projects completed the appraisal and selection of urban CLLD LAGs in 2018, and most urban LAGs got underway with implementing their strategies at the end of that year. By early 2021, most available funding had already been absorbed, by a total of 161 selected projects.
The EMFF-funded FLAGs started operations in 2019 and by March 2021, they already selected nearly 300 local projects, with most of the funding already committed. Last, the rural LEADER LAGs must conclude the implementation of their strategies by the end of 2021. At the time of writing, around 7,200 projects were selected with a total value of €82 million. These projects contributed to the creation of 3,431 workplaces.
7. Key achievements so far
As it is currently implemented in Romania, LEADER’s contribution towards improving local infrastructures is undeniable, especially as many such infrastructures have gathered several decades’ worth of neglect. Through the required Local Development Strategies, LEADER also fostered the professionalisation and formalisation of development planning and encouraged a wide range of actors to get involved in local decision-making processes.
Urban CLLD LAGs have emerged as Romania’s first programme which enables a truly bottom-up approach for solving issues which are identified by the local community. It has also channelled resources in parts of the cities which have not been explicitly targeted by previous funding. In so doing, urban LAGs have enabled public and private actors to jointly address multiple challenges associated with social exclusion, be it through infrastructure investments or by fostering social initiatives.
8. Key barriers encountered
Many local actors tend to perceive LEADER/CLLD as just another funding mechanism for plugging budgetary holes. This undermines the strategic character of the programme in local economic development. Moreover, LEADER is not recognised as a development instrument beyond the NRDP and the fisheries programme. As a consequence, the associative structures are only marginally considered in the Regional Development Plans and in county development strategy (i.e. most often, their existence is acknowledged). LAGs also struggle with the rigid, top-down implementation structures which tend to stifle innovative projects and rather favour standardised solutions (e.g. purchasing of technical equipment).
Being a new approach, urban CLLD LAGs tend to encounter procedural difficulties in implementing their strategies. Particularly challenging are the lack of clear rules (i.e. they are adjusted along the way) and the high degree of bureaucracy.
9. Some national specificities
There are three associative national structures which represent the interests of LAGs:
- the well-established National LAG Federation for LEADER (Federația Națională a Grupurilor de Acțiune Locală – FNGAL);
- a more recent LEADER Federation (Federația LEADER România); and
- a more recent National Federation of Urban LAGs (Federația Națională a GAL-urilor Urbane).
There is also an NGO at the national level which represents the interest of FLAGs:
- The Federation of Fishery Zones (Federaţia Zonelor Pescăreşti – FZP) was established in 2015 and brings together twelve of the Local Action Groups for Fisheries – FLAGs (of which eight are along the Danube, two are coastal, and two are inland).
Main authors: Catalin Tiuch and Alexandru Brad
Series coordination and editing: Urszula Budzich-Tabor, Stefan Kah, Haris Martinos