1. What are the main objectives of local development (and what would we like to promote)?
It is surprising that there are no objectives, goals or missions specified for Community-led local development in the General Regulation laying down the common provisions for all five EU shared management funds (ERDF, ESF, Cohesion Fund, EAFRD, and EMFF (European Maritime and Fisheries Fund). The text is entirely about methodology. One has to go to the general provisions for cohesion policy (ERDF, ESF and Cohesion Fund) to find any reference to mission and goals. This simply states “the actions supported by these fund shall contribute to the Union strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth”. As we know the EU 2020 strategy is very elastic and can be interpreted along any of its three dimensions – although in practice the social and environmental dimensions are becoming increasingly subservient to the economic.
So it would be useful to clarify what different member states have been trying to achieve through local development and also what LD net members would like to promote in the next period. At the risk of oversimplification I would suggest there are (at least) three underlying rationales which, in practice, will probably come into play simultaneously.
a) Doing more with less. Rolling back the frontiers of the state by transferring responsibilities to local, community, civil society, social economy and private actors – but without the corresponding resources to do the job. This fits in with the current austerity measures and ideas like the UKs “Big Society”. How does one do more with less? Answer – be smart – innovate.
b) Improving integration and coordination. The local is seen as the ideal space for joining up policies both vertically and horizontally, for eliminating duplication and covering gaps and for treating problems in a more holistic way. This is probably the dominant rationale behind the current proposals for the coordination of EU funds. But it entails a series of risks: it is basically about top-down administrative coordination, this in turn is usually easier to achieve at larger units of scale (eg regional, metropolitan, provincial…), and larger units and sums of money usually mean greater public sector control and more rigid procedures.
c) Exploring and piloting alternatives. This was the founding spirit behind most of the Community Initiatives and many of the partnerships involved in other local development projects. The idea was that by deepening direct democracy and involving a wide range of stakeholders it would be possible to test and pilot projects which shifted the economy back into its rightful place as a tool for serving social and environmental needs. The ambition, which has never really been realised, was that those initiatives which proved to be successful would be scaled up and mainstreamed.
Personally I think we should still be fighting for c) while trying to ensure that the measures implemented under b) facilitate rather than undermine this objective and recognising that the increased interest from many policy makers will probably come from a). Some of the main challenges will be to link local development more closely with the growing interest in different forms of innovation – open innovation, social innovation, social experimentation, public sector innovation, with emerging forms of the green economy and with the growing movements against social polarisation and inequality.
It would be very useful if the chapters could tease out these kinds of issues with the aim of drawing lessons for the future programmes.
2. What is a “functional” local area
At present the General Regulation refers to “sub-regional territories”. Various points need to be clarified in the chapters
According to the GR, local could cover anything from metropolitan areas like London or Barcelona with more population than countries like Ireland to a small neighbourhood or village. Leader and other programmes have generally argued that local areas should have sufficient “critical mass” to support the strategy while being sufficiently1 to allow local interaction. This has led to population sizes between 5,000 and 150,000.2
The boundaries of a local area will vary depending on what it is meant to be “functional” for. For example in terms of the distribution of a particular sector like fishing or a type of farming, the location of a particular target group like Roma or the long term unemployed, a river basin or marine ecosystem or a local travel to work labour market area.
The current idea in the EU regulation is to have one strategy for one area. But different types of functional area will normally differ and overlap.
One way of dealing with this is to try to define the spatial units which include the main types of functional area and then to have one global strategy made up of several sub areas, sub-strategies and selection committees. The risk is clearly the creation of rather large sub-regional spatial units with all the problems of domination by the public sector and rigidity that this could bring.
In the future period Member States are going to have to specify the types of area in which they want to apply “community led local development”. Their Operational Programmes will then for the first time have to some sort of spatial analysis for putting these into practice. But exactly how they are going chose their functional areas and at what scale they may chose to develop their “one strategy-one area” is an open question. This is likely to be one of the hottest political potatoes. So it would be extremely useful if the country chapters could bring out how Member States have approached this problem in the past and what lessons can be drawn.
3. One strategy – one area. For what and for whom?
The studies and meetings that have already been carried out on local development in the different EU funds and programmes have made it clear that each has a slightly different entry point. This can be spatial as in urban versus rural local development, based around particular target groups or sectors like migrants, youth, the long term unemployed or fishermen, or it can be thematic – focussing on economic development, labour markets, social inclusion and/or poverty.
In theory the “one” strategy should take into account all these different facets in a balanced and holistic way for a particular territory. 4 But in practice this rarely happens. For example, Leader has a far more integrated “territorial approach” than some of the local target group focused projects financed by the ESF. Nevertheless, it frequently ignores vital functional links with both small and large cities and tends to prioritise general economic development over the social inclusion of the many of the “hidden voices” dealt with by the ESF.
As a result each fund and the constellation of partnerships and stakeholders associated with it, is legitimately concerned that its primary objective will be marginalised by the bigger players and diluted in a general territorial strategy.
Once again this can be dealt with by defining priority axes within one overarching strategy or by aggregating separate sub-strategies into a larger whole. It would be very useful to understand how different countries have, in practice, managed to find a balance between different thematic, spatial and target group approaches while advancing towards a more joined up approach to local areas.
Another issue to explore under the heading “strategy” is the scope of local development. For example, in recent years most local development has revolved around the valorisation of local assets and resources. But in many areas, this “vein” of endogenous development may be running out (when you visit some LEADER areas that have gone through all four phases they seem to have already done just about everything in this field). In addition, the crisis and the difficulties faced in “mainstreaming” many previous success stories is forcing people to think more about the organisation public services and the local state. To what extent have local development strategies ventured into new areas and what have been the lessons?lo5
4. Governance. Examples of successful horizontal and vertical partnerships
The General Regulation makes a very significant step forward by arguing that local development shall be “community led by local action groups composed of representatives of the public and private local socioe-economic interests, where at the decision making level neither the public sector nor any single interest group shall represent more than 49% of the voting rights”
The question is what kind of vertical and horizontal governance arrangements best support the coordination of the different strands of local development funded by EU and national funds. There are various models. In Ireland one free standing non-public partnership may manage a series of thematic programmes (rural development, social inclusion, probably fisheries). In France and Greece, public or semi-public accountable bodies (the Pays in France, local development agencies in Greece) house the different programmes with projects being selected by less formal sub-partnerships. In other cases a constellation of independent partnerships may use a range of formal and informal mechanisms to coordinate and cooperate. We need more information on which models work best, where and why.
There is an even bigger gap in the understanding of vertical partnerships. (a 6 , the fact that some countries seem to launch their local development programmes before approval while others have only just started at the end – almost entirely comes down to conflicts and poor channels of communication between national, regional, provincial and local levels. The coordination of different local development funds could multiply these problems several fold. So we need good examples of how different countries have dealt with these issues.
5. And finally – delivery systems.
As the Court of Auditors recently found – the principles (of LEADER) are good but the delivery is often poor. In the worst cases, poor delivery systems can completely wipe out the value of the approach, simply adding yet another layer of bureaucracy between the policy and ordinary citizens.
It is clear that the devil is going to be in the detail of the proposals for coordinating local development during the next programming period. It would be extremely useful to collect evidence of countries with delivery systems that are both transparent and accountable and allow genuinely bottom up processes to proper. This requires examining information on how to overcome obstacles at each stage of the chain from the design and selection of the of the partnerships and strategies to final payment and evaluation.
What should we call a “sufficiently small” to allow local interaction. Of course we need contiguous or adjacent links among people and organisations, but mainly we need qualitative connections that not always deal with proximity and countinguity. The social capital theory tell us about different types of bonds to bridge social interactions and not always they deal with proximity.
Appropiate scale to promote LD also deals with density. We need density (clusters) of ressources and knowledge to achieve success in LD.
I agree with the reflecion. But we have a probelm with so many local authorities that not always are disposed to coordinate their own strategies with broader strategies at another scale
But we have to be aware that we should share strategies among territories to tackle those themes that “need” bigger scales beyond the local. We have to avoid the risk of marginality that always threats LD.
Today in the context of a big social metamorhopsis that is taking place in our countries, LD has to deal not just with “local” issues but with takcling at local level, global issues that concern the whole society (new ways of work and conssumption, conciliation , gender, new sources of energy, RSC, etc. LD should be a way of governing all these issues.
Vertical partnerships supposes that local strategies should take into account regional and national strategies. And, on the contrary, regional strategies should tale into account local and area-based strategies. It doesn’t matter who starts elaborating its own strategy. What has significance is the final result (a cohesive and coherent strategy)