This paper considers how local development works in practice, by looking into EU programmes supporting the Leader approach in rural and maritime areas. In the case of rural development it broadly covers the 2000-2006 and 2007-2013 programming periods. In the case of fisheries areas, the relevant experiences relate to the current programming period, 2007-2013.
This chapter considers how local development works in practice, by looking into EU programmes supporting the Leader approach in rural and maritime areas. In the case of rural development it broadly covers the 2000-2006 and 2007-2013 programming periods. In the case of fisheries areas, the relevant experiences relate to the current programming period, 2007-2013. The experience and lessons from LD practice in urban areas will be covered in the 2nd Edition of the e-book.
The chapter begins with a brief description of the Leader approach as currently applied in rural and maritime areas of the EU (Section 2). It proceeds to look into the results of recent analytical work concerning the implementation of the Leader approach and its mainstreaming within the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (Section 3) and the application of the Leader principles in the New Member States of the EU, with special reference to the experience of Poland (Section 4). It then distils these assessments into a comparative summary of the concept of the Leader approach and how it tends to work in practice (Section 5). A review of the early experiences of implementing a Leader-type approach in fisheries areas under Axis 4 the EFF follows (Section 6). Finally, some general conclusions are drawn from the way LD works in practice (Section 7).
2. The application of the Leader approach
The application of local development in rural areas, in the form of the LEADER Community Initiatives (the LEADER initiative in the years 1991-1993 and LEADER II in the period 1994-1999) could be seen as a ‘pilot’ or experimental phase. The evaluation of these initiatives indicated that the approach seems to work well, see for example the ex-post evaluation of LEADER II and thus a variety of activities were undertaken to apply these experiences to stimulate local development in a new context. These included:
- a broader application of the Leader method in EU-15, with greater involvement of national and regional Managing Authorities – through LEADER+ (2000-2006) and especially through the ‘mainstreaming’ of the approach in the form of Leader Axis in Rural Development Programmes in the period 2007-2013;
- transfer of the Leader experience to the accession countries (soon to become New Member States) in Central and Eastern Europe;
- an application of the Leader approach to areas dependent on fisheries – as Axis 4 of the European Fisheries Fund (2007-2013).
The period 2000-2006 could be seen as the period of transition from the Community Initiative towards ‘mainstream’ rural development programmes. In the EU-15, Leader+ was still implemented as a Community Initiative, with approximately EUR 2.1 billion allocated to it from the EAGGF European Agricultural Guidance and Guarantee Fund and 893 Local Action Groups (LAGs) supported. The New Member States entering the EU in 2004 could select in their operational programmes a ‘Leader-type measure’, similar in many ways to the approach used in the EU-15, but with a stronger role for the Managing Authorities and Paying Agencies, and more emphasis on capacity building than on the implementation of strategies in the LEADER ex post evaluation This was partly due to the limited time available. Six new Member States chose to implement such measures: Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. A total of 260 LAGs were supported in those countries, including 150 in Poland and 70 in Hungary.
From 2007, Leader was no longer a Community Initiative and its application was extended to all the 27 Member States. All of the 88 Operational Programmes across the EU funded from the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) had to contain a ’Leader Axis’ with a mandatory minimum of funding – 5% in the EU-15 and 2.5% in the EU-12. As a result, the amount of funding (EUR 5 500 million, i.e. ca. 6% of the total EAFRD budget) and the number of LAGs (circa 2300) was significantly higher than in the previous period.
In the period 2007-2013 the Leader-type local development approach was also introduced for the first time in the European Fisheries Fund to address the specific needs of areas and communities dependent on fisheries. This approach, i.e. Axis 4 of the European Fisheries Fund, is currently applied in 21 Member States. By the end of 2011, approximately 220 Fisheries Local Action Groups (FLAGs) have been created. By the end of 2012 the total number of FLAGs is expected to be 280, many of them benefitting from the experience of existing Leader groups. Approximately EUR 550 million has been allocated to this Axis, i.e. 13% of the total EFF budget.
3. The mainstreaming of the Leader approach
In spite of the fact that the ‘mainstreaming’ phase of Leader has been implemented for some time, there are still relatively few examples of its comprehensive evaluation. This is partly due to the fact that the impact of local development is generally quite difficult to evaluate, due to:
- long time needed for changes to become visible,
- predominance of ‘soft’ (less tangible) rather than ‘hard’ impacts,
- difficulties in defining measurable indicators, especially such as could be aggregated at regional or national level.
This does not mean that local development is impossible to evaluate. There are examples of good practice both in the area of academic research PRIDE project Partnerships for Rural Integrated Development in Europe, see final report ‘Local Partnerships for Rural Development, the European experience’( Moseley 2003) and in the evaluation practice of EU-funded programmes. The latter include the elaborated guidelines, ‘Capturing impacts of Leader and of measures to improve quality of life in rural areas’(cache) developed by the European Evaluation Network for Rural Development for the evaluation of Leader and measures to improve quality of life in rural areas and more specific methodologies used in some Member States in the ex-post evaluations of Leader+ and the mid-term evaluations of the RDPs. See also Jela Trvdonova’s article on Leader evaluation in Czech Republic and Slovakia in this volume.
Among recently carried out analytical work of the Leader approach special attention should be paid to those that look not only at the achievements, but also at the obstacles and problems of implementing the Leader approach. This is particularly true of the report of the European Court of Auditors (ECA) published in 2010 Court of auditors report(cache). This report is based on the experiences of Leader+ and the initial data about the Leader Axis 2007-2013, and it focuses mainly on the extent to which the implementation of the Leader approach adds value to rural development.
The report, which should be read together with the responses of the European Commission, concludes that in principle the Leader approach has a high potential value added, but in many cases – primarily due to the way this approach is translated into national regulation of different Member States – this value added is not realised. The main reasons include :
- excessive limitation of the LAG autonomy in formulating strategic objectives and selection of projects
The types of activities (measures) to be financed by the LAG, types of beneficiaries and eligible costs are often decided in a ‘top-down’ way by the Managing Authorities of the programme; moreover, in some countries the LAGs can only support projects that are envisaged in the national Operational Programmes, sometimes only those from Axis 3 of the RDP (diversification of economic activity and improving quality of life in rural areas).
As a result, according to the ECA, the local strategies are too strongly determined by centrally taken decisions, and not sufficiently responsive to local needs and initiatives. These limitations are sometimes introduced by the Member States through national legislation after the OP has been negotiated and agreed with the EC. Moreover, some LAGs are not free to set the level of co-financing for individual projects in line with the strategic priorities and beneficiary needs, but have to follow specific MA guidelines.
- lack of incentives for LAGs to undertake innovative projects
Restrictive national or regional legislation or pressure from strong partners (notably local administrations) mean that the LAGs seldom support non-typical, innovative or complex projects which require the involvement of several partners. In this way, the Local Action Groups turn into an additional layer of administration, and their roles often duplicate those of the regional or national authorities.
The ECA points out cases where Leader money was used to finance projects that were within the scope of normal local government activities (for instance enclosing a playground or renewing drainage and resurfacing pavements), or very large projects (over EUR 200,000) which could easily be financed from other EU sources.
- lengthy and elaborate procedures of decision-making and payments
In many countries beneficiaries of Leader-funded projects had to fill long and complicated forms which took a long time to be assessed. The high number of errors and incomplete applications – according to the ECA – could indicate that the procedures were too complicated (a particularly striking example is quoted of an application for EUR 5400 which was 126 pages long).
- too much focus on project monitoring, too little on reaching strategy objectives
The ECA noted that many local strategies are formulated in an extremely general way, and they could in fact refer to almost any rural area; such strategies are not particularly useful for evaluating the results. Only information about the number of projects and their costs is generally recorded, while not enough attention is paid to assessing to what extent implementation of the strategy helps to solve local problems (e.g. preventing out-migration of young people, creating jobs etc.).
The ECA also indicated cases where the Leader potential cannot be realised because of:
- domination of the public sector in LAG decision-making,
- lack of documentation of the decision-making process, in particular records indicating that people with an interest in the project did not participate in the decision or otherwise influenced it,
- potential conflict of interest in cases where most projects are implemented by entities whose representatives are members of the decision-making body (although this problem can be mitigated if the membership in the LAG is fully open to all stakeholders),
- potential ‘ deadweight effect’ in case of financing projects which are almost completed at the time of the decision; on the other hand the ECA points out that such practices may be the result of long decision-making procedures and the fear that the LAG will not be able to meet disbursement targets.
The ECA stresses that the main source of value added of the Leader approach is the local partnership (the LAG), while the Managing Authority should only:
- provide guidance and support to the LAG,
- make sure that the legislation and management systems set the minimum standards required,
- create incentives for LAGs to add value and achieve sound financial management,
- avoid obstacles and disincentives.
The findings of the Court of Auditors are in line with the results of work of the Focus Groups of the Leader Sub-Committee of the European Network for Rural Development. These Leader Focus Groups (see http://enrd.ec.europa.eu/rural-development-policy/leader/en/leader-focus-group_en.cfm(cache) are composed mainly of practitioners from LAGs and Managing Authorities and National Networks with the support of experts and the European Commission.
Three Focus Groups created in 2009 have already presented their main conclusions; these were groups dealing with:
- Implementation of the bottom-up approach
- Preserving innovative/experimental character of Leader
- Implementation of the ‘cooperation measure’.
A fourth Focus Group was formed in 2011 and it works on
- Better Local Development Strategies.
Of the three groups that were set up in 2009 and have already published their reports, the results of the group dealing with the bottom-up approach are most relevant to the analysis of local development. It has studied the delivery mechanisms of Leader and the degree of autonomy of Local Action Groups. Significant differences exist between Member States in this respect. While some LAGs can select projects, approve them, sign agreement with beneficiaries and make payments (this is the case e.g. in England and Wallonia), in other countries payments are made by the Paying Agency (e.g. France, Greece, some Spanish and Italian regions). There are also models in which LAGs can only select projects, while approval and payments are carried out by Managing Authorities or Paying Agencies (e.g. Poland, Sweden, Austria, Germany, Romania). The Focus Group has identified cases where the LAGs are even more constrained: they are not even free to launch the call for projects themselves, or where they are not informed whether the project has been approved or rejected by the regional or national administration. The Focus Group report does not judge which of these different models is ‘ best’, but it points out that in many cases the roles of the LAG and those of Managing Authorities or Paying Agencies overlap and this leads to delays and inefficiencies.
The results of the Focus Group work – as well as those of the ECA – draw attention to the fact that the impact of local development depends to a large extent on the way it is implemented, i.e. on the delivery system, which are usually determined at the regional, national and EU levels. Hence many experts and practitioners argue that support to local development approaches requires a specific legislative framework, which must be different from the standard implementation rules applicable to other types of public funding. The analysis of these reports also indicates the role of capacity building and exchange of experiences not only at the level of local actors and the LAG, but also at the level of national and regional administration.
4. Application of the Leader principles in the new Member States
For countries of Central and Eastern Europe the transition from ‘ centrally planned’ economies and ‘ centrally controlled’ societies was a complex process, which involved not only democratisation and privatisation, but also profound changes in local governance (including, in many cases, a complete re-construction of the local administrative structures) and the way civil society was organised. The first attempts to apply the European experience of local development in these countries (still in their pre-accession period) were part of that wider process.
In Poland, for instance, ‘ local development’ was initially understood mainly as decentralisation and strengthening the role of local authorities. But in some parts of the country – often as a result of individual contacts with Western European experiences – there were attempts, already in the early 1990s, to create local partnerships based on citizens’ initiative and cooperation of different types of actors. Two large-scale initiatives aimed to promote local development in a more systematic way were carried out in the late 1990 and early 2000 – one by the Cooperation Fund (within the Agroline programme), which focused mainly on the training of rural leaders and grant schemes in support of local initiatives, and the other by the Polish Environmental Partnership Foundation which focused on local partnership building in both rural and urban areas, accompanied by support to small scale environmental projects.
These initiatives were strengthened by the formation, in 2002, of the Polish Rural Forum – a national platform of cooperation of all rural organisations in Poland. The first action of the emerging Forum was to appeal to the Polish government and the European Commission to permit the Leader approach to be applied in the new Member States immediately upon accession (which was originally not envisaged in the accession negotiations). In 2003-2004 the Forum, supported by the Agroline programme, carried out a large-scale project preparing rural communities for the implementation of Leader. This involved intensive multi-stage training of 10 trainers and over 80 local partnership animators, as well as development of written materials and information campaign.
As a result, the local communities in Poland were aware of the potential benefits of the Leader approach and willing to try it even before Poland became member of the EU (in May 2004), and long before the Leader-type measure in the first Operational Programme was designed. Many local partnerships took part in study visits and other exchanges with LAGs in other countries, which contributed significantly to their understanding of the local development approach.
These high expectations were confronted with reality when the Leader+ pilot measure started to be implemented in 2006. In the first phase, the potential LAGs could apply for funds to animate the local community, formalise the partnership and develop the local strategy. In the next phase, funding was available for implementation of some activities of the strategies, but the initial delays and administrative complications meant that the LAGs had a little more than a year to implement their action plans, and they were not allowed to organise calls for projects (they could only implement those already envisaged in the strategies).
This confrontation of expectations with reality, the appearance of unexpected legal obstacles, combined with the lack of understanding of the Leader approach by some of those who were responsible for the administrative framework, resulted in many disappointments and much criticism of the pilot measure. Nevertheless, its implementation enabled the strengthening of many informal initiatives already existing since the 1990s, as well as the creation of many new ones; the process of learning in practice to apply local development approach in rural areas was started, both at the LAG level and at the level of the national administration, including the Managing Authority and Paying Agency.
Local communities hoped that the new programming period, 2007-2013, will improve the implementation of Leader, since (a) there would be more time and more funds available for the implementation of strategies, and (b) the LAGs will be able to select projects of local beneficiaries as in the ‘ genuine’ Leader approach. Moreover, as it became clear that the legal forms imposed on LAGs in the initial period were not suitable to the specificity of the Leader partnership, in the 2007 legislation a new legal form was created for that purpose, which could accommodate, for the first time on equal terms, local governments, businesses and NGOs as well as individuals.
It was partly due to these high expectations that the number of LAGs more than doubled (from 150 in the 2004-2006 period to 340 in 2007-2013; Poland has now the largest number of LAGs in the EU, and they cover nearly all rural areas of the country). However, in the new period the Polish government decided to decentralise the implementation of Leader to the regional (voivodship) level, and this meant that the knowledge and experience accumulated at the MA level in the course of implementing the pilot measure was largely unutilised, while in the 16 voivodship offices, the learning process about Leader had to be started from the beginning.
The rapid increase in the number of LAGs also meant that there are many areas in Poland where the partnerships were formed in a hurry, primarily in order to get access to additional funding. Many of LAGs are dominated by local governments, with the partnership principles and public participation remaining only on paper. However, with time and thanks to the good example of other LAGs which apply the Leader principles in practice, some of these groups undergo gradual evolution towards genuine partnerships. What is more doubtful is the evolution towards strategic thinking: it is to be feared that, partly due to lack of experience and to bureaucratic obstacles and delays, many of these groups focus primarily on disbursing the funds in line with eligibility rules rather than on achieving strategic objectives of local development.
This brief summary of the Leader story in Poland, the largest of the new MSs and one of the first ones to experiment with this approach, is similar in many ways to the experiences of other Central and Eastern European countries. Although there are no formal studies across the board, there is enough empirical evidence from the activities of the PREPARE network and early indications from mid-term evaluations of the RDPs in some of the new MSs highlighting such similarities. The following common points can be mentioned:
- in general, civil societies and rural communities in NMS were better prepared for the Leader approach than administrations; there was also strong support from NGOs at various levels. But in some countries – e.g. Slovenia, which started its own locally-based rural development programme in mid-1990s – also the national authorities were from the very beginning strongly supportive of the Leader approach;
- there seems to be a strong link between the way local partnerships operate and the structure and functions of local governments. In some countries – notably the Czech Republic – the LAGs seemed – at least in the early phases, strongly dominated by local governments. On the other hand, in Estonia where local authorities were extremely small and weak, local development had from the very beginning strong community orientation (which was strengthened by the activities of KODUKANT, the Estonian Village Movement).
As has been mentioned, the role of examples and advice from those EU countries which had a long and positive experience of Leader (Ireland, Finland, Portugal) should not be underestimated. The new MSs also began quite early on to exchange experience among themselves, partly owing to their cooperation within PREPARE (Partnership for Rural Europe). The PREPARE partners are national rural movements from Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia, as well as two EU-level NGOs (Forum Synergies and ECOVAST). See This experience was later capitalised e.g. in the form of manual and training programme for local partnership animators developed within the TEPA project,(Training of European Partnership Animators), a project funded by Socrates-Grundtvig and implemented by partners from Slovakia, Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia and Sweden. http://partnershipanimators.eu(cache) and is currently being used in promoting local development approaches in the candidate and neighbourhood countries (Croatia, Serbia, Turkey, Albania, Ukraine etc.).
In fact, networking and exchange has been one of the key characteristics of the Leader approach from the beginning and the mutual learning and dissemination of good practices has played an important role in all the processes described above. Formal and informal networks of LAGs (and often FLAGs) are active in all EU Member States. See for example http://www.elard.eu/en_GB/networking(cache)
5. Leader approach: concept vs practice
The experience of the new and (many of the) old Member States, and the findings of the work carried out by the ECA and the Leader Focus Groups indicate that a distinction should be made between the ‘Leader concept’ (i.e. the principles of the Leader approach) and the ‘Leader practice’ (i.e. the way this approach is implemented in reality, especially since it has been introduced to new MSs and ‘mainstreamed’ into the wider Rural Development Programmes). The key differences between the Leader concept and its practice can be summarised in the following table:
|Principle||Initially meant that:||Now it sometimes happens that:|
|territorial approach||the main focus should be on solving problems or exploring opportunities of the area as a whole||the main focus is on the correct way of disbursing the funds, and this is what the partnership is accountable for; solutions to local problems become less of a priority, and there are few tools to evaluate them|
|bottom-up approach||the rules of funding (how to develop and submit projects, evaluation criteria, methods of working with beneficiaries) are established by the partnership;||projects receive funding according to local priorities the rules of funding, types of projects, eligible costs are often established centrally, and sometimes limited only to standard measures. In some countries the LAGs do not even launch the calls themselves and have little influence on how the funding is allocated|
|integrated approach||complementarities and synergies between projects are sought by the partnership||the budgets are sometimes divided between “priority axes” of a sectoral nature, or – as a way to maintain local parities – between municipalities in the LAG, thus losing their integrated character. Projects bringing together partners from various sectors are rare and often do not fit into the criteria defined in a top-down way|
|partnership||all partners have a voice in developing the strategy and deciding about projects to be funded||the public sector is sometimes dominant, it usually has greater organisational and financial capacity. This risk is particularly great if the partnership has from the beginning to be established as a new legal entity (as is the case in most new MSs)|
|innovation||partners support each other in search of new solutions, hitherto unknown in the area||the “technocratic” meaning of innovation (often defined centrally) tends to dominate; fear of controls discourages support to higher risk projects, which is indispensable in innovation|
|decentralisation of decisions and funding||the partnership manages the funding to implement the strategy, sometimes it can make payments to beneficiaries||the funds are managed centrally; payments are conditional on a lengthy procedure of analysis of the project at regional or central level, often repeating the analysis already carried out by the LAG|
|cooperation and networking||the main aim is to learn from each other, to inspire and be inspired||cooperation is expected to bring tangible results, which is particularly difficult at the early stages of partnership. The cooperation process becomes bureaucratised|
It should be made clear that problems mentioned in the list above should not obscure the overall benefits of the Leader approach, and that in many places in Europe the Leader principles are implemented in practice, in spite of the many obstacles and difficulties.
6. Transfer of the Leader experience to the European Fisheries Fund
In spite of the problems mentioned above, it is generally considered that Leader-type local development seems to work well in areas where traditional sectoral policies (e.g. those focusing primarily on the agricultural sector) have failed. This positive experience of implementing the Leader approach in rural areas has encouraged the European Commission to offer to Member States, in the programming period 2007-2013, the possibility to apply a similar approach to fisheries areas, i.e. areas that are (or used to be) dependent on fishing and where the local communities have been affected by changes in this sector. The principle here was the same: sectoral policies alone are not enough to create new opportunities for areas and communities dependent on fisheries, and therefore a new approach, involving the whole community in a strategic developmental process, should be attempted.
This local development approach constitutes Axis 4 of the European Fisheries Fund, and it is implemented in 21 Member States (exceptions are the land-locked countries – Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Luxembourg and Slovakia – as well as Malta). In many countries the implementation of this Axis started with a considerable delay, so that at this stage it is difficult to evaluate the results of implementation on the ground. More information is available concerning the delivery mechanisms.
The local partnerships implementing local development approach under the EFF are ‘Fisheries Local Action Groups’ (FLAGs). As mentioned above (section 2), at the end of 2011 there were almost 220 FLAGs across Europe, and some countries (e.g. Italy, Ireland) have not yet finished the selection, so the total number of groups will probably be around 280. These groups are at various stages of development: some have been approved only recently, but others already have considerable track record. In total, about 1,000 projects have already been selected and approved.
While the basic principles of the Leader approach have been, to a large extent, transferred into Axis 4 of the EFF, there are some significant differences. These differences mean not only that FLAGs are in many ways different from the Leader LAGs, but also that there are even greater differences between Member States than is the case for Leader. The main differences are discussed below.
In the fisheries Operational Programmes, Axis 4 – unlike the Leader Axis in RDPs – is not mandatory. In Leader, the proportion of total RDP budget allocated to Leader was minimum 5% for EU 15 and 2.5% for EU 12; in practice, the amounts actually allocated by MS vary from 2.5% to 10%. In the EFF the differences are more pronounced, from 0% in those MSs that have decided not to apply Axis 4 at all, through countries that have allocated to it a very small amount of funding (e.g. France with less than 3% of total EFF budget), to over 30% in countries such as Poland and Romania.
Consequently, there are equally significant differences between FLAGs from different countries in the size of budgets: in some countries (Germany, France) the average amount of public funding per FLAG amounts to less than EUR 1 million for the whole period; in others it is over EUR 8 million (e.g. Poland, with the largest Polish FLAGs having a budget of around EUR 17 million).
Paradoxically, there seems to be little correlation between the importance of the fisheries sector in the national – or even local – economies and the overall budget allocated by a given country to Axis 4 and funding available to individual FLAGs; other factors (such as cohesion criteria and strength of the fisheries sector lobbying for measures from other Axes) seemed to play a more significant role in this respect.
The composition of partnerships is another source of differences, both between MSs and in comparison to Leader. In RDP it was required that local partnerships have less than 50% of public sector votes at the decision making level. There is no such provision in the EFF, although in many countries the same rule is followed in practice. However, some Member States require a significant proportion of the fisheries sector to be represented. As a result, this sector represents sometimes as much as 80% of votes at decision making level, while its real economic power in the area is often considerably smaller – this could potentially lead to imbalances in the local strategy, especially if the FLAG has a relatively big budget. The rationale for such strong representation seems to be to convince fishermen that Axis 4 does not ‘take money away’ from the fisheries sector; it is not clear at this stage how this requirement has affected the relationships between fishermen and the wider community in practice.
There are also significant variations concerning the size of area covered by the local group. The guidelines in Leader stipulate that the area should comprise between 10,000 and 150,000 inhabitants and the definition of areas should be left, as far as possible, to the local community. In Axis 4 EFF many areas were pre-defined in accordance with national priorities related primarily to the fisheries sector. Thus, there are areas significantly exceeding 150,000 inhabitants or areas where the key consideration is the presence of the fisheries sector rather than territorial coherence.
One of the key characteristics of Axis 4 EFF – as compared to the Leader Axis – is linked to the principle of ‘integrated approach’, often considered one of the essential components of local development. In Leader, at least in the pilot phase, some LAGs attempted to finance projects that link all sectors to find solutions most adapted to the local context (although, as has been mentioned above, with mainstreaming the choice was often restricted to measures pre-defined centrally). In the EFF in some Member States the FLAGs are constrained – or encouraged – to focus primarily on the challenges of the fisheries sector, thus concentrating most funds on projects related – directly or indirectly – to fisheries, for instance through adding value to fisheries products or creating additional sources of income for fishermen and their families. Thus, one could say that Axis 4 tries to combine the classical local development methodology with activities linked to a specific sector, but there are again significant differences between Member States here.
It is interesting to note the differences with respect to the use of the Leader experience at national level in setting up the frameworks for Axis 4 EFF. Some Member States decided to build their FLAGs on the basis of existing LAGs (where these comprised areas important for fisheries) – this is for instance the case in Germany, Latvia and Denmark. In other countries FLAGs are deliberately separated from LAGs (e.g. Greece, Galicia); there are also other configurations (e.g. several LAGs forming one FLAG etc.). Similarly, some MSs decided to use the same implementation mechanisms while others chose to build entirely new ones. However, irrespective of the way the delivery system is designed at MS level it is clear that in most countries the Leader experience on the ground (at community level) played an important role in the setting up of the fisheries groups.
It is too early to assess the impact of this specific type of local development on fisheries communities. One can expect that the big differences in the way Axis 4 has been set up in different countries means we can expect significant differences in terms of impact.
Recognising the difficulties of applying the local development approach to the specific context of fisheries (and possibly also having in mind the important role played by the European Observatory in the pilot phase of Leader), the European Commission has decided to support the implementation of Axis 4 with the creation of the European Fisheries Areas Network – FARNET. See Its activities target directly the FLAGs, through capacity building and support to cooperation and exchange, but also the Managing Authorities, through stimulating exchange on delivery issues and promoting good practices. The opportunities for learning and exchange offered by FARNET seem to be highly appreciated by both FLAGs and Managing Authorities, and their importance was mentioned in the mid-term evaluation report of the EFF.
The analysis of the above experiences of implementing the LD approach in practice enables a number of conclusions to be drawn.
First, local development can be effectively applied in different contexts, irrespective of national characteristics (old as well as new member states, different levels of civil society organisation, various administrative structures), types of areas (at least in a variety of rural and fisheries areas) or even strategic focus (integrated as well as sectorally-focused).
Second, national (or regional) legal frameworks and delivery mechanisms play an important role in the way local development is implemented on the ground, and – consequently – on how effective it is in addressing the local challenges.
Third, traditions of top-down management mean that the mainstreaming of local development in conventional programmes contradicts the innovative and participatory character of the LD approach and can cancel out much of the value of local development. In this climate, LD structures, such as LAGs, are under pressure to become another layer of administration and the whole of the LD approach is (mis)conceived as a delivery system – an extension of, or alternative to conventional policy/programme management systems.
Fourth, it is difficult to translate into reality the holistic (multi-dimensional and integrated) nature of the LD approach by relying on sectorally focused funds which tend to favour sectoral approaches. This underlines the case for better multi-fund coordination.
Fifth, the complex character of local development makes it difficult to grasp – not only for the local actors, but also for decision-makers at regional, national and EU level – hence capacity building and mutual learning can play an important role in ensuring its effective implementation.
Moseley M. 2003 ‘Local Partnerships for Rural Development, the European experience’, ed.
to be completed