This study has been carried out by Jean-Pierre Vercruysse for Directorate D, DG REGIO of the European Commission with the purpose of better understanding the added-value of cross-border CLLD in the framework of Interreg.
We publish below the Executive Summary of the study. The full report is available HERE.
Community-Led Local Development
The added-value of cross-border local development in the Interreg IT-AT programme 2014-2020
Innovative approaches to local development, prioritising local knowledge to address local problems with local solutions, was gaining importance across the world in the 1990s.In the EU, Community -Led Local Development (CLLD) has been applied in rural development policy since 1991, when the European Commission launched the LEADER Initiative.
Since 2014, CLLD is a delivery mechanism for the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), the European Social Fund (ESF), the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD). It devolves the selection of projects to Local Action Groups (LAGs) on the assumption that local communities know best what is good for their development.
CLLD addresses two European policy objectives:
- Local policies designed for the specific needs of cross-border territories
- Involvement of local stakeholders and citizens in the decision-making
Interreg is one of funds in which CLLD could be used to finance cross-border projects by LAGs as is the case in the Italy-Austria (IT-AT) Interreg programme since 2014. DG REGIO in the European Commission wished to identify key lessons from this experience in order to promote CLLD in other cross-border areas. Therefore, a case-study was commissioned in the cross-border area between Italy and Austria.
The report includes descriptions of the four LAGs supported under the IT-AT programme and their areas, as well as a short presentation of 34 cross-border projects financed by the LAGs.
Despite the relative complexity of this new delivery mechanism, the implementation of CLLD in the IT-AT programme is progressing well: by August 2022, 87% of the budget had been allocated to 204 projects; their average budget is 67.000 Euros. Projects fall in two categories: 135 small projects (up to 50.000 Euros) and 63 medium projects (up to 200.000 Euros) were selected. The balance between small and medium projects varies between the LAGs.
CLLD has been considered a success by the managing authority and the new IT-AT cross-border programme allocates a higher budget to CLLD, despite a general reduction in the Interreg budget.
The purpose of this study is to analyse CLLDs in a cross-border context and address the following questions:
- What is the added-value of CLLD in a cross-border context?
- What are the key success factors?
- What are the difficulties?
- What are the recommendations to improve cross-border CLLDs?
- How to have more cross-border CLLDs in other cross-border territories?
A. The main added-value of using CLLD in cross-border territories derives from the implementation of CLLD’s specific features:
- A territorial approach is implemented across the border, based on the specific needs and potentials of a functional cross-border area. This ensures that policy interventions are better targeted to local needs and therefore more effective.
- A bottom-up approach is implemented mainly by cross-border thematic working groups, whose input is used by the LAGs for the development of their strategy. During the implementation period, the working groups also oversee the implementation of thematic projects. This type of local participatory decision-making allows for a better identification of local needs, and furthermore, it can also be a tool used to mobilise the local population around a common project.
- The cross-border territorial strategy is the tool used to integrate the different dimensions of local development on both sides of the border. Integrated strategies lead to more coherence and synergies, and an efficient use of public funds.
- The partnership approach is implemented through the setting-up of a cross-border project selection committee and by including a partner from both Member States in each project. The local partnership mobilises key local stakeholders around the strategy, thus creating broad support for local development projects.
- The devolution of decision-making for the selection of projects to local stakeholders has three outcomes: it empowers the local population andensures that funding targets the most important needs; it lowers the administrative burden for the managing authority; and more small projects are financed than with a centralised selection procedure.
- Actions must be innovative to bring new solutions to local problems. Different types of local innovation are financed by the LAGs, including in the field of technology and product development, and to add value to a local asset.
- Networking should be reinforced in future programmes to allow for sharing of project ideas and to find common solutions to common problems such as the administrative burden.
B. Key success factors in the IT-AT context include:
- The 10 Local Action Groups involved in the cross-border CLLD have experience of local work.
- The regions were unified until the end of World War I, this historical link is still important today.
- The regions involved in the programme on both sides of the border benefit from a large autonomy from the two capitals. This context provides a supportive environment for local development.
- Support from the two EGTCs active in the same territory creates a connection with a higher political level for the LAGs.
- The LAGs have access to bodies in charge of mainstream sectoral policies. This allows them to work in synergy with those policies.
C. Difficulties in implementing CLLD in a cross-border environment have been identified:
- The administrative burden for the Local Action Groups is high, LAGs spend their time on administration instead of supporting projects in the local area. Several administrative bodies are involved in the administration of a project: the Managing Authority, the Joint Secretariat, four Regional Coordination Units, four bodies in charge of First Line Controls, the certification body and the audit authority.
- The multiplication of these bodies leads to gold platting by the accumulation of rules from both Member States, and cross-border coordination difficulties, creating uncertainties for project holders.
- Projects must be located in the LAG area to be eligible for funding. This rigid definition of eligibility prevents projects going beyond these boundaries.
- The need to work in two languages increases the cost of cross-border coordination.
D. Recommendations for the future include:
- Simplify the delivery mechanism, in particular the reimbursement of eligible costs. The use of Simplified Cost Options (SCOs) has become compulsory in the new period for grants under 200.000 Euros, and it is recommended to adopt the Draft Budget methodology to establish a SCO, since this method focuses on the results rather than on the cost of individual items.
- Harmonise procedures between the agencies involved in the delivery mechanism, create a clearing house mechanism for the interpretation of rules and to avoid gold platting.
- Support the participation of the teams of the different administrations in LAG’s meeting to increase their knowledge of CLLD and of the areas, but also of the type of projects that are selected by the LAGs.
- Foster the use of Functional areas to overcome the rigid limitation of eligibility to the LAGs areas. Allow the LAGs to fund projects going beyond these boundaries and foresee an extra budget to finance these.
- Overcome language difficulties by providing training to the teams in LAGs and administrations.
E. How to have more cross-border CLLDs in other cross-border territories:
- The four cross-border LAGs in the IT-AT programme include 10 existing CLLD groups.
- Programmes with Policy Objective 5 (PO5) could contact the LAGs on their territories3 to explore their interest in starting cross-border CLLD.
- New programmes that include PO5 in their budget need to define the delivery mechanism for the implementation of their integrated territorial strategies.
- The CLLD methodology can be very useful for them and the administrations in Innsbruck and in Bolzano should be invited to share their experience in exchanges on the delivery mechanisms for PO5.
- Local Action Groups financed by other funds are partners of some Interreg projects. It would be useful to inventories these projects using the Keep.EU database to identify these projects and assess the potential for fully-fledged Interreg CLLD involving those LAGs.
- For example, the FairSea project promotes an ecosystem approach to fisheries in the Adriatic region; one of the partners is a Fisheries Local Action Group financed under the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund.
- CLLD could also be implemented by programmes that are not using PO5, maybe by setting-up small projects funds and using ISO1 funding. Funding CLLD using other Policy Objectives could also be possible, as made possible by Article 3.2 of the ERDF Regulation for the 21-27 programming period.