The Leader Approach – the fourth axis of the Rural Development Programme

Since its establishment in 1991 the Leader instrument provides the communities with rural regions of EU instruments for taking active role in establishment of their own future. The Leader abbreviation means “Links between the rural economy and development actions”.

The Leader instrument works well in various conditions and types of regions thus adapting the policy conduction in rural regions to the vast differences in the needs of the rural regions. Due to all this, it has become an integral part of the rural development policy.

Politically speaking Leader was found as an “Initiative of the community”, financed by the structural funds of EU.

To the financial frame of 2007 – 2013 developed are three Leader generations:  Leader I (1991 – 93), Leader II (1994 – 99) and Leader+ (2000 – 06).

During this time the member-stated and regions support Leader programmes with separate financing on level European union.

Leader – Part of the Rural Development Programme

For the programme period 2007 – 2013, not as a separate programme is the integrated approach in the Rural Development Programme /2007 – 2013/. This means that Leader is included in the common national and regional rural development programmes, funded by the EU, together with various other axis for rural development.

The funding of Leader axis since 2007 comes of the common financial transfers, received annually by each member-state of the EU under the new European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) for supporting the development  of rural regions.

The main idea of the Leader Approach is based on the understanding that due to the diversity in rural regions in Europe the development strategies are much more efficient if decided and applied locally by local participants, accompanied by clear and transparent procedures, support by the respective administrations and necessary assistance for distribution of good practices.

Leader is a horizontal fourth axis of the Rural Development Programme, contributing to the achieving the objectives of the remaining 3 axles (Regulation (EU) No 1698/2005). Measures of the approach are directed towards Local Actions Groups (LAG), natural persons and entities, non-governmental organizations and municipalities and regions where there is an approved and effective Local Action Group. They finance individual projects, developed and implemented by local partners as a reply of specific local problems.

Main characteristics of the Leader Approach:

Mandatory for every Local Action Group

Territorial approach:  The LEADER Approach is applied on a certain regions covering small, homogeneous, socially related territory, often characterized by common traditions, local identity, sense of belonging and common needs and expectations.

The selected region shall have sufficient cohesion and critical mass regarding human, financial and economic resources for maintaining the local development strategy. It is not necessary this region or territory to meet the preliminary set administrative borders (municipalities and districts).

The approach bottom – up: The approach “bottom – up” means that local people participate in the taking of the decisions regarding the strategy and selection of priorities which to be followed. The creation of capacity is a main part of the “bottom – up” approach and it includes:

  • (1) increase in the knowledge, participation and mobilization of local population for performing analysis;
  • (2) participation of various groups of interests for creating a local development strategy;
  • (3) establishment of clear local selection criteria of appropriate projects (action plan) for implementing the strategy.

Networking:  The nets cover exchange of results, experience and know-how between different LAG, between the administrations and organizations, participating in the development of the rural regions. The nets are a way to share good practices for distribution of innovations. Networks create links between people, projects and rural regions thus supporting overcoming of the isolation some rural regions experience. Exists and envisaged is the creation of several types of networks:

  • institutional (or formal), financed and created by European Commission and the government;
  •  informal (national, regional and local).