(15 October 2018) – Around 300 people attended the “LEADER Reloaded” conference organised by the European LEADER Association for Rural Development (ELARD) in Evora (Alentejo, Portugal) on 26-28 September, 2018. The objective was to capitalise, relaunch and strengthen LEADER’s local approach.
In a remarkable keynote paper, Robert Lukesch, European expert in rural development, summarised the past evolution, current situation and future challenges of LEADER.
Launched in 1991, LEADER was first a pilot programme (LEADER I and II) before being extended to all EU rural areas (LEADER+, 2000) and then integrated as a specific mode of intervention in the European Fund for Agriculture and Rural Development (Axis 4 of the EAFRD) in 2007.
LEADER’s local, bottom-up, integrated, partnership-based and innovative approach has had a profound impact on European development policies and inspired the concept of community-led local development (CLLD), which has been adopted and financed since 2014 by other European structural funds (ERDF, ESF and FEAMP), with the possibility of combining these different sources of funding in a multi-fund approach.
The price of this achievement is that LEADER has gradually lost its role as a ‘laboratory’ for rural development, which it played over its first ten years. Its implementation has to a certain extent become institutionalised and bureaucratised.
Entitled “LEADER Reloaded”, the ELARD conference in Evora, which was attended by many local action groups, policy-makers and other rural development stakeholders from all over the EU, as well as Georgia, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro and Serbia, therefore aimed to join forces and advocate a return to the innovation and energy of LEADER’s early days, and a simplification of the procedures for implementing its principles, at the very time when the European Parliament is to debate the European Commission’s proposals for rural development in the next programming period 2021-2027.
(*) «Liaison Entre Actions de Développement de l’Economie Rurale» (L.E.A.D.E.R.).