The LEADER approach to rural development

Rural development policy is anncreasingly important component of the common agricultural policy (CAP). It promotes sustainable development in Europe’s rural areas addressing economic, social and environmental concerns.

Over half of the EU’s population lives in rural areas, which cover 90 % of the EU’s territory. Leader is an innovative approach within EU rural development policy.
LEADER stands for links between actions of rural development. As its name suggests, it is a method of mobilising and delivering rural development in local rural communities, rather than a fixed set of measures to be implemented.

Experience has shown that LEADER can make a real difference to the daily lives of people in rural areas. It can play an important role in encouraging innovative responses to old and new rural problems, and becomes a sort of ‘laboratory’ for building local capabilities and for testing out new ways of meeting the needs of rural communities. It has generated valuable results in many rural areas in the EU-15 Member States, and could play a significant role in assisting rural areas in new and future EU Member States to adapt to today’s changing realities.

Since its launch in 1991, LEADER has provided rural communities in the EU with the tools to play an active role in shaping their own future. It has evolved over time, together with the rest of the CAP. Information from evaluations and rural stakeholders indicates that the Leader approach is a tool that works well, in quite diff erent situations and types of areas, thus adapting rural policy-making to the extreme diversity of rural areas’ needs.

For these reasons, it has now become an integral part of rural development policy.
By encouraging local participation in the drawing up and implementation of sustainable development strategies, the Leader approach may prove to be a precious resource for future rural policy.

For the 2007–13 programming period, LEADER will no longer be a separate programme but will be integrated (‘mainstreamed’) in all national/regional rural development programmes. This opens up new possibilities for the LEADER approach to be applied on a far wider scale and across a much broader range of rural development activities than hitherto.

LEADER encourages rural territories to explore new ways to become or to remain competitive, to make the most of their assets and to overcome the challenges they may face, such as an ageing population, poor levels of service provision, or a lack of employment opportunities. In this way, LEADER contributes towards improving the quality of life in rural areas both for farm families and the wider rural population.
It uses a holistic approach to address rural problems.
It recognises, for example, that being competitive in the production of food, having an attractive environment and creating job opportunities for the local population are mutually supportive aspects of rural life, requiring specific
skills, appropriate technologies and services that need to be tackled as a coherent package and with tailored policy

Since it was launched in 1991, the LEADER initiative has been working to provide rural communities in the EU with a method for involving local partners in steering
the future development of their area. The LEADER approach has attracted a high level of interest within the EU and far beyond. It has been emulated beyond its own circle of beneficiaries. The interest Leader has aroused has sometimes influenced national, regional and local administrations and policies with its capacity to tackle development problems through new forms of partnerships and linking activities.

LEADER complements other European and national programmes.
For example, LEADER actions can activate and mobilise local resources, by supporting pre-development projects (such as diagnostic studies and feasibility studies or local capacity building) which will improve these areas’ ability to access and use not only LEADER funds but also other sources for financing their development (for example, wider EU and national rural and regional development programmes).

LEADER also assists sectors and categories of benefi ciary which often receive no support, or only limited support, under other programmes operating in rural areas, such as cultural activities, enhancement of the natural environment, rehabilitation of architecture and heritage buildings, rural tourism, improving the links between producers and consumers, etc.
LEADER encourages socioeconomic players to work together, to produce goods and services that generate maximum added value in their local area.