The LEADER approach
This briefing explains the origins of the LEADER approach, its key characteristics (the ‘seven features’ of LEADER) and the transition from LEADER to Community-Led Local Development (CLLD). The section includes links to selected LEADER II period archive materials which explain these features as originally conceived.
The acronym and the method
The LEADER approach was introduced in response to the failure of traditional, top-down policies to address problems faced by many rural areas in Europe. The acronym ‘LEADER” derives from the French phrase “Liaison Entre Actions de Développement de l’Économie Rurale” which means, ‘Links between activities for the development of rural economy”. The idea was to engage the energy and resources of people and local organisations as development actors rather than beneficiaries, empowering them to contribute to the future development of their rural areas by forming area based Local Action Group (LAG) partnerships between the public, private and civil sectors. When first proposed in 1990 by a group of officials at the European Commission, this LEADER concept of connecting and involving local people was quite new.
These Local Action Groups are the main tool for the application of the LEADER approach to area development directly involving local representatives in the development and delivery of local strategies, decision-making and resource allocation. The added value of this approach is associated with local empowerment through local strategy development, delivery and resource allocation.
LEADER was first introduced as a Community Initiative, i.e. a special financial instrument of the EU structural policy aimed at finding new solutions to specific problems affecting the whole EU. In its experimental phase between 1991-1993, LEADER involved 217 areas in designated disadvantaged rural regions. This focus on disadvantage also applied to LEADER II between 1994-1999 although the number of LAGs increased to ca. 900. The encouraging results led to the applicability of the method being expanded under LEADER+ (2000 – 2006) to cover all types of rural areas. The approach was ‘mainstreamed’ in its fourth programming period (2007-2013) as an integral part of the EU’s rural development policy, covering 2416 rural territories across all the Member States. It became a mandatory component of all Rural Development Programmes, with a minimum budget allocation (5% in EU-15 and 2.5% in EU-12, i.e. new Member States excluding Croatia who joined in 2013). In 2007 the method was also extended thematically to fisheries policy with over 300 Fisheries Local Action Groups (FLAGs) being developed in 21 Member States.
For the 2014-2020 funding period, the applicability of the LEADER approach was further extended as Community-Led Local Development (CLLD) in rural, fisheries and urban areas. CLLD may be applied under the EAFRD (as LEADER), the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF), the European Social Fund (ESF) and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and, where Member State programming permits, LAGs may now prepare and deliver integrated strategies using multiple funds.
As LEADER has developed so too have the mechanisms to support the approach; formal networking structures through National Rural Networks and the European Network for Rural Development provide technical support and other networking services for LAGs. ELARD, the European LEADER Association for Rural Development, is an international cooperation forum of LEADER areas.