LEADER (Acronym derived from French: “Liaison Entre Actions de Développement de l’Économie Rurale”) is an acronym that stands for “links between actions for the development of the rural economy”. Information obtained through the evaluation of LEADER, and that obtained from stakeholders based in rural areas shows the advantages of LEADER as an instrument that achieves results in various situations and fields, which contributes to the adjustment of rural policies to the specific needs of respective rural areas. By encouraging local-level participation in the formulation and implementation of sustainable development strategies, this approach has a growing impact on future rural policies.
In the course of its evolution since 1991, LEADER had the status of an initiative in the three previous generations. In the current planning period, 2007-2013, it has transformed into an integral part of the European Rural Development Policy – LEADER axe, and became an obligatory component of Member States’ rural development programmes. In the past period, LEADER+, there were 893 active LAGs in 15 “old” Member States, comprising a total population of 52 million. Prior to the accession of Bulgaria and Romania, six countries out of the ten new Member States decided to implement LEADER+, which resulted in about one hundred new LAGs. Cooperation between LAGs resulted in almost one thousand local and more than three hundred cross-border projects.
LEADER tells us about how something should be done, and not what. It is made up of several components – principles which should be followed collectively, i.e. not separately:
Sustainable rural development – development based on the preservation and balanced development of environmental, social and economic capital.
Area-based approach – each rural area has its own characteristics, potential, special and distinctive features – future planning should be based on them.
Bottom-up approach – broad inclusion of all available resources in local communities, resulting in a multitude of ideas and possible solutions, will contribute to appropriate development.
Establishment of local partnerships – fragmented initiatives are often ill-fated, particularly in small environments, because they lack force, cogency and community trust; thus, establishment of ties and partnerships, and development of a cooperation spirit are crucial. LEADER’s original idea is the creation of local public-private partnerships in the form of local action groups – LAGs.
Innovation – tradition clearly forms the basis of sustainable rural development, but innovation is necessary in order to present traditional values in a new and competitive way.
Integrated and multi-sectoral approach – sectoral divisions often create development problems. Horizontally, cross-sectoral linking, as well as vertically, linking between local regional and national institutions, is of particular importance in achieving sustainable rural development.
Networking – linking, lessons from best practice cases, transfer and exchange of knowledge and experience feature prominently in the implementation of LEADER, because different individual cases are integrated into a development pattern consisting of European rural regions, whilst also ensuring mutual assistance and support.
Cooperation – it is a step further from networking, towards setting things in motion and implementing joint projects between two or more LAGs within the country, region and/or European Union.