The initiative LEADER+
Since its launch in 1991, the LEADER Community initiative [see section 12.3.4] has encouraged the active involvement of local rural communities in the development of their local economy. This participative approach to rural development has produced positive results. In particular, the experience gained from LEADER I and II has demonstrated that the territorial development strategy was the appropriate one to restore vitality to the rural territories, to stimulate the creation and maintenance of activities and hence to increase their attractiveness. The initiative LEADER+, financed by the Guidance section of the EAGGF, goes a step further. Its objective is to encourage the implementation of high quality, original strategies for integrated sustainable development of rural areas. Leader+ is at the same time an instrument of assistance in the new rural development policy, accompanying and complementing the CAP, and an instrument of assistance in the economic and social cohesion policy aiming to ensure the viability of rural Europe [Regulation 1083/2006, see section 12.1.2]. Its objective is to encourage, on the basis of local partnerships, the emergence and experimentation of rural territorial development strategies, integrated and in a pilot form.
LEADER+ is applicable in all rural areas of the European Union, but the selected territories must have demonstrated their capacity to support the proposed development project in terms both of coherence and sufficient critical mass. The development strategy must demonstrate its foundation and coherence with the territory, its economic viability, its sustainable character (in environmental terms), its pilot character and more particularly its specificity and originality in relation to the operations of the mainstream programmes as well as the transferable character of the methods proposed.
The development strategy, according to the circumstances, must be linked to a development theme particularly interesting at local and European level: the use of information technology in rural areas; improving the quality of life in rural areas; adding value to local products and making the best use of natural and cultural resources. Strategies focusing on equal opportunities for women, and on young people in rural areas are also given priority.
The beneficiaries of LEADER+ should be a unity of partners defined as "Local Action Group" (LAG). They must constitute a balanced and representative unity of partners from different socio-economic environments of the territory (including the public sector). They must demonstrate their capacity to set out together a development strategy for the territory and to implement it. Cooperations within the same country (interterritorial cooperation) or between several countries (transnational cooperation) are eligible when they are dedicated to a clearly defined theme and consist of the implementation of a common operation. The beneficiaries of the European initiative are under the obligation to participate actively in the dissemination and transfer of their experiences. A European Observatory of Rural Territories guided by the Commission is responsible for the animation of the network of rural areas, information distribution and the spotting of good practices.