While Leader I marked the beginning of a new approach to rural development policy, which is territorially based, integrated and participative, and Leader II saw the Leader I approach put to more widespread use, with an emphasis on the innovative aspects of projects, Leader+ continues its role as a laboratory which aims to encourage the emergence and testing of new approaches to integrated and sustainable development that will influence, complete and/or reinforce rural development policy in the Community.
Leader+ is one of four initiatives financed by EU structural funds and is designed to help rural actors consider the long-term potential of their local region.
Encouraging the implementation of integrated, high-quality and original strategies for sustainable development, it has a strong focus on partnership and networks of exchange of experience.
Leader+ is structured around three actions, in addition to technical assistance:
- Action 1: Support for integrated territorial development strategies of a pilot nature based on a bottom-up approach;
- Action 2: Support for cooperation between rural territories;
- Action 3: Networking.
Implementation of Action One is through Local Action Groups (LAGs) selected in an open procedure based on the criteria laid down in the programmes. These include the rural nature of the territories, their homogeneity in physical, economic and social terms, and integrated and innovative development plans. Economic and social partners and associations must make up at least 50 % of the local partnership, and the relevance and effectiveness of this partnership is also taken into account.
Action 2 applies to rural territories selected under action 1 (integrated rural development strategies) and is implemented under the responsibility of a coordinating LAG. It expressly provides for the encouragement and support for cooperation between rural territories, and foresees cooperation taking place between regions in the same Member State (interterritorial cooperation) and between at least two Member States (transnational cooperation).
Action Three: Networking – In each Member State a National Network Unit exists to: collect, analyse and disseminate information at the national level on good practice; organise the exchange of experience and know-how; and provide technical assistance for cooperation (as above). Active participation in the network is mandatory for Leader+ local action groups.
The priority themes laid down by the Commission are:
- making the best use of natural and cultural resources, including enhancing the value of sites;
- improving the quality of life in rural areas;
- adding value to local products, in particular by facilitating access to markets for small production units via collective actions;
- the use of new know-how and new technologies to make products and services in rural areas more competitive.