The LEADER Approach (French. Liaison Entre Actions de l’Economie Rurale) is an EU initiative launched during the year 1991 to support local-level rural development projects to revitalize rural areas and create job opportunities. The initiative proved to be successful and eventually spread to almost all areas of the European Union. Funds intended for rural development and LEADER approach, increased from an initial 450 mil. EUR (during the period from 1991 to 1993) to 5.5 billion EUR (during the period from 2007 to 2013).
The LEADER approach is based on seven basic principles:
- an approach based on the characteristics of the area – each rural area has its own characteristics, potentials, specialities and distinctiveness – plans for the future should be made in accordance with such characteristics;
- bottom-up approach – wide involvement of all available forces in local communities will contribute to quality development through a wealth of ideas and possible solutions;
- establishing local partnerships – fragmented initiatives are often doomed to failure, especially in small communities, because they lack the strength, conviction, and confidence of the community; therefore networking, building partnerships and developing a culture of cooperation are crucial;
- innovation – traditional values are certainly the basis of sustainable rural development, but innovation is necessary to present these values in a new and competitive way;
- integrated and multi-sector approach – sectoral division is a common cause of development problems. Horizontal, cross-sector networking as well as vertical by local, regional and national institutions is especially important in achieving sustainable rural development;
- networking – networking, learning from good practices, transferring and exchanging knowledge and experience are of particular importance in the implementation of LEADER, as this creates a common ground for the development of European rural areas from individual diverse cases and provides mutual assistance and support;
- collaboration – is a step beyond networking, towards launching and implementing joint projects by two or more Local Action Groups within a country, region and/or European Union.
As one of the basic principles of the LEADER approach, a Local Action Group (LAG) is a local public, private and civil partnership in a specific geographically connected rural area based on the LEADER approach guidelines.
The Local Action Groups includes inhabitants from the area of a minimum of two local government bodes with a minimum of 5.000 and a maximum of 150.000 inhabitants. Settlements within the LAG area cannot have more than 25.000 inhabitants.
The aim of establishing Local Action Groups is to work together, develop local Development Strategies and implement concrete development projects with a goal to enhance the competitiveness of the rural areas.