The acronym ‘LEADER' derives from the French words "Liaison Entre Actions de Développement de l'Économie Rurale" which means, ‘Links between the rural economy and development actions. The idea was to enlist the energy and resources of people and bodies that could contribute to the rural development process by forming partnerships at a sub-regional level between the public, private and civil sectors. In practical terms, LEADER gives both the development strategy design and funding powers to the local level, which makes it an effective decentralisation tool. The basic administrative unit is a non-profit Local Action Group (LAG) open to all actors in a given territory.
We are now in its fourth programming period (2007/2013) and since 2007, the Leader approach has been mainstreamed as an integral part of the EU's rural development policy (which is the 2nd part of the Common Agricultural Policy). Leader approach is covering some 2 410 rural territories across the 27 Member States (before integration of Croatia).
The LEADER method is based on seven specific features, which must all be present simultaneously in order to use the method right.
The bottom-up approach means that local stakeholders participate in decision-making about the strategy and in the selection of the priorities to be pursued in their local area. The involvement of local actors includes the population at large, economic and social interest groups and representative public and private institutions. LEADER conceives the local people as the best experts on the development of their territory. It can be seen as a participatory democracy tool supplementing the electoral parliamentary democracy.
An area-based approach takes a small, homogenous, socially cohesive territory, often characterised by common traditions, a local identity, a sense of belonging or common needs and expectations, as the target area for policy implementation. Having such an area as a reference facilitates the recognition of local strengths and weaknesses, threats and opportunities, endogenous potential and the identification of major bottlenecks for sustainable development.
The Local Action Group (LAG) should associate public and private partners, be well-balanced and representative of the existing local interest groups, drawn from the different socio-economic sectors in the area. At the decision-making level the private partners and associations must make up at least 50 % of the local partnership ; Its legal form may vary from country to country but it is often a non-profit, registered organisation.
LEADER is not a sectoral development programme; the local development strategy must have a multi-sectoral rationale, integrating several sectors of activity. The actions and projects contained in local strategies should be linked and coordinated as a coherent whole. The LAG is a melting pot of sometimes surprisingly different actors. This is often a very fruitful growing ground for innovation. The LAG must in its work be able to bring the different interests and interest groups together in a constructive manner.
The LAG is a network itself but it should also look around and cooperate with other development organisations on local, regional, national and international levels.
Networking is a means of transferring good practice, of disseminating innovation and building on the lessons learned from local rural development. Networking forges links between people, projects and rural areas and so can help overcome the isolation faced by some rural regions. It can help stimulate co-operation projects by putting LEADER groups in touch with each other.
The LAG must bring new elements and solutions to the development of its territory. In its strategy design and project selection decisions the LAG must be able to tolerate certain amount of risk – otherwise the most surprising and innovative ideas would always become disqualified.
Co-operation goes further than networking. It involves a Local Action Group undertaking a joint project with another LEADER group, or with a group taking a similar approach, in another region, Member State, or even a third country. Cooperation with other regions is often the best source of innovation for the LAGs. From new viewpoints one can better see the new opportunities. In the European rural development policy LEADER has the main responsibility for transnational cooperation