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  • Client: European Commission, Directorate-General for Agriculture
  • Duration: 1991-2001

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For ten years, AEIDL coordinated the implementation of the LEADER programme, the EU’s pilot programme for rural development.

From 1991 to 2001, AEIDL was responsible for setting up and managing the EU-funded LEADER (Liaison Entre Actions de Développement de l’Economie Rurale) programme.

Launched in 1990 by the European Commission, LEADER supported the (re) development of rural areas through innovative approaches and projects.

After managing the LEADER I Coordinating Unit between 1991 and 1994, AEIDL went on to run the "European Observatory for Rural Development" under LEADER II from 1995 until 2001. AEIDL was responsible for:

  • coordinating a network of more than 1 000 "local action groups" (LAGs) and 12 national coordinating units;
  • providing methodological assistance to transnational cooperation projects between LAGs (more than 300 transnational partnerships were supported);
  • providing technical support to 102 regional administrations in "mainstreaming" or integrating best practices and lessons learned from LEADER into their rural policies;
  • the compilation and publication of several hundred different documents (technical studies, methodology guidelines, the "Atlas of Rural Development", lists of innovative actions, newsletters, magazines, brochures, etc.), many of which remain reference works in the area of rural development;
  • the organisation of a large number of different events (workshops, seminars, symposia. etc.), ranging in size from 20 to 2 000 participants, both in Brussels and in numerous rural areas throughout the EU;
  • setting up and managing the databases and websites;
  • the promotion of LEADER and participation in numerous exhibitions, including ones outside the EU.

LEADER, the European rural development laboratory

Against a background of major changes, the LEADER Community Initiative has enabled new paths to be taken in rural development. These can now be seen as the beginning of a response to the task of revitalising rural areas.

By favouring a "bottom-up" approach to development, the LEADER programme highlighted the importance of consultation and the involvement of rural populations. Using a multi-sectoral approach and seeking to exploit the specific assets of each territory, LEADER also underlined the importance of local strategies for sustainable development.

This new approach was accompanied by a major mobilisation of local communities, facilitated by local partnerships that brought together local organisations with high-level technical teams and supported a host of projects targeting a wide range of issues, etc.

Tailored to the needs and assets of each locality, the LEADER approach facilitated the emergence of numerous innovative solutions, in terms of both the methods and the actions involved. It opened up new development paths for rural areas in difficulty, and made a significant contribution to creating new employment and income opportunities.

In its pursuit of innovation, the EU's LEADER initiative opened the window to the rural world. It supported rural areas in the process of modernisation and in developing new solutions, while also highlighting existing experiences. It opened up to the outside world, rural areas in the process of being totally transformed.

LEADER was also an important factor in defining and promoting awareness of the specific features of the European rural model.

Finally, by encouraging experimentation in relation to new possibilities available to rural communities, LEADER acted as a "laboratory" for the development and updating of the Common Agricultural Policy and other rural policies.

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