The European Court of Auditors has just published a special report examining whether the LEADER approach delivered benefits that justified its additional costs and risks, following up on the 2010 special report on this subject. The audit shows that improvements have taken place in some areas and that the LEADER approach successfully facilitates local engagement. However, the report suggests that there is little evidence that the benefits of the LEADER approach outweigh the costs and risks it incurs.
The report found that while most Member States applied pertinent procedures to select and approve local action groups, some applied less demanding quality standards when selecting local development strategies. In fact, the report states that one Member State did not include quality criteria in its selection process.
Auditors also criticised project selection procedures, finding the application and approval process to be complicated, with an additional administrative burden compared to mainstream spending programmes. Public authorities no longer dominated project selection bodies (as found in 2010), but these were frequently not representative of the local community or gender balanced.
The report found that local action groups selected projects that were in line with the broad objectives set in their local development strategies. However, they found that some Member States and local action groups used LEADER to fund statutory tasks of national, regional or municipal authorities or other activities for which other specific EU and national funding programmes existed.
The audit strongly criticises the LEADER monitoring & evaluation framework of the European Commission. “We found that the Commission’s monitoring and evaluation framework has still not provided evidence of LEADER’s additional benefits. In our 2018 opinion on Commission proposals for the new common agricultural policy, we stressed that the Commission should follow the ‘evaluate first’ principle when revising existing legislation.” Nonetheless, the Commission is in the process of evaluating the benefits of LEADER.
Finally, the report puts forward a recommendation for the European Commission to evaluate the costs and benefits of LEADER and assess the community-led local development.
You can read the full report here.