AP - Leader - The Bottom-up Approach To Rural Development: An Irish Perspective
In the late 1980’s the European Commission led by President Jacques Delors undertook a review of the performance of the member states of the EU. This was prompted by decreasing levels of economic growth, increasing unemployment rates and social issues. There were indications that rural areas were performing particularly poorly, partly because of the decrease in employment from agriculture. Also regional and national policies had tended to focus on the development of infrastructure and services in urban areas. This was exacerbated in peripheral regions such as Ireland as growth, in a stagnant economy was limited primarily to Dublin. Thus as young people left rural areas, villages, towns and smaller cities there was limited availability of opportunity to remain part of their community. In the early 1990’s a range of measures were introduced to promote competitiveness in different ways across the European Union. In 1991 one such measure was introduced to specifically focus on the competitiveness and sustainability of rural areas. This was called the LEADER Programme. The principle behind this programme was to provide finance to locally formed, autonomous groups who were encouraged to invest in initiatives to bolster the local economy based on the group’s plans and strategies, formulated from local knowledge. In effect each group could prioritise and invest in sectors that they deemed to be most appropriate for their area rather than taking a more standardised regional or national approach. These Groups, known as Local Action Groups (LAGs) were allowed flexibility in how they operated as long as their investments were not seen as a duplication of what was offered by state supported bodies or other state initiatives. Innovation therefore became a central characteristic of each LAG plan. The overall focus was to use LEADER to seed a ‘Bottom-Up’ approach towards Rural Development to complement and connect with regional and national ‘Top-Down’ support measures.
Keywords: rural, economy, local, autonomous.