LEADER approach in Romania and Moldova, exchange of experience, transfer of good practices. IPN debate

The LEADER initiative, which already has over 30 years of history in the European Union, has been successful in a number of European countries, including the Republic of Moldova, contributing substantially to the rehabilitation of rural areas and the creation of local jobs. Currently, the Local Action Groups (LAGs) include over 1 million inhabitants of the country. The European Union continues to support the LEADER approach through the recently launched program “EU4Moldova: Local Communities”, which will multiply the efforts and activities of the Local Action Groups in the Republic of Moldova, with the implementation period until 2025. The way in which the Local Action Groups developed in Romania and the Republic of Moldova, the initiation of joint partnerships and programs for the benefit of both parties were among the issues discussed by the experts invited to IPN’s public debate “LEADER approach in Romania and the Republic of Moldova, exchange of experience, transfer of good practices”.

President of the National LEADER Network for Rural Development of the Republic of Moldova Marina Albu said that LEADER is a rural development instrument of the European Union, with over 30 years of operation. It is one of the main instruments of the Common Agricultural Policy. “This word does not come from leadership, but is an abbreviation, which in translation from French means links between the rural economy and development actions. I would like to emphasize namely the word ‘economy’ because it is what perfectly matches the needs of local, rural development in the Republic of Moldova. We need this tool, which has already shown very beautiful results in our country,” noted Marina Albu.

According to her, a key element of LEADER is the bottom-up approach. Thus, as much as possible, all the decisions under this instrument are taken at the local level by people who live in rural areas and know best the local problems, needs, challenges, resources. “We believe that this bottom-up approach is basically the key to the success of the LEADER mechanism because we consider that the locals really know best what needs to be done locally,” said Marina Albu.

She also referred to the successes of LEADER in the European Union countries. According to her, in 2016, when the implementation started in Moldova, the experience of a number of countries was studied and it was found that it differs from one country to another. “However, a general conclusion is that this mechanism contributes essentially to the development of villages in the European Union, which is also confirmed in the Republic of Moldova through the analyses of data and indicators, which attest to the fact that in our country this mechanism brings development in rural areas as well,” said the president of the National LEADER Network.

Alina Baba, manager of Napoca Porolissum LAG Association of Romania, noted that the LEADER program, together with the Erasmus program, are the oldest funding programs in the European Union. And they are the programs developed practically since the establishment of the EU, remaining constant and unchanged. This year marks 14 years since the LEADER program was launched in Romania. Currently, in Romania there are two federations of Local Action Groups, but also the National Rural Development Network with which they closely cooperate in the development of Local Action Groups. “We covered 92% of the rural and small-urban territory in Romania. In the current program, the selection of local development strategies has just ended. We managed to reach 98%,” stated the manager of Napoca Porolissum LAG Association.

According to her, the implementation of the LEADER program began in 2010. It was a preparatory phase that involved local actors. Since 2011, they have worked as entities with distinct legal personality. Thus, in Romania, the vast majority of Local Action Groups were established between 2011 and 2012.

Napoca Porolissum LAG was also formed in 2011. “We are a Local Action Group situated in northwestern Romania, near Cluj Napoca city. We are located in a mountainous area. We have a small town with under 20,000 inhabitants and 13 communes. We have a population of about 44,000 inhabitants. We are not very big. In Romania, the minimum population of a Local Action Group must be 10,000, while the maximum population – 100,000. We are an average group interns of the population. But in terms of area, we are among the top 20 LAGs due to the fact that being in a mountainous zone, we have a very large area,” said Marina Baba.

In her opinion, it is difficult to assess the results of a LAG, namely in terms of quality of life. “Our struggle now is aimed at preventing the depopulation of rural areas. We would not want to end up as some LAGs in the west did, where, instead of LEADER investing in the well-being of rural residents, it invests in acclimatization and reception of migrants. We managed to bring active young people from urban areas back home, even if it was a battle,” said the manager of Napoca Porolissum LAG.

Director of the Local Action Group “Plaiul Codrii” of the Republic of Moldova Viorica Mămăligă said that the LAG she leads is located in the central part of the country, more precisely in Straseni district. The constitution started in 2017 and in 2018, a partnership agreement was signed between four administrative-territorial units – Vorniceni, Lozova, Micleuseni and Dolna – all from Straseni. “In 2022, because everyone saw and realized the importance of such a Local Action Group at microregion level, we expanded to 13 administrative-territorial units, spreading territorially in Nisporeni district and Calarasi district. Today we include localities from three districts with a population of over 33,000 inhabitants. Our team is motivated by the work and results of our efforts, namely by what we do well for the inhabitants of the region we represent,” noted Viorica Mămăligă.

In her opinion, in order to succeed at micro-region level, there must be a dedicated team. Along the way, there has been a change in the implementation of strategies. For example, until 2018, everyone was thinking about their locality or sector, but the LEADER program taught the LAG members to cooperate in order to achieve a much better result. “It is a major effort, but this approach allowed us to implement something innovative, lasting and with much greater impact than the local one,” stated the director of the Local Action Group “Plaiul Codrii”.

Viorica Mămăligă said that to identify problems, they went to the citizens, as the bottom-up approach of the program envisions. The people complained about the fact that they do not have high-quality public services, activities for children, jobs, infrastructure, but are also not satisfied with waste management. In the end, the questionnaires revealed much the same problems. So far, they managed to implement about 120 micro projects, which started from small budgets. The first of them was a more symbolic project – equipping a kindergarten with national costumes and musical instruments. Activities were thus created for children, teachers and craftspeople. Within another project, dumpsters were purchased for two localities and this example was borrowed by other villages.

The public debate entitled “LEADER approach in Romania and the Republic of Moldova, exchange of experience, transfer of good practices” was the fifth installment of the project “Double integration through cooperation and information. Continuity”, which is funded by the Department for Relations with the Republic of Moldova. The content of this debate does not represent the official position of the Department for Relations with the Republic of Moldova.

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