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Improving coordination of EU funds: cooperation between Leader LAGs and FARNET FLAGs

In a recent draft regulation, the European Commission has proposed that four major funds should work together in the next period to support “community led local development” following the lines of the LEADER model. The Commission argues that community led local development (CLLD) “will be a powerful tool… as it can mobilize and involve local communities and organizations as well as citizens to fully contribute to national and European wide objectives”. Right now, over a hundred of Fisheries Local Action Groups (FLAGs) are already working hand in hand with LEADER local action groups (LAGs) to promote more sustainable paths of development in their areas. Their experience offers many lessons for the future.

Axis 4 for “the sustainable development of fisheries areas” was launched in 2007, following very similar principles to that of LEADER.  Axis 4 is a younger initiative and more sectorally focused than LEADER but it is growing and maturing fast. At the time of writing there were 231 approved FLAGs with a further 50 in the final stages of being set up.

With broadly similar approaches both EFF Axis 4 and LEADER fit with the new definition of “Community Led Local Development", they do however also have some important differences.  Both have integrated area based local strategies with projects selected by local partnerships made up of a balanced mix of local stakeholders but the nature of the areas and composition of the partnerships differs as we will see. The average budget of both FLAGs and LAGs is fairly similar (€3.2 m for FLAGs compared to €3.9 m for LAGs). The variation in budget between FLAGs is greater than for LAGs (ranging from under €0.1m to €17m per group) and can vary enormously by country.

Fisheries areas and rural areas often coincide – especially in the more remote/rural coastal zones and around inland lakes and waterways. Here there is great potential for synergy between the two community-led local development programmes. In other areas the scope for cooperation is more limited. As most rural areas are inland with a very low presence of fishing the norm would be to have a LAG but no FLAG. Other countries explicitly exclude coastal areas from rural development programmes as they can have a higher population density or be stronger economically than the inland areas. Here the likelihood is that there would be a FLAG but no LAG. 

Where the potential exists, active cooperation between FLAGs and LAGs is common; a recent survey of 221 FLAGs by FARNET (the European Fisheries Areas Network) found that almost two thirds of FLAGs (139 partnerships or 63%) have developed some sort of formal system of cooperation with their sister LAG. The other 82 are “free standing” FLAGs where there is no formal organizational link (or there is no LAG in the area) but nevertheless many still do or will cooperate with LAGs.

How do FLAGs and LAGs cooperate? And, how can we make the most of the common ground whilst taking account of the important distinctions? FARNET have distinguished three main “formal” organizational models of cooperation between FLAGs and LAGs:

In 40% of cases (89 FLAGs) the LAG and the FLAG are the same organisation. A common organizational structure is used with a single overarching strategy. The design of the fisheries part of the strategy and project selection is done by a separate sub-partnership (or selection committee) more representative of the fishing community. This formula allows the FLAG to benefit from the LAG's experience as well as sharing the administrative and other resources of the LAG. This model is especially important in Finland, Denmark, Germany and Latvia although there are examples in 6 other MS.

Another model is for both LAGs and FLAGs to be managed as “sub partnerships” of a third “accountable body”, usually a local public organization such as a development partnership responsible for the area. Around 10% of all FLAGs (23) use this model. Examples here include the FLAGs and LAGs managed by the local development agencies in Greece, the “Pays” or other inter-municipal bodies in France and similar models in Portugal, Sweden and the Netherlands. The advantage here is that both FLAG and LAG strategies can form coherent parts of a larger umbrella strategy as well as sharing the resources of the accountable body. For these partnerships it is important to avoid the risk of domination by the public sector.

Finally, another 12% of FLAGs (27) have some sort of formal organizational relationship with the LAG even though they are separate freestanding organizations. This can range from simple cross representation on each other’s boards to the more complex situation where a group of LAGs participate on the board of a FLAG whose area crosses over several LAG areas e.g. following the line of the coast, a river or lake.

Several other points stand out when thinking about how to improve coordination in the future.

Although EFF Axis 4 and LEADER share many features, the need to respect the different strategic goals and focus of each programme is important. As LEADER's acronym suggests (Liaison Entre Actions de Development de l’Economie Rurale) its focus is on linkages within and between rural areas. As LEADER does not address urban areas or (as yet) rural-urban linkages LAG areas can often be smaller than functional labour market areas. EFF Axis 4 also focuses on stimulating linkages but in this case the focus is building outwards to improve linkages between fishing communities and other actors both in and outside fishing and in and outside the area. The actors driving both programmes need to be sure that their coordination will provide additional benefits to their respective programmes rather than diluting their central focus. 

Secondly, each organizational model of coordination can be combined with a range of alternatives for the boundaries of the area. FLAG and LAG areas may coincide exactly, one may be contained in the other, they may partially overlap or they may be strictly separate parts of a larger area. LAGs often cover a larger area than FLAGs as fishing activity is often concentrated and distributed in a ribbon fashion along a coast, river or lake. The important thing in each case is that the area is coherent from the point of view of the strategic aim of each programme and their local development strategies. Dividing up areas to fit one model could be counterproductive whilst aggregating areas upwards could lose the local dimension. Some form of strategic and organizational cooperation which allows for differences in areas is more likely to result in synergy and avoid unproductive standardisation. 

Finally when it comes to the partnership, while both programmes aim to involve a balanced representation of the stakeholders in their areas, this balance also varies according to the strategic aims of each programme. Given the sectoral focus of EFF Axis 4 there are likely to be more fishers on the decision making bodies of FLAGs than there are farmers on the more heterogeneous rural LAGs. This makes sense. The aim is not to create a kind of parallel democracy but to mobilize the key stakeholders required to achieve the aims of the local strategy. Where FLAGs and LAGs are linked, e.g. within a larger umbrella organization or by some form of cooperation, such differences can be and are dealt with by having different (possibly linked) project selection committees.

In conclusion, it can be seen that there are many models and forms of cooperation between FLAGs and LAGs and some important practical lessons which can be learned, both at the local level and between MAs and national networks. In looking ahead, the ways in which the different initiatives interact and complement each other will become increasingly important. Given that Community Led Local Development under the 2014 – 2020 programmes will be voluntary for Member States under the EMFF, the ERDF and the ESF* , the stakeholders of each programme will need to go back to their strategic goals and consider how enhanced cooperation can really add value to their intervention. 

* It is an obligation under EAFRD, where 5% of the funds are ring-fenced for Leader.

This article was also translated for the Italian National Rural Network. To read the Italian version, click here