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Document 52014AE3156

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on ‘Community Led Local Development (CLLD) as a tool of Cohesion Policy 2014-20 for local, rural, urban and peri-urban development’ (exploratory opinion at the request of the Greek Council presidency)

OJ C 230, 14.7.2015, p. 1–8 (BG, ES, CS, DA, DE, ET, EL, EN, FR, HR, IT, LV, LT, HU, MT, NL, PL, PT, RO, SK, SL, FI, SV)



Official Journal of the European Union

C 230/1

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on ‘Community Led Local Development (CLLD) as a tool of Cohesion Policy 2014-20 for local, rural, urban and peri-urban development’

(exploratory opinion at the request of the Greek Council presidency)

(2015/C 230/01)


Mr Roman HAKEN

On 2 April 2014, Ambassador Theodoros N. Sotiropoulos, Chairman of the Committee of the Permanent Representatives, acting on behalf of the Greek Council presidency, asked the European Economic and Social Committee to draw up an exploratory opinion on

Community Led Local Development (CLLD) as a tool of Cohesion Policy 2014-20 for local, rural, urban and peri-urban development.

The Section for Economic and Monetary Union and Economic and Social Cohesion, which was responsible for preparing the Committee’s work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 18 November 2014.

At its 503rd plenary session, held on 10 and 11 December 2014 (meeting of 11 December), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 133 votes to 2 with 1 abstention.

1.   Conclusions and recommendations


The EESC is aware that the LEADER approach has demonstrated its viability over the past 20 years. It has helped rural actors assess the long-term potential of their local regions and proven an effective and efficient tool in the delivery of development policies. The European Commission has also promoted this partnership-based method of funding projects in the EU initiatives URBAN, URBACT, EQUAL, Local Agenda 21, Transition Towns and Territorial Employment Pacts. This is what gave rise to Community Led Local Development (CLLD), which is, in a way, a transitional change.


CLLD is a dedicated tool for use at sub-regional level and thus complements other development support at local level. It has the capacity to mobilise and involve local communities and organisations so they can contribute to smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. It also fosters territorial cohesion and enables particular policy objectives to be attained, including in relations with non-EU partners. It provides long-term growth through effective use of European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIFs) with a view to creating new jobs and businesses by incorporating community-led activities in climate change and sustainability in line with the Europe 2020 strategy.


CLLD has to be transformed as quickly as possible into a SMART instrument so it can help local stakeholders find a way out of the economic and social crisis and in order to restore trust in European Union policy. The stress must be on innovative projects, new, good-quality jobs and businesses and on stepping up activities to address climate change, sustainable development and social inclusion in line with the new Europe 2020 strategy. CLLD is a new type of partnership geared to nurturing social innovation.


The fact that most Member States have incorporated CLLD into their partnership agreements is proof of how important local development is now considered (1). This type of multilateral governance should be expanded to all activities underpinned by ESIFs, with perhaps some mandatory application (at least 5 %) in all funds. The EESC is in favour of all EU Member States using this instrument over time, while applying the principle of partnership and pooling best practice.


The EESC welcomes the fact that the 2014 Greek and Italian EU presidencies have attached great importance to cohesion policy as a valuable means of boosting sustainable growth and overcoming the current economic crisis in Europe.


The EESC anticipates that this opinion, too, will serve as an aid in implementing pilot projects (funded partially from European Commission resources) that would test the CLLD instrument in areas where it is not currently applied, namely the peri-urban and, more particularly, the urban context, thus widening its potential sphere of application. It supports its application in the period 2014-20 — where there is an interest in it — to all funds and to both rural and urban areas. It constitutes a combination of representative and participatory democracy: an instrument that representatives of public administrations can use to collaborate in partnership with organised civil society and the public.


The EESC is convinced that it makes sense to enable local stakeholders — the public, economic and social partners, non-profit NGOs and local councils — to be involved in, for example, local development strategies in the place where they reside using the CLLD method. At the same time, following experience with the LEADER method in rural areas, the need now is to give urban CLLD substance so that towns and the public have some notion of what kinds of measures can be proposed in towns using it.


The EESC is disappointed by the finding that public authorities are often not overly enthusiastic about CLLD, despite its efficacy. It is absolutely essential to engage in a strategy informing and giving expert advice to all those involved, specifically targeting public authorities and geared at encouraging the use of this opportunity to develop and advance local development strategies. The importance of ‘ownership of results’ in groups of this kind is key to the stability of development strategies over the long term and to meeting the Europe 2020 strategy goals. The instrument’s success very much depends on political backing at all levels (EU, national, regional and local).


The EESC points out that the social and economic partners and organised civil society have to be more involved in CLLD, which requires building up their capacities for such a role. Hands-on involvement of all these partners in the partnership with public administration is the cornerstone for genuine representation of the interests and needs of the public.


The EESC thinks that CLLD, being something new in regional policy, is not well enough known at local level, at national level in some Member States and in the platforms that could underpin the approach. To help implementation of the new CLLD instrument in European policies, a detailed evaluation and analysis needs to be drafted of how a particular Member State has approached it, including recommendations for effective implementation. This will also give rise a study with examples of best practice as well as accounts of failures to be avoided in future. The EESC is keen to take part in drafting such a study together with the relevant departments of the European Commission, the European Parliament, the Council and the Committee of the Regions. This study could serve as a launchpad to set up CLLD intergroups as interinstitutional platforms.


The EESC advocates the following for Community Led Local Development:


multi-fund financing — monitoring and strengthening the CLLD approach within multi-fund financing across Europe and in EU programmes and working to launch the next programming period as quickly as possible;


unification procedures and approaches — supporting the high quality of CLLD in the EU, standardising LAG (2) operations and pooling best practice; lending support for filling in gaps on the map so that the LEADER approach can be extended geographically and thematically, which is necessary if the LEADER/CLLD approach is to operate successfully within various EU programmes;


networking and collaboration — an essential condition for the CLLD approach to work well; implementation of cooperation projects in existing networks and creation of networks at regional, national and European level and the need for expenditure on creating and operation of networks to be eligible, including the contributions made by members;


extending the approach — supporting the use of the CLLD method beyond Europe, for example in pre-accession negotiations and development policy;


simplifying the process — making sure these small entities at local level are not engulfed in excessive red tape; where possible, reducing reporting requirements to the minimum reliable level; preventing the responsible bodies from changing the rules while ESIFs are in operation, and immediately and everywhere launching programmes providing information and seminars where best practices can be exchanged and local public and private stakeholders supported;


building up the capacities of social and economic partners, along with civil society stakeholders, so that as many partners as possible can propose an active CLLD approach before the deadline for proposals (31 December 2017).


The CLLD is not only fully applicable to ESIF resources, but can also be used to redistribute own resources (from local, regional and national levels). This is why it is important that development strategies, particular projects and their manner of implementation are not based on anticipated EU funding, but reflect the real need for a better quality of life in the local community.


The Committee considers it absolutely essential to stick to the basic principles of the CLLD method. Properly balanced partnerships that involve the local community must be a pre-condition for getting grants. If local development is to be effective, local authorities must not be allowed to merely pay lip service — claiming to be taking a partnership approach but not in fact doing so — in order to get grants. An effective control and supervisory system has to be engineered to counter abuse of the CLLD principle.


The EESC notes that this instrument offers elements that are far from negligible — and not just at a time of economic crisis: transparency of public budget streams, increased trust between authorities and the public and efficacy of the resources invested. The UN, OECD, the World Bank and other institutions are also employing similar partnership-based approaches. This is an expanded approach that supports the use of CLLD beyond Europe, for example in pre-accession negotiations on development policy and in the endeavour to meet the UN sustainable development goals for 2015 and climate change obligations.


For the EESC, the possible challenges for the forthcoming period in CLLD are about simplification and curbing of red tape:


supporting the creation and development of alternative, independent decision-making and/or arbitration systems (platforms), made up of experts, to find quick, simple solutions to administrative and financial problems or possible conflicts between management authorities and the project managers of partnerships (on the model of financial auditors, albeit not solely for financial matters);


putting into practice the principle that the implementing bodies (including when examining monitoring reports) focus on a) tangible implementations, outcomes, benefits and impacts of projects, b) eligibility of costs and c) meeting of deadlines — rather than incidentals on the way to these results;


also announcing calls in the given area for integrated projects submitted by several applicants (similarly to the EQUAL approach);


changing, in the financial ambit, the current interpretations of irregularities and the concept of infringing budgetary discipline:

avoiding an unduly severe interpretation in trivial cases involving a few euro: not investigating or classifying as irregularities cases where less than, for example, a sum of ten (or 40) euro is incorrectly entered or is missing;

equally, if the damage is less than the cost of its remedy (for the recipient and the inspection body), it should be ignored or perhaps logged and added to other minor losses.


The EESC suggests that different terms be used to designate different ways in which the CLLD programme is used, as in the case of rural local action groups and fisheries local action groups. Urban LAGS, for example, would be called Urban Partnerships and CLLD in the urban area would be called CLLD-U. This way it would be clearer what kind of area was involved and easier to distinguish between financing streams and where they were targeted. At the same time we suggest following the example of the successful LEADER programme and consider a new name form CLLD — an attractive acronym that would be a rallying cry for all those involved. The name is an intrinsic part of a propaganda campaign and the term CLLD can still remain in smaller print, as it were, as the name of the method.

2.   Introduction: The CLLD instrument and its origins (LEADER programme) — history, impact and views from the European institutions


Fundamental principles of the LEADER method — their added value and application in CLLD:

2.1.1.   An approach tailored to the area in question

The programme uses the real potential of small defined areas to promote their sustainable development. It takes on board their pluses and minuses and produces a development strategy that matches their real needs. The confines of an area are not established solely by administrative borders and are elastic.

2.1.2.   A bottom-up approach

In deciding on and setting development strategy priorities we place great emphasis on involving local administration and the public. The stress on the lowest level is the most important of the programme’s seven points. In this, however, the programme is not seeking to take the place of the higher — national — tier, but merely to foster communication between these two strata.

2.1.3.   Local action groups

One important facet of the programme is to lend help in setting up Local Action Groups. The purpose of these groups is to link partners from the public, private and voluntary spheres and prompt dialogue about what direction the area’s development should take.

2.1.4.   An innovative approach

The programme supports innovation. It endeavours to create new products, processes, organisations and markets. The way to achieve innovation is to give the Local Action Groups the greatest possible room for manoeuvre.

2.1.5.   An integrated and multisectoral approach

The programme’s approach lays stress on the integration of various sectors. It seeks to dovetail the economic, social, cultural and environmental dimensions and integrate them into comprehensive projects.

2.1.6.   Building up networks

The programme foregrounds the creation of networks to pool experience among its participants. These networks are both institutional (funded by the European Commission) and less formal: national, regional and local.

2.1.7.   Cooperation

However, there is more to cooperation in this programme than pooling experience within networks. Local groups can also work directly together on a project in one particular thematic objective.

2.1.8.   Grassroots mobilisation

Hands-on work with local residents means not just keeping them informed, but also opening channels for communication and building confidence in the principle that their ideas will be objectively appraised and processed.


The Committee of the Regions: ‘regards CLLD as a key tool for harmonious development of urban and rural areas, strengthening capacity to develop ties with the surrounding peri-urban and rural areas’ (3).


The European Economic and Social Committee has issued a series of opinions on cooperation and participation between partners, some of which are referred to in the footnotes (4).


The European Commission has published documents for the implementation of CLLD based on LEADER experience entitled ‘European Structural and Investment Funds, Guidance for Member States and Programme Authorities, Guidance for Beneficiaries — Guidance on Community-Led Local Development for Local Actors’ (5) and ‘Guidance on Community Led Local Development in European Structural and Investment Funds’ (6).


These should be better disseminated using a truly proactive information strategy. At the same time, a regular forum has to be provided where those taking part in CLLD can meet experts and discuss and compare approaches in various EU regions. The EESC could do some of the support work for this.

3.   Local action groups (LAGs) in rural areas and support for their role in the period 2014-20: public budgets under public control


Local Action Groups are the building blocks of the LEADER programme. These are local partnerships in which both sectors and areas of action are proportionately represented. They are legal entities with managerial and decision-making procedures. The total number of LAGs in the EU supported from rural development programmes and other LEADER-type measures is 2  402. They cover 77 % of the EU’s total area (7), which equals around 90 % of the rural area, and more than 50 % of the EU population (8).


The LEADER method has proven to be such a success that it should be extended, as far as possible, to cover all rural areas in the EU. It is also important to ensure the compatibility of the rules underpinning international cooperation between the LAGs established in the various Member States.


The programme’s proposed priorities for 2014-20 include:


young people in rural areas — getting young people away from centres and into rural areas, an initiative that can be achieved through CLLD; making rural areas more attractive for the younger generation; supporting the development and availability of information technology, promoting education;


the local economy — supporting the local economy, small non-agricultural businesses (e.g. revitalising cottage industries and micro-enterprises) and SMEs;


social entrepreneurship — strengthening social entrepreneurship locally in innovative sectors, thus creating jobs and sustainable development (e.g. tourism, renewable energies, or culture and sport). It is essential for the social economy to be recognised by local, national and EU stakeholders and other economic partners as a key driver for local economic and social development. The EU institutions should propose campaigns to highlight the social economy’s contribution to local development. They should also draft general guidelines on incorporating social businesses into local development partnerships. To this end, the EESC proposes the creation of cooperatives and other social enterprises with the help of public and private advisory services supported by local entrepreneurs and business incubators. The EESC endorses the promotion of partnerships between local social enterprises and local and regional administration to provide needed services (e.g. social inclusion and education);


healthy food production and regional products;


development of technical infrastructure (e.g. treatment plants for waste water, including individual and by phyto-purification);


transition to a sustainable, low-carbon society. This could be reflected in CLLD indicators and goals for sustainability, carbon emissions, resilience and meeting EU sustainable development and climate change goals, as well as the UN 2015 sustainable development goals and climate change commitments.


effective use of existing networks (such as National Rural Networks).

4.   The peri-urban area and local action groups in fisheries — specific challenges


Places where urban and rural areas lie in close proximity are ones that offer potential for effective use of CLLD. This type of instrument makes it possible to react to developments in the area and so take on board its functional interconnections. Links between urban and peri-urban rural areas are very strong and merit a special approach.


Peri-urban areas have their own distinct problems or challenges that can be tackled using CLLD. The key challenges are sustainable mobility, creating a socially cohesive society and fixing priorities for land use. The peri-urban area is understood as the hinterland of towns with a population above 25  000. One project worth mentioning is the joint OECD and EC Rurban research project, the purpose of which was to identify and evaluate formal and informal urban-rural partnerships and their contribution to local development (9).


Since 2007, local development has also been used within the European Fisheries Fund to support the sustainable development of fishing communities through local action groups in fisheries (FLAGs).

5.   Urban areas — getting the population involved and securing local development funding


Since there is no agreed definition of an urban area, we are using national and local rules. For rural areas the criterion is that a town has a maximum population of 25  000. This can be used by extension to urban areas, in this case with a minimum population size of 10  000 and a maximum of 1 50  000. Public administration should be represented by those with responsibility in the area concerned, ideally in a combination drawn from the central municipal authority and from one or more boroughs (for example, particular districts, socially excluded localities, or urban areas with a specific problem).


Inspiration can be found in the experience of cities collected thanks to their inclusion in the Urbact II operational programme and the European Knowledge Development Platform (10) (as well as the Urban Development Platform in the near future) (11). The experience of Transition Towns and permaculture communities is also worth mentioning, where several thousand local communities throughout the EU have conducted successful community-led sustainable development.


The two decades of experience that rural areas have had means it is they who will be giving the lead to urban areas — initially, for example, for a transition period that will then be evaluated. This, combined with further expert support and coaching, will in effect ensure successful transfer of the method.


Back in the 2007-13 programming period advisory bodies (Urbact Local Support Groups) were set up at urban level and took part in conceiving Local Action Plans. However, these were looser advisory groupings than in the LEADER and CLLD method and there was no strict requirement for particular sectors to be involved: their make-up depended on the kind of project at hand. The work of these local support groups was not supported financially by Urbact II operational programme. To make the partnership principle work better in the urban environment as well as well as the rural, partnerships have to be forged on the basis of CLLD and funding should be available to underwrite their operations. ‘[This] approach […] can also be applied in urban areas or in areas covering medium-sized and small towns together with their functional surroundings, as local or sub-regional development centres’ (12).


Given the problems tackled in cities, one of a number of operational programmes could be the right instrument for funding pilot programmes via CLLD. We therefore propose that the CLLD method and the strategies it generates in pilot programmes should benefit from funding provided for in urban areas (for example, for the environment, preservation of cultural monuments and natural heritage, and so on) (13).


It would make sense to gather examples of best practice from various Member States in urban development using the partnership approach that could be included in the study referred to in point 1.10. One guide to use for working in partnerships could be The partnership principle in the implementation of the Common Strategic Framework Funds — elements for a European Code of Conduct on Partnership (14).

6.   How can we get CLLD used more often across the board?


Community Led Local Development is intended to help the public develop their municipalities in a meaningful and sustainable way. Through CLLD they can take part directly in improving the quality of life in their communities: this is about real inclusive growth with visible outcomes at local level. Clearly, the introduction of CLLD requires funding for capacity-building if all the partners are really to function as such — and not merely as observers — and be actively involved in horizontal partnerships in the spirit of multilevel governance. Coaching and mentoring (i.e., education and training) from more experienced players also has to be facilitated. The present proposal also has to analyse and explain the reasons why LEADER method works and is a success and justify why the CLLD method should be extended to all ESIF programmes to make cohesion policy a success.


Where the method has not yet been adopted, a mid-term evaluation should be used to launch it in the ambit of the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIFs) for the period 2014-20.


One important aspect is pooling the expertise of social and economic partners, civil society representatives, and local and national government, which should be backed on all sides.


It takes some time to put together CLLD strategies. Even so, it is important that enough time is available in the given period to implement them and enough money to fund individual measures. Overlong preparation that produces nothing on the ground (in the form of projects carried out) and hasty funding of activities (as drawdown periods run out) undermine the instrument’s credibility.


Other problems that need sorting out if CLLD is to be used properly are red tape and excessive bureaucratic hurdles, late reimbursement of expenditure, and funding of projects up front from own resources or loans with interest shouldered by the final beneficiaries. It could be worth looking into crowdfunding, public-private funding, and organised participation of the banking sector, with State guarantees.


Member States often introduce unnecessary ‘national’ administrative regulations over and above what the Commission lays down. This makes it much more difficult to get grants and, together with fear of possible adverse consequences, deters applicants. There are also national authorities that try to minimise the red tape involved in grassroots mobilisation and the administration of small LAGs. Nevertheless, this measure is likely to plunge the functioning of the entire system into crisis.


The EESC calls for training for trainers: training of national or regional players should be provided as technical support under Article 5 of Regulation (EU) No 1303/2013, which sets out the general provisions. Equally, the right conditions need to be put in place to effectively set up regional, national and international networks, given that networks yield substantial dividends.


It would make sense to gather examples of best practice from various Member States that could be included in the study referred to in point 1.10.

Brussels, 11 December 2014.

The President of the European Economic and Social Committee


(1)  For the period 2014-20, Regulation (EU) No 1303/2013 laying down common provisions sets out three different integrated approaches: CLLD is one of them, the others being Integrated Territorial Investment (ITI) and joint action plans.

(2)  Requiring and ensuring the same operating conditions for the CLLD instrument in all the Member States, in line with the principles of the method and taking on board particular national and regional characteristics.

(3)  Opinion of the Committee of the Regions on Community-led Local Development (OJ C 17, 19.1.2013, p. 18).

(4)  EESC opinions on: Governance and partnership at national and regional level (OJ C 77, 31.3.2009, p. 143), Cohesion policy strategies and programmes (2007-13) (OJ C 228, 22.9.2009, p. 141), Efficient partnership in the management of cohesion policy (OJ C 44, 11.2.2011, p. 1), The role and priorities of cohesion policy within the EU 2020 strategy (OJ C 248, 25.8.2011, p. 1), Regional policy contributing to smart growth (OJ C 318, 29.10.2011, p. 82), LEADER as a tool for local development (OJ C 376, 22.12.2011, p. 15), and Structural Funds — General Provisions (OJ C 191, 29.6.2012, p. 30).



(7)  European Network for Rural Development (ENRD), LEADER Infographic.

(8)  Depoele, van L., ‘Local development strategies in the EU’, The Case of LEADER in Rural Development, p. 4:




(12)  Association of Polish Cities, January 2014:

(13)  Another relevant integration instrument, alongside the CLLD instrument, is Integrated Territorial Investment (ITI). Their use in tandem will deliver synergies.