EU Rural Reviews
Setting up of a Local Action Group for economic recovery of islands in the Zadar archipelago
Although these questions had every right to be asked, they also demonstrated how much needed to be said, showed and learnt by individuals that were willing to do something but were battered by state's bureaucracy so that at this point did not know how to cope with it. This diverse group will soon form a LAG of Zadar islands for the implementation of different project, with the aim of economic recovery of the area. Founding of this LAG was financed by the Zadar County and UNDP Croatia, within its COAST project, with the total amount of 220,000 HRK.
One of LAG's goals is to create the development strategy which will take into consideration the conservation of natural resources and values. LAG project is part of the LEADER approach, implemented by the Croatian Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Rural Development.
Rural areas in the Republic of Croatia, and islands of the Zadar archipelago belong to this category, have many characteristics in common. Mostly they are united by low level of economic development, which subsequently leads to increased unemployment and constant decline of number of inhabitants and aging of the population. With very low, if not even inexistent employment opportunities, residents from these communities, especially the younger ones, have no reason to stay in rural areas and they often move to bigger cities. The situation on the islands is even more serious because of the physical separation from the land.
LEADER approach to rural development is a joint strategy that is being successfully implemented in the countries of the European Union for more than twenty years, and it particularly addresses these types of difficulties. In Croatia, preparations for the implementation of the LEADER approach are conducted since 2008, so that the approach could be effective as soon as the country enters the EU. Strategically speaking, maybe the most important part of the LEADER approach is creation of LAGs which serve as a body for local partnerships through which rural strategy is being prepared and implemented.
Two LAGs have already been created in the Zadar County, one under the Velebit mountain channel, whose working title is Bura, and the other one – Laura, located in the city of Biograd. The creation of the third LAG, the one of the Zadar islands, should be completed until mid 2011.
WHAT IS LEADER?
LEADER was once an EU initiative, today it is a fundamental part of the EU's Rural Development Programme. Over time, it proved to be a successful and innovative model of rural development in areas where applied. LEADER stands for French: Liaisons entre actions de developpement de l'économie rurale (links between actions in rural development). It is based on sustainable rural development which takes in consideration ecological, social and economic aspects of development. Primarily LEADER mobilizes local public administration actors, as well as actors from the civil and private sector. LEADER is based on seven principles that serve as a direction sign for local development, and by no means represents a set of rigid measures to be applied equally, everywhere, the same way. Particular attention is given to specificities of a certain area.
The LEADER approach defines area as homogenous unit that shares some characteristics such as social connections, feeling of shared identity and shared history. Subsidiarity approach (bottom – up) aims at stimulating the local community in reaching development decisions. LEADER promotes innovative and integral approach, networking, collaboration, local financing and management. Important part of the implementation of the LEADER principles is the establishing of the Local Action Group. LAG presents the body which decides on local development strategy and is responsible for its implementation. LAGs will be particularly important after Croatia enters the European Union, because they will have the role of a mediator with the EU for securing funding from the EU funds for concrete projects.
Representatives of all three sectors participate in the work of a LAG. This represents new model of organizing the work. Public sector is represented by local government and various public firms and can make up the maximum of 50% of the steering committee. Other 50% include representative of the private and civil sectors and are composed of citizens and NGOs. There must be at least 30% of women and at least one person under the age of 25 so that all citizens' groups are represented in the steering committee.
Besides the steering committee, one part of LAG's nucleus is composed of qualified teams of experts and practitioners. Experts are in charge of animating the developing process, this meaning inclusion of individuals and groups in the community and their training, informing and counseling. LAG is obliged to inform the local community of application possibilities for projects within the IPARD programme and to assist them in the preparation process. Ivana Laginja, head of the UNDP's office in Zadar, pointed out that most difficulties begin when private sector becomes involved in LAG and when extensive questionnaires analyzing the overall situation, both economic and social, in a particular municipality, must be filled in. Since these types of information do not exist in any written form, they need to be collected manually.
EXAMPLES FROM THE EU
In EU countries, LEADER approach and creation of the LAG is established and successful practice. For example, the LAG "Sameboat" from Finland, whose area includes 20.000 islands, out of which only 500 are populated, successfully implemented a project to keep the younger population on the islands. Youth was directly involved, using the already mentioned bottom – up approach, and they managed to collect significant funds which were used to establish clubs and organize music and sports events. Example of one Spanish LAG situated in less developed mountain area shows how with little innovation a considerable contribution to the enrichment of the tourist offer can be achieved. This LAG project included renovation of rural buildings of considerable cultural importance. Local inhabitants were directly involved in this project, since they themselves acted as tourist guides. This created a sort of living museum and unique tourist attraction.
In December 2010, UNDP Croatia organized a study trip to Slovenia for members of the LAG 'Bura'. They visited three Slovenian LAGs where they were able to see best practice examples first hand. For example, they could admire benefits of regularly organized farmers' markets since these are the places where manufacturers sell their products. As part of one of LAG's projects, former Yugoslav army (JNA) millitary barracks were transformed into military museum with numerous interesting details such as chairs made of munitions boxes. This proves how with little imagination one can create a tourist attraction. Active members of this new, insular Zadar LAG will have an opportunity to learn directly from best practice. After they complete the necessary preparations for the start up of their LAG, they will participate in a study tour to one of the EU countries.
The following months will see numerous meetings, talks and negotiations for the island's LAG to be successfully founded. Main goal is to agree upon the LAG's territory, i.e. to define cities and municipalities which will be included in the LAG. With the help from UNDP, a three-year developing strategy for the LAG area will be created and implemented according to the LEADER principles. All this, of course, could not be possible without the active participation of the local self-government, civil society and private sector, as well as without a new way of thinking and working together.