EU’s Community Led Local Development needs reform, says ECOLISE

(8 Nov 2017) – The European Union’s main way of financially supporting bottom-up local development needs to be altered so to make it more accessible to grassroots initiatives, ECOLISE has told the European Commission and the European Economic and Social Committee.

Community Led Local Development (CLLD) is the EU’s main financial instrument to support bottom-up local development. It is ideally placed to support community-led action on climate change and sustainability, with the potential to provide grants and supports that are tailored to local circumstances.

However, certain barriers need to be overcome and changes introduced to make CLLD more accessible to grassroots initiatives.

Barriers to overcome
Some of the barriers identified by members of the ECOLISE network include:

  • CLLD support is not available to all communities, as it is currently and optional element of the European Regional Development Fund, so many countries have not introduced CLLD programmes for urban areas, for example.
  • Many CLLD programmes have a priority focus on short-term economic development activities (employment and enterprise creation) but do not provide sufficient flexibility to support longer term transition processes, which require community engagement and capacity building, technical support, and the development of common infrastructure/services to support the emergence of new economic activities and sectors.
  • Some potential beneficiaries find it hard to access CLLD support. Local grassroots initiatives on climate change and sustainability generally have a heavy reliance on volunteers, are often disconnected from mainstream policy and local development processes, and therefore often lack the knowledge, capacity and contextual awareness to benefit from such support.

Potential solutions
To effectively support community-led action on climate change and sustainability, ECOLISE urges that future CLLD programmes:

  • Are accessible to all communities (in both urban and rural areas) in all parts of the EU. In this regard, we would recommend that CLLD should become an obligatory element of all European Structural and Investment Funds.
  • Have an overarching focus on the transition to a low-carbon economy and society; going beyond a narrow focus on short term economic development in order to help communities build social capita and put in place the building blocks required for longer term resilience and sustainability.
  • Include a priority theme on sustainable communities, aimed at supporting bottom-up initiatives in villages, and neighbourhoods within Local Action Group (LAG)/CLLD areas, which are citizen and community-led and focus on climate action and sustainability.
  • Ensure that these community-led initiatives on climate action and sustainability are represented in local governance and decision making processes (on LAG/CLLD group boards, for example) and contribute to the local development strategy.
  • Are guided by results indicators established at EU level, which reflect the need to support transition processes at local level, which do not always lead to direct job creation, at least in the short term, but do create the conditions for a longer term economic and societal transformation.
  • Support community animation, which was a key element of earlier rounds of the LEADER programme. This support is essential to allow LAGs/CLLD groups to work with community organisations (voluntary groups) or other harder to reach groups (immigrants, etc.) to ensure they are included in local development processes and that they access CLLD supports. This is often the real added value of CLLD, that it can reach out and engage with communities. ECOLISE strongly urges that animation becomes an integral part of all CLLD programmes, and as an eligible budget line.
  • Provide higher levels of co-financing for projects promoted by community organisations, and where co-funding is required, allow for this to be made up through voluntary/in-kind contributions.
  • Require that local LAGs/CLLD groups introduce greatly simplified application and reporting procedures for community organisations, and provide assistance to groups in completing their applications and reports.
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