How did you come up with the idea of establishing such an association? Do local action groups (LAG) need to improve the communication among them?
We have come up with the idea after noticing several problems. Unfortunately, the managing authorities of operational programmes, as well as the entire state administration, have failed to recognize the LEADER approach as a main instrument for the development of local communities in rural areas. This affected the expert capacity in all strands, as the people, who have the knowledge and are expected to assist local groups, are too few. This is why, the approach, itself, and LAGs failed to create strong structures and proper communication with the state administration and among themselves, thus impeding their work.
Will the Association be useful in the cases when LAGs need to be represented before authorities and institutions? How?
I hope so. This is one of the Association’s goals. All LAGs should have a common interest, which should be expressed in a suitable way because the state administration is not always well-familiar with the aspects of their problems.
You are one of the few experts in Bulgaria observing the LEADER approach since it started being applied. What has Bulgaria achieved during those years?
Bulgaria has achieved a lot. The contracted funds under LEADER exceeded 85% in the first programming period, considering that the approach has been applied for the first time then. The situation is different now. Twice as many LAGs have been approved, as the recently-approved have no experience, on the one hand, and no time for the community-led local development strategy, on the other hand. This is why, we need strong organization to support the processes of concluding contracts and implementation through experience exchange, good practices and operational relations with the state administration.
What is the future of LEADER? Will the new Association join the European structures? Do you plan to interact with similar associations on the Balkans? What is the Association’s capacity to implement joint projects with other associations?
If we extrapolate from the practice of other European countries applying the approach, I’d say the future of LEADER could be huge. I hope to make this future possible and easily achievable with the help of the Association’s members. The Association has communicated a lot with similar structures in EU member states, candidate EU member states and countries, which are not part of the EU part are applying the LEADER approach. Establishing a Bulgarian-based Balkan association is among our ambitious objectives.
What will be the direct benefits for the Association’s members? Will their work efficiency increase? Will they receive access to new sources of funding? Will they be able to rely on the Association’s legal and expert assistance?
The Association has been established for this purpose exactly – to be of use to its members. From my point of view, recently-registered LAGs and those, which used the approach during the previous programming period, will manage to increase their efficiency. As we all know, expertise is gained, not given. The field of action of LAGs is strictly specific and there are a few experts in this sphere. I believe local leaders can gain such expertise through active work, which, in turn, will lead to seeking funding from alternative sources.
What do you think will be the future of LAGs in the next programming periods?
LAGs are yet to implement the demanding task of separating the associations they have established as local investment centres, not just as beneficiaries under projects. Yes, the assistance from the Agriculture Ministry and the other operational programmes is invaluable but further ways to raise funds should be sought in order to achieve LAGs’ objectives.