Mr Guignard, thank you for agreeing to give an interview for the National Association of the Local Action Groups in Bulgaria and its web portal Please, let’s start with a few words about yourself.

I am mayor of Ploeuc-L’Hermitage, a new rural commune, since 2014, but also 1st Vice-President of the Departmental Council of Côtes d’Armor, in charge of the general administration of services, territorial solidarities and Europe, since 2015.

Former director of a LAG, I am currently President of the Pays de Saint-Brieuc LAG and President of Leader France, the national federation of rural territories involved in the European Leader rural development programme.

Through my different mandates, I am very committed to rural areas and to Europe.

We last met in La Rochelle, France to discuss the project we are partners in. Would tell us a little about it?

ACCESS’R is the winner of a call for collective mobilisation projects for rural development initiated by the French National Rural Network. It is a programme of capitalisation, dissemination of good practices and support for project managers in the field of services to the public in rural areas.

How the project can contribute to the development of Bulgarian local action groups (LAGs) and the local communities?

The capitalisation work that will be carried out within the framework of ACCESS’R aims to determine which projects have already been implemented in this field within the framework of the EAFRD and the sectors where the access to services is the most limited, the aim being to fill in these gaps by making innovative and sustainable changes. Once the information has been collected, it will be disseminated on a large scale, particularly to European local communities and LAGs, which will be able to take ownership of these good practices and implement them in the territories. This process will undoubtedly contribute to the development of services to the population in rural areas and to a better inter-LAG cooperation.

It seems the LEADER approach is not given enough publicity in Bulgaria and there is not sufficient insight as to this method outside the country. Regarding the experience gained in the EU countries, we are sure you can tell us about numerous good practices and solutions of various issues you have encountered during the implementation of the LEADER/CLLD approach. We would be glad if you told a little about your experience to the Bulgarian representatives of LAGs.

Member of numerous national and European authorities, Leader France is a recognised partner and intervenes to relay the difficulties of the 340 rural territories engaged in the LEADER approach, but also to value their successes. In order to make LEADER known, we cooperate on daily basis with all kind of stakeholders, to raise awareness of the spirit of the approach through actions, public expressions and participation in many seminars. Without this proactive approach of communication, the programme would be limited to the initiated people. The main advice I could give is to be campaigners of the approach and not only fundraisers, this attitude will help you solve the problems and provide solutions.

How long has been France implementing the LEADER/CLLD approach and how many LAGs are currently operating? What has changed in all those years?

LEADER was initiated in France in 1991 in a small number of territories (40 LAGs) and has currently 340 LAGs with 26 000 municipalities and 28 million inhabitants. We have multiplied by 10 the number of LAGs in 25 years. France had the initiative of the LEADER approach and the spirit of local development led by local actors. Unfortunately, as programming progresses, it is increasingly difficult to preserve the fundamentals of the programme (bottom-up approach, cooperation, networking of actors, etc. In France, we have changed the management authority each programming, which has not allowed us to really capitalise on LEADER. Today, the administrative constraints are blocking a programme that is basically close to the territory and its stakeholders.

How much financial resources have been allocated to the LAGs in France during the current programming period?

The overall envelope is of 687 million euros from the EAFRD for France on the LEADER measure, ie just over 5% of the EAFRD. For the 2014-2020 programming, the allocation by GAL is between € 1 and 2 million, which corresponds to € 3 million of public funds, but this is still insufficient to fund comprehensive strategies.

To which sectors the main projects, funded under the LEADER/CLLD approach, belong to and which are the measures they are subsidized under in France?

The strategies vary according to the regions but overall, we find the following themes: services to the population, valorisation of the natural and cultural heritage, short circuits, development of the local economy. After a few generations of programming, the strategies tend to narrow around 2, 3 themes.

To obtain funding, the territories must develop a strategy and an action programme at a relevant scale. They are then selected by a regional call for projects. The selected territories, organised into Local Action Groups (LAGs), are allocated a financial envelope to implement the action programme. A programming committee composed of local public and private actors then ensures the selection of the projects included in this action programme. The main constraint today is to obtain public co-financing engaging the EAFRD.

What funding mechanism is applied to the LAG projects? Do you apply multi-fund local development strategies? Have you managed to attract other sources of funding for LAGs and their beneficiaries, apart from the European funds?

We do not develop multifund strategies within Europe. However, local strategies are developed in a narrow way between other mechanisms such as regional or departmental plans, which allows for public co-financing engaging the EAFRD. LAGs seek to have a global vision through which LEADER participates on one or more axes. In some French regions, the LAG-carrying structures also manage an envelope of regional funds, ERDF and EMFF, in a territorialised manner, but this only concerns Brittany.

Do you think that the LEADER/CLLD approach receives sufficient support from European institutions and, more particularly from the European Commission? Do you have recommendations on the improvement of communication in this regard?

Through our various meetings in Brussels with parliamentarians or the Commission, we realise that even if LEADER is known, many do not know how it is implemented in the field. The budget logic should not take precedence over the non-quantifiable qualitative work of the approach. LEADER should not be considered as a fund, but a programme. It is important to raise the awareness of European actors on this aspect. Other non-EU countries wish to adopt this approach. This is proof of the interest of LEADER. I think it is essential that we communicate more about LEADER’s value in each Member State and that we really have a European federation that makes a meaning lobbying.

Could you say a few words about the Common Agricultural Policy after 2020?

The political and budgetary context is complicated. However, LEADER should not be used as an adjustment variable of the CAP. On the contrary, it must be strengthened. The announcements of the Commission are of good augur for it preserves the 5% of the EAFRD for LEADER. But this is not enough. In addition, at Leader France, we are campaigning for a European Rural Agenda that would allow a real European rural development policy that is lacking today. For this, it is necessary that LEADER stays in the cohesion policy and is not “kicked out” as it was announced.

Which are the most important pieces of advice you would give to the LAGs in Bulgaria to make their work more efficient and successful? What problems should they be aware of? What are the difficulties they might encounter in the future?

Fundamentals are essential, and you should never turn away from them. This is the basis and purpose of this programme. In France, we have partly forgotten these fundamentals and that is why today we are experiencing difficulties, because LEADER is no longer considered as a development programme in the eyes of decision-makers, but as a fund. It is also important to organise at the regional and national levels, so that you can put more weight on the managing authorities and be able to defend this programme that we all love.