Silvana Paruolo

Silvana Paruolo interviews Architect Loreto Policella, the Local Action Group (LAG) coordinator  in Lazio , and the Chairman of the LAG Lazio of the Abruzzo National Park

Cohesion policy – a visible expression of solidarity and a development tool – represents a very significant part of the EU budget. For the period 2007-2014, local development was promoted through two programming Models on a local scale,  between their competitors : (a) the approach (from the bottom) of LEADER, an acronym from the French Liaison entre actions de développement de l’économie rural (Links between actions for the development of rural economies ); (b) and Territorial integral planning (PIT).

LEADER aims to promote the integrated  endogenous and sustainable development of rural areas.  Setting up a local partnership – known as a ‘Local Action Group’ (LAG) or  Coastal Action Group (GAC) –  is an original and important feature of the LEADER approach.  The “bottom-up approach” means that local actors participate in decision-making about the strategy and in the selection of the priorities to be pursued in their area.  Experience has shown that the bottom-up approach should not be considered as an alternative (or opposition) to top-down approaches of national and / or regional authorities, but rather as a tool for interaction with them, in order to obtain the best overall results.  In Italy, the continuity between the old (LEADER 2007-2013) and new Programming (2014-2020)  with the same group (LAG – GAC) is not granted. In the Regions, competition between old and new partnerships becomes possible. In the previous programming, Lazio has allocated approximately 5.5% (30 million out of 700 million) and founded 8 Local Action Group (LAG). The Architect Loreto Policella – President of  “LAG-Lazio side of the Abruzzo National Park” – is the coordinator of  Lazio LAG. We have asked him a few questions .

1. S.P. – Architect Policella, how many LAG exist in Europe, in Italy, and in Lazio? Is there some form of co-operation, and connection between  them?

L.P.  –  Lazio, in the previous 2014-2020 Programming,  funded 8  “Local Action Group’ (LAG);  and 12 are planned for the new 2014-2020 Programming period.  In 2007-2013, in Italy operated  800 LAG, while in the Regions of the member countries of European Union were managed  2,200 Local Action Group. The cooperation – together with the ‘bottom-up” approach  and the innovation – have been one of the key words of the LEADER and  it  is  a great opportunity (for rural areas) to build networks and to exchange good practices.   The Local Action Group (LAG) – Lazio has already activated Projects of cooperation  in the first (1994-1999) Programming realizing inter-territorial cooperation projects with other European countries (Germany, France, Spain, Belgium) while in the following Programming, as LAG-Lazio, we chose to build Interregional Projects to strengthen relations between the LAG of Lazio and, consequently, to strengthen the visibility of the territories of Lazio “over Rome”.  The European Institutional Network (ENRD) and the National Network – representing the opportunity to update and inform themselves constantly both on-line and thanks to training days and meetings that take place in Brussels and in other European nations – should not be underestimated.

2. S.P. –  LAG-Lazio: the 2014-2020 Programming (and the recent reform of the Common Agricultural Policy) will operate changes?

L.P.  – To match the demands of local development, the  new 2014-2020 Programming poses more ambitious challenges to LAG and to territories, as the actual construction of Joint Projects between different actors (companies, associations, etc.) and the important role of public bodies for establishing stable Partnerships which will have to learn to work together, for example, through: (a) – the  establishment and  management of “Operating Groups for European Innovation” which aims to identify, in the territories of the LAG, solutions to specific problems  (b) – the “Organized chains” – for food, tourism, and culture – which  are not only issues but which will allow to organize Common Projects as the result of representative and cohesive Partnerships; (c) –  the development of the “social Agriculture” – The planned activities will be realized within the farm and will involve the rehabilitation and care with a main socio-therapeutic purpose, the employment of people with disabilities, recreational activities for the elderly and children, educational activities in agriculture and environment for citizens and the provision of services  to people in general.

3. S.P. – LAG-LAZIO:  how to evaluate them? Are there best practices  you can report at EU level ?

L.P.  – The areas of intervention of the  European  Local Action Group (LAG) are characterized, in addition to a history and a European culture based on common roots, by aspects and (economic cultural, territorial, historical) specificities, also very different from each other: this is a richness, and an opportunity for local development.    The activity of LAG –  which is therefore so focused on the concept of  “local development” – tends to interpret that complexity without abandoning (indeed recovering)  the elements of territorial identity.    Consequently to evaluate the activities of the Local Action Group – and the local development generated from them – we must judge them from the point of view of the appropriate scale,  the right partnership, the most suitable methods etc. for the problems solution; only that can generate good jobs and respect for the environment and the landscape.   This requires “the pride of the cobbler”, rather than to adapt the foot to the shoe, to have the ability to forge a shoe fit for our foot.

In the Lazio Region  -just as an example –  I  point out the inter-territorial cooperation project of 5 LAG-Lazio entitled “Lazio quality over Rome” (Lazio di qualità oltre Roma)  – an exemplary project of this method, which went exactly in this direction that saw the collaboration of  Lazio Region and the Local Action Group  to – jointly – select, promote and make  marketable all the best agricultural food production of quality (certificate from Lazio) with a common brand and a common organization.

4. S.P. – Do you believe that there must be some forms of communication and integration (of programmatic initiatives) between GAL and GAC (rural and maritime macro-areas and fishing ) of the same territory (perhaps in the same municipality or hundreds few meters one from the other)  as suggested by the European Commission on the basis of Best Practises in northern European countries such as Finland?  In Italy, only a few have a good degree of integration: for example , in Puglia (GAL Ponte Lama and GAC Terre di mare) .

P. – Certainly, because the problems and opportunities of mountain rural areas are not dissimilar from those of the coast when they are managed sustainably. For the most productive aspects, fishermen and farmers pose to our attention similar issues: the quality of their products closely related to the environmental quality of ecosystems, the short chain and direct sales opportunities that provide more resources to production compared to the distribution etc. For issues related to tourism, a dialogue between the coast and the inland rural areas would certainly be very beneficial to build integrated offerings.

5. S.P. – Apart from being Coordinator of Lazio LAG, you are also President of the LAG Lazio side of the Abruzzo National Park (established in 1994) that has the responsibility to implement the Local Development Plan, approved by the Lazio Region.  What are its main lines  of  action ?

P. – The Local Development Plan – sent to the Region Lazio May 30, 2016, and currently in the evaluation phase – called “Lands of Cumino: smart grids, sustainable, inclusive” (Terre di Comino: reti intelligenti, sostenibili, inclusive) was built through a real  listening phase of the territory and of the stakeholders. It aims to build a “smart community” through: a synergic network of interventions Promotion-Marketing of an integrated territory;  the support for organized supply chains and food and tourism networks and well-being; the construction of poles and networks of social agriculture; the structuring of a greater accessibility of “sites” with collective projects to produce economies of scale; the increase and monitoring of the use of the Brand of 4 E; the building of a network of “Commons” and  Sharing Economy;  mobility facilitated by sustainable and innovative public transport opportunities Car Sharing type Blablacar; the increase of the usability and quality of services to rural populations (eg. Service center with remote assistance, “telecompagnia”, “telefarmaco”, web portal, home automation and accessibility etc.); an impetus to the construction of  “community places”. I believe that our communities have important challenges ahead: to stop the emptying of small villages, transforming them from being marginal and backward places through new ways of living experiment, welcoming and well-equipped to meet the challenges that modernity poses.

6. S.P. – The GAL you preside aims, among other things, to create a network among the stakeholders in the implementation of the “Mark of 4 E”, based on Eco-compatibility, tourist Effectiveness, Ethical  and  corporate Efficiency .  In which of the 4 E, the best results have been achieved?

L.P. –  The brand of the 4 E  is the tool that we have chosen to link local development to the quality of agri-food production, of the environment, of the landscape and of the respect of cultural identity.  Companies which are currently participating in the voluntary brand  of 4 E are about 100 and were – initially – mostly tourist accommodation (hotels, farmhouse, B&B), and laboratories of transformation  of artisanal products and farms. Then also subjects that provide services (from museums to centers of associations which organize cultural events) have applied for membership. Of projects that have provided structural measures, the segments  that have  achieved the best results are those related to eco-compatibility (renewable energy systems, use of the products at zero km) and to the effectiveness of Tourism  with the first attempts of construction of networks between actors (eg. BtoB association with the B&B network).  It ‘s very important for the brand the transformation of the experimental phase to the ordinary but it would  need  more resources (both human and financial) and the structuring of an independent entity for the verification and certification.

7. S.P. –  In the GAL that you chair , is there a european and/or international dimension ? If yes, what is it?

L.P.  – The world globalization requires that the “local development” is not abstract from the dynamics involved. Europe and its directives for the Local Action Groups  is the guarantee that the general guidelines are actually expressions of choices made in the light of these dynamics.  The European dimension of the LAG  is then inherent in the very fact that the LEADER was born as  C.I.P. (Community Initiative Programme) and that all European LAG  are part of a structured network (European Network for Rural Devolopment) exchanging  experiences and best practices, and offering –  with the resources it provides to businesses – an idea of ​​Europe closer to the people and their needs.   Just  in the current phase of fragility that Europe is experiencing, with the differences that came out about migrant management policies, with walls that some nations are building, with the results of the referendum in Switzerland these days and issues emerged with  Brexit, I believe that the network built in recent decades by the European rural areas can also be a different model that Europe needs.   About the international dimension, I think of the already rather structured relations with our emigrant communities – both in Europe (Belgium, Ireland, France ..) and in America (USA, Canada and South America) – with which there are already active exchanges for the purchase of local (typical) products or for visits study of students that aim to deepen the Italian language, archeology or architecture.   Perhaps future opportunities could be created also with migrant communities that are already active citizens in our municipalities (from the Albanians to the Romanians, from the north Africans to the Asians).

Silvana Paruolo

The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of the author, and can under no circumstances be regarded as reflecting the position of ALDA and the European Union.