A Political Perspective on LEADER in Finland – Democracy and the Problem of ‘Troublemakers’
Finland is one of the most rural countries in Europe. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) definitions of rural areas, Finland ranks fifth in terms of the share of territory covered by predominantly rural regions (89 per cent), and second both in terms of population that it hosts (53 per cent) and GDP produced in these regions (45 per cent) (OECD 2008, 32). However, at least since the late 1960s, rural areas have faced serious challenges caused by urbanisation and agricultural modernisation. Both the rural livelihoods and the amount of population have been diminishing. In response to the problems, the Finnish government began to set up specific rural policy initiatives in the late 1980s. This development led to the emergence of today’s rural policy institutions, which are geared to enhancing the wellbeing of the population living in the rural areas. One of the most prominent of these is the LEADER approach started after the country’s membership in the European Union in 1995 (Hyyryläinen 2007; European Communities 1988). The purpose of this chapter is to critically examine the Finnish LEADER and the prospects of democracy it offers1. In the following pages, I will evaluate the prospects and problems of LEADER as a democratic institution focusing mostly on perspectives of consensus and conflict.