The LEADER Programme in Hungary – Bottom-up Development with Top-down Control?
Local democracy in the Central and Eastern European rural context has been driven by administrative reforms and the introduction of a new development policy, primarily the EU LEADER programme, in which actors have democratic access to development sources and control over planning and decision-making processes. The analyses focus on the complex social/economic and political/ power aspects of LEADER. For example, Bruszt and Vedres (2013) offer three dimensions (associating, mobilising and politicising) to aid understanding of local developmental agencies. The implementation of LEADER in new European Union member states is discussed in the literature as an act of importing political models (Maurel 2008), and the transfer of a governance model. According to Maurel’s study, the impact of funding projects is not clear. Elected local officials may have initiated the formation of LAGs, but project managers were the ones who influenced the conceptualisation of development plans. Weak local participation, interest groups monopolising access to grants, traditional political practises such as paternalism, and interventionism may have sustained top-down power over bottom-up development practices. Furmankiewicz’s paper on LEADER in Poland (2009) emphasises that the government distrusts voluntary, non-profit organisations; local government often considers NGOs to be rivals. In Romania, the administration has had difficulties in completing the SAPARD programme (Sharman 2003). In Harghita county, 72 per cent of LAGs originated from microregional associations (Harghita County Council 2005). According to a report about the Romanian LEADER programme (Chapter 10 in this volume), and the World Bank document (World Bank 2008), the entire system is still over-centralised and fewer tasks and responsibilities are delegated to regional, sub-state institutional
and private actors. Analysts point out that the decentralisation of competencies, tasks and responsibilities started after 2007 (with Romania’s European Union membership), but the necessary financial means are still under the control of the central state authority (Dragos and Neamtu 2007).