On 28 November, Commission President von der Leyen addressed the European Parliament and paid tribute to the millions of Europeans who “are taking action because it is the right thing to do. There are those who work hard to strengthen their communities. (…) People who want to make a difference. And we too, Parliament, Council and Commission, we must make a difference.”
For 25 years now, the EU has been trying to support those who want to make a difference and see their ideas translated into action in their local community. Indeed, the European Commission has invested in over 2600 partnerships to build Citizen-led local development (CLLD) projects aiming to achieve a more inclusive, greener and prosperous society.
Citizens’ engagement: key to transition towards a climate-neutral society
At the verge of launching the work programme of the new Commission, it is time to reflect on how the European Union can best ensure that its political priorities are delivered. The long-term vision of the Commission is to achieve a climate neutral economy by 2050. This implies a change in paradigm in a number of sectors: an economic and industrial transition towards a more resource-efficient and circular economy, a green transition supported by less polluting practices and a more carbon-neutral economy; and a social transition as populations adapt consumer behaviour and skills to new realities.
Local and regional authorities implement 70% of all EU legislation, 70% of climate mitigation measures, 90% of climate adaptation policies and 65% of the Sustainable Development Goals. It is for local entities to deliver the transition to a sustainable EU on the ground. It is for regions, cities and communities to find solutions at their scale, e.g. build energy-efficient housing and public buildings or develop more sustainable transport. And the EU can help provide the financial means.
The Community-Led Led Local Development (CLLD) initiative is one example of local communities’ empowerment to find their solutions on the ground. On 3-4 December, the European Commission with Farnet organised a conference entitled “Post 2020: Local action in a changing world” to celebrate the success of CLLD EU-funded projects and define the way forward. It was the occasion to reflect on how CLLD can represent best practices to implement EU’s political priorities for a climate-neutral economy by engaging citizens. The highlighted 40 tangible projects well representing the actions taken by citizens towards a sustainable society.
Conference: from policy-making to grass root
“CLLD is as popular as Erasmus for students”
The conference opened with the presentation of a video featuring the beneficiaries of four CLLD EU-funded projects. Three of these beneficiaries were interviewed on stage to present their initiative and the concrete results brought to their local communities: from inclusion of young people into the labour market, the revitalization of a region through food-tourism, to the construction of energy efficient housing with socio-economic impact.
The panel was introduced by Dacian Ciolos, Romanian MEP and former Commissioner for Agriculture, who gave a very inspirational speech on the success of CLLD. “I have the courage now to say that CLLD is as popular as Erasmus for students. Now, we need more courage to delegate responsibilities to the people, who will provide the most adapted answer to the reality (…) In Eastern part of Europe, the initiative is even more important for democracy and to give a human face to the EU”, he noted.
Exhibition: local action for sustainable communities
Forty projects had been selected for the exhibition at the CLLD conference, representing the diversity of grassroots initiatives. It was an opportunity to showcase initiatives that take action for (1) strengthening the local economy, (2) building social capital, (3) supporting the ecological transition, (4) making best use of the CLLD method and (5) offering a “model for change”.
The European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) is one of the funds provided by the European Commission for innovative CLLD projects. We went to interview some of the people who are tackling global challenges through local action.
Davide Cao, Director of the Coastal Action Group Eastern Sardinia (CAGES), welcomed visitors of the conference to his stand with nets hanging on the wall. CAGES is a non-profit association whose main objective is to carry out initiatives aimed at the socio-economic development of most of the eastern coast of Sardinia.
Davide’s latest idea was to set up a micro-credit scheme for small-scale fishers, often written off as “un-bankable” by commercial banks. “This project was born when we realized that some fishermen don’t manage to obtain financial loans because they can’t provide sufficient guaranties. We have been trying to find ways to provide support, in situations that don’t normally allow access to the loan market.” Stocks of fishes are depleting and fishing is becoming less and less profitable for fishers. Those micro credits will help fishers diversify their activities, in particular helping them to take up Pescatourism activities.
Giovanni Vitiello, a fisher who benefited from this micro-credit scheme said: “thanks to this microcredit, I intend to equip my boat to be able to welcome tourists on board”
EMFF support is also making a difference in the protection of the biodiversity and endangered species. Tarta-Tur (from “Turtle” in Italian and “Dolphin” in Latin) is an initiative born from the collaboration generated by four coastal Action Groups between scientists from Padoa University and fishermen from the region Veneto region. At the conference, Tarta-Tur won the award for the “Project with the Best Use of the CLLD Method”.
They have managed to involve over 200 fishers into the observation and collection of data on endangered species, and into the design of a protocol of action on how to react when an endangered species is accidentally fished. They are currently collaborating to design marine protected areas to limit fishing activities and find common understanding on how to protect biodiversity. The involvement of fishers is key.
Initially, the initiative was born from a study led by researchers from the University of Padoa. Paolo Valeri, from the Coastal Action Group of Eastern Veneto (VeGAL), noted: “We realized that defining a marine protected area would have had a great impact of fishers. We have set up a network between the research sphere and fishers so that they could develop a common solution.”
Paolo Valeri from VeGAL highlighted: “Fishers have for long been seen as overexploiting sea resources. In reality, they are very respectful towards the environment. Now we are associating them to scientific research in order to define maritime protection areas.”
We also met with Théo Desprez, a co-founder of Fil&Fab, a start-up company set up by three young designers from Brittany in France to recycle old fishing nets. The company works with partners to collect old fishing nets in Brest and with support from their local Fisheries Local Action Group, the company has set up an industrial production line that transforms nylon fishing nets into plastic for new products.
The nets are first dismantled by people from a nearby social integration association. These “cleaned” nets are then crushed and turned into pellets made of 100% nylon. These are then used to develop products that respect the values of ethical and sustainable design. In the first year, 4 tonnes of fishing nets were processed. After a successful pilot phase, Fil&Fab expects to recycle and sell 100 tonnes of discarded fishing net in the next two years, a quarter of the regional deposit. EU funding was key to purchase the machines to transform the fishing nets into reusable plastic and enabled to have a production chain at local level. The project also enabled the creation of three full-time jobs.
Conference participants selected the project Fil&Fab to receive the award for the “Best Project Strengthening the Local Economy”.
Théo Desprez from Fil&Fab said: "Our goal is to offer a Breton product that is based on a local plastic resource while promoting a forgotten waste."
Virginijus Sinkevičius Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries said:
“CLLD is about empowering people, supporting citizens to find their own solutions to challenges in their communities. And this is very much in line with the way the new Commission will work. Bringing Europe closer to home and strengthening the links between people and the institutions that serve them is a clear commitment from my colleagues and me.
Community-led local development is already a success story. It can change the lives of individual people and whole communities, even in the most remote or disadvantaged areas. By the end of this second period for CLLD under EMFF, Fisheries Local Action Groups will have invested close to a EUR 1 billion in fisheries and aquaculture areas. This will represent around 25,000 small-scale projects which will have helped maintain or create close to 30,000 jobs.
But to go further we should ensure that CLLD becomes a stronger and more flexible tool. It must overcome administrative burdens and make life easier for beneficiaries. This is the only way to unleash the full potential of the EU’s local areas”.
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- 11 gruodis 2019
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