Europe needs new Community Initiatives
Contribution of Hannes Lorenzen to “Which Europe do we want?”initiative. April 2009
Rural topic(s): Advocacy on food and rural policies
Date of writing: April 25, 2009
Author(s) of the proposal: Hannes Lorenzen
The so-called Community Initiatives of the European Union were launched about 15 years ago, in order to support the participation of local actors in cooperation and exchange of experience on a European level. LEADER, URBAN, EQUAL and other acronyms stood for a bottom-up approach of local planning and participation of civil society in political decision-making. By « mainstreaming » these initiatives in conventional structural programmes, the EU has withdrawn from these very successful programmes. They should be renewed.
For a revival of EU Community Initiatives
Two years ago the EU has definitely abandoned one of their best popular figures for democracy and sustainability - the so-called Community Initiatives. They had been the most successful and most popular direct contacts between the EU institutions and the citizens in their local communities. With less than an annual 1 percent of the EU annual budget the money had been an outstandingly profitable investment. The EU mobilized European citizens in getting together, discovering sustainable practices elsewhere, while getting involved in decision-making at home. It opened doors to similar initiatives in Member states and accession countries and made Europe tangible.
Programs like LEADER have mobilized millions of people in rural areas and helped citizens’ action groups, small businesses and local communities to create a new spirit of partnership. This has perhaps been the best return of public money the EU has ever spent. People themselves discovered their own strengths and weaknesses, experienced an enormous potential of innovation and solidarity and took responsibility for their own communities by mobilized their own additional private funds. Europe was not only discovered by making holidays in some other country, but by day to day networking and exchanging good and bad experiences and by supporting each other in making progress on a local level.
National and regional authorities were not always happy about this bottom-up growth of public awareness, especially when it included a critical appraisal of their own performance. EU Community Initiatives have therefore over time lost their strength when governments were keen to regain control over planning, decision-making and allocation of EU budget invested in local projects.
From a perspective of civil society organizations like Forum Synergies, the PREPARE and the CURE Network, (all working towards more participatory decision-making and sustainable practices and lifestyle across Europe), the EU should re-launch the direct connection between the European Institutions and European Citizens through new Community Initiatives. These initiatives should support citizens in finding their specific answer to the key challenges of our time:
how to make our local economies in rural and urban regions work again without destroying and wasting our resources;
how to adopt a new lifestyle which allows a more sustainable production and consumption patterns;
how to prevent climate change and the loss of clear water, fertile soil and biodiversity;
how to prevent growing social exclusion, marginalization and poverty;
and how to preserve of cultural diversity of European regions while acting closer together as Europeans.
Contribution of Hannes Lorenzen to “Which Europe do we want?”initiative:
Hannes Lorenzen (Forum Synergies, PREPARE and CURE network activist)
Scale of intervention : European
Keywords: integrated rural development