Due to the ever-increasing role the LEADER approach is playing in realizing rural development policy, Local Action Groups (LAGs) have become key actors in the institutional system of rural development. Through their activity in supporting and improving local development, they represent a spatial organizing force in rural regions. Their operatio...n can effectively contribute to the competitive and sustainable development of their local area, within the framework of European rural development policy. Compliance with this role requires the active and conscientious work of the LAGs, both in the process of programming and implementation. In this paper, we aim to present the impact mechanism of the operation of LAGs and its determinant factors. Based on expert evaluations, we investigate the experiences of the implementation of the LEADER approach for rural development from the viewpoints of effectiveness, efficiency and sustainability.
Based on the results of our questionnaire survey, our study presents the major operational features of LEADER LAGs established in Hungary in the second half of 2007. Our national survey indicated that most of the partnerships established do not have experience in the implementation of community-based rural development programmes and there are n...o traditions and practices for development cooperation, which may cause problems as the success of programme implementation highly depends on the preparedness of local society, on the cooperation of local people. The survey indicates that the development of areas covered by LAGs is hindered by so-called soft factors characterizing human resources (rural people and communities). Therefore human resources are not only factors of the rural economy but areas for development as well. Having examined the tasks of LAGs,it can be established that they deem it to be their principal task to grant support funds.Inouropinion, performance of this task is obviously necessary but far from sufficient to fulfil their catalyst role expected in local developments. For this purpose, it is essential for action groups to play a proactive role in organizing and thereby increase the capacity of local communities, a prerequisite for implementing a LEADER programme. In accordance with the basic principle of subsidiarity, rural development should be implemented locally, managed by local communities, and decisions should be made at local levels in a decentralized manner. At the same time, the survey points out that LAGs operate under strong government influence and control, leading to the conclusion that the Hungarian practice of the LEADER programme is characterized by decentralization without subsidiarity. In the present structure, the activities of LAGs are predominantly financed from central resources.Administration is the primary goal of their financing, which restricts their effective and efficient operations, thereby the successful implementation of the LEADER programme. It is unquestionable that LAGs need to be centrally financed since their operation is fundamental for programme implementation, but this requires more than acting in their present role of distributing resources. In order for action groups to fulfil their real roles to boost local developments, they need to recognize their mission; and from the financing and regulatory side, they must be enabled to complete the tasks expected from them and their function.