Bálint, Csaba – Gaál, Márta –Mozsgai, Katalin – Magócs, Krisztina

Keywords: rural development, local development, collaboration JEL: Q01, Q18, R58

The involvement of regional and local institutions and stakeholders in decision-making processes is essential to ensure that policies at EU, national, regional and local level are sufficiently coherent to address rural challenges and meet the needs of rural communities. The development of multi-level governance structures that build on and integrate regional and local knowledge into policy making is essential for coherent rural policies. The development of rural policy therefore requires governance approaches based on open dialogue between institutions and stakeholders and on citizen participation.
As a member of the international partnership of the H2020 project SHERPA (Sustainable Hub to Engage into Rural Policies with Actors), the Institute of Agricultural Economics, with the participation of the Science-Policy-Society (multiactor) platform, has been exploring the state of play and the potential of multi-level and networked governance in rural policy in Hungary. The main findings and recommendations of the expert community organised for this task, as detailed in our article, can be summarised as follows:
In Hungary, the Fundamental Law and other legislation define the institutions and competences for the exercise of local and regional public affairs. However, the dominance of central government and its agencies in governance and development policy is generally characteristic. The sharing of competences between territorial levels necessary for the proper functioning of multi-level governance and the development of cooperation mechanisms are missing. There is no integrated rural policy, and rural development policy itself has a strong agricultural focus (in line with the subordination of EU rural development policy to agricultural policy).
As regards the levels of multi-level governance, the local government level, while generally having limited resources and autonomy (especially in small rural municipalities), is in practice not part of the multi-level governance structure of development policy. The actual development policy weight of the institutions of medium-level territorial governance (e.g., county governments) is moderate. Micro-regional and regional levels have no relevance (representation and function) in development policy.
LEADER Action Groups with a countrywide rural coverage, which operate at the lowest level of the multi-level development policy institutional system, closest to the municipalities, are heavily dependent on central funding and exposed to bureaucratic procedures. The CLLD approach has not taken root in local development, there is no integrated development of cities and their countryside. The lack of coordinated cooperation and regional guidelines that take account of bottom-up initiatives often results in isolated developments and unnecessary redundancies.
Public participation and cooperation, which is a prerequisite for effective multi-level governance, is low (the COVID epidemic and the energy crisis have further reduced citizens' activity and community life), and a general lack of knowledge and confidence. There are, however, active organisations, networks, and informal communities, ranging from local interest to national scope, which have been operating for quite a long time and with numerous good examples. These communities need good leadership, motivating personalities ('local heroes') and also the inner motivation of the participants.
Based on our research, it is recommended to follow and comply with the European Union's guidelines on governance in the setting up of institutions and their competences, as well as in the policymaking and development processes. It is essential to strengthen local/regional cooperation between the public, private and civil sectors, and medium-level governance, by increasing their development powers and scope for action. Likewise, there is a need to promote the LEADER communities' networking and capacity-building activities, and skills to engage society more widely.
In general, it is necessary to develop the culture and means of trust-based cooperation, partnership, and social involvement at all levels of policy making. More intensive and broadened research is needed to increase knowledge on the above issues.
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