Micro-Regional Association Mara-Natur in Maramures County
Mara-Natur is one of the 239 local action groups in Romania that are a part of LEADER, which is measure 19 of Romania’s National Program for Rural Development, tailored to match the relevant EU Funds. The association was formed in 2011 at the initiative of the municipality of Baia Sprie, a small city in the county of Maramureș, North-West Romania. The rest of the 17 territorial administrative units consist of neighboring villages stretched between Baia Mare, the county capital, and another small city, Târgu Lăpuș – neither which are group members. The area has been influenced both by long-term mining for precious metals, as well as by the cessation of mining activities in 2007. The flows of mass emigration increased drastically. Ecological disasters (spilling of contaminated mining residue into local rivers) occurred repeatedly, affecting wild and human life in and outside the area.
Mara-Natur offers funding for small scale projects of private and public applicants, covering a wide range of economic initiatives (e.g. installation of young farmers) and public interest actions (e.g. repairing public roads). A common concern of stakeholders related to European funding, is its over-birocratization. This affects administrations lacking adequate means and/or experience in dealing with EU funding. The inflation of development strategies (Regional Development Agency North-West; Maramureș County; Baia Mare Metropolitan Area; Mara-Natur; each territorial administrative unit) makes it difficult to navigate and correlate them productively, particularly when some levels are managed by different political parties. Nevertheless, LAG is an experiment on territorial development.
Mara-Natur provides some welcomed benefits with no major drawbacks, although the decision-making process could allegedly be improved. In the larger scheme, however, administrative reform is seen as an impending necessity as the economy and demography of the region vastly changed, while territorial administration has not. While most stakeholders agree that there is still a need for investment in infrastructure development and maintenance, the factor that could speed up the reduction of territorial inequalities is economic investment in other areas besides urban centers. Large scale initiatives such as major transport infrastructure projects and the development of mountain resorts would bring the needed economic boost in the region, but the administrative fragmentation of the territory reduces the possibility.