Parts of European rural development policies are meant to empower local decision makers. These policies are implemented in very different multilevel governance contexts in the member states. We question the extent to which the institutional differences at the different levels affect the implementation of LEADER (an approach for Community-led Local Development). This contributes to a better understanding of the causes and consequences of different types of LEADER implementation. The research is based on ten case studies in France, Germany and Italy. First, there is an examination of the three different administration systems and the variations of Rural Development Programmes. Based on analyses of documents and interviews with stakeholders, we analysed institutional differences in the LEADER implementation at local level.