Whereas Article 174 of the TFEU recognizes the permanent, natural and geographical handicaps specific to the situation of islands, and Article 175 addresses the need to overcome them through the Structural Funds, still this coordinated action is missing. Thus we need to focus on the issue of cohesion policy for the sake of Europe’s future. In this regard, it is true that
(1) the economic crisis has dramatically impacted the national and regional budgets of many Member States by limiting the availability of financing in many sectors,
(2) islands are peripheral regions situated in some cases on the EU’s external borders and are particularly vulnerable to the challenges which Europe is currently facing such as globalization, various demographic trends, climate change, energy supply and, especially, for the southern areas, exposure to increasing migration flows,
(3) European islands contribute to the diversity of the Union in both environmental and cultural terms,
(4) The islands themselves hold the keys for attracting skilled workers and businesses; whereas there is a need to attract investment, to create new jobs and to reduce maritime and air transport costs for people and goods, and finally the combination of this factor leads to depopulation of small islands the need for common action becomes urgent.
If depopulation is the greatest challenge for European islands, the impact of the crisis has seriously affected the potential development of many disadvantaged regions, including islands. The EU should establish an ‘EU Strategic Framework for Islands’ with a view to synchronizing instruments that can have a substantial impact on these territories.
In order for “Cohesion Policy to effectively take into account the different social, territorial and economic realities in Member States and regions to address specific situations on the ground and to design tailor made solutions and strategies that will meet the needs and development potentials of the whole EU“, we need to start by (1) launching an in-depth study/analysis on the extra costs incurred as a result of living on islands, in terms of the transport system for people and goods, energy supply and access to markets, in particular for SMEs, (2) review key legislation and identify where insularity clauses could be included. (3) Identify which European Islands could be classified as being “less developed territories” (4) consider additional indicators to complement GDP in the allocation methodology for structural funds such as Regional Competitiveness Index (RCI), Human Development Index (HDI), Social Progress Index (SPI).
Additionally, in order for Cohesion Policy investments to be better focused on EU priorities i.e. to be aligned with EU policies while addressing the development bottlenecks of the regions.
The solution lies in regional allocation of the investments. These should use EU priorities as guidelines of which the most common are job creation, climate action, single market, fundamental rights, and democratic change. Still the guidelines need to be strengthened by specific measures and results in order for them to be achieved. Thus, tailor made interventions on social and territorial change supported by new instruments such as relevant indicators, local communities’ opinion and social and impact assessment on the regions should be used.
Over the last few months, an increased activity, on a european level, has been reigstered for the future of the islands and this fills islands with optimism.
Following the European Parliament’s report and resolution of February 2016 on insularity, a short but fruitful period of realistic policy proposals has been followed up by both the Member States and the Union’s partners, such as the EESC “Inclusive Islands”, CPMR and the Committee of the Regions .
The Committee of Regions, in its last report, “Entrepreneurship on Islands: contributing towards territorial cohesion” clearly highlights some necessary interventions to make the island regions in Europe gain new perspective in economic development.
It is impossible to develop the ideal economic conditions that will allow island areas to compete with urban centers and continental regions.
The transport / management costs are disproportionately high
High-capacity workforce is lacking as well as know-how for large-scale businesses and development of technology applications.
It is once again clear that although specific living conditions are recognized in the EU’s founding texts. And when the “one size fits all” rule applies to the unequal treatment of the islanders with respect to the inhabitants of the land
Without the basic political interventions such as the insularity clause in any relevant regulation, there will be reversal of the lagging and eventually the desertification of several island regions.