EC urged to address handicaps of islands

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MEPs have urged the European Commission to address the permanent handicaps of island regions so that they can fulfil their full potential, in a resolution voted on last Thursday.

Politicians are urging the establishment of a group made up of all island territories. They would also like the Commission to take account of other statistical indicators, besides Gross Domestic Product (GDP), to reflect the economic and social vulnerability of these regions.

It has been proposed that an in-depth study/analysis be launched on the extra costs incurred as a result of being an island (e.g. transport system, energy supply and access to markets).

They would also like to see the establishment of an “EU Strategic Framework for Islands” which would link up instruments that could have a major territorial impact, and submit a communication on an “Agenda for EU Islands” and subsequently a White Paper to monitor the development of islands.

MEPs also highlighted how the many Mediterranean islands are particularly exposed to increased migration flows and asked for an EU-wide approach: “Which should include EU support and a joint effort by all member states”, to help them.

Some EU islands have been granted special tax arrangements to counterbalance their permanent natural and demographic handicaps - and MEPs called for their continuation, especially in states under economic adjustment programmes.

In a separate resolution, MEPs also asked that regional and local authorities be given a bigger role in managing EU structural and investment funds in 2014-2020, to help boost their impact.

Talking of the resolution Comhairle nan Eilean Siar Leader Angus Campbell, said: “This is a very welcome move by the European Parliament and reflects the aims of the Our Islands Our Future campaign led by the Comhairle together with our colleagues in Orkney and Shetland.

“We have been working hard to ensure that the challenges facing island communities are firmly on the agenda of both the Scottish and UK Governments and this development will help us continue to make that case.

“Recognition of the special status of Island areas should be an imperative at all levels of Government”.

SNP MEP Alyn Smith added: “I am pleased to see the Parliament pass this important Resolution with such strong support from all quarters, clearly highlighting the necessity of properly tackling, once and for all, the current issues with the one-size-fits-all policy when it comes to our islands.

“For too long we’ve seen only half-hearted efforts by the European Commission to properly account for the specificities and handicaps that islands face and this Resolution should make crystal clear that this cannot be ignored any longer.

“We need better definitions of the handicaps that islands face; we need better information on the extra costs that people and businesses on islands face; we need better transport routes; and we need to make the most of the opportunities that the digital revolution offers.

“Despite the constraints, our islands are also home to some of our most vibrant communities, as well as unique heritage, abundant energy supplies and a growing tourism sector.

“We need to nurture that, not stifle it with the unintended consequences of badly-fitting laws. There needs to be a quick realisation, here in Brussels, that we are not paying enough attention to the specific demands of our island communities and I hope this Resolution will provide that kick.”