EU resolution on islands signals positive change

NEW EU resolution on islands passed on 4 February 2016

Article 174 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) recognises the special nature of island territories. However, very few concrete EU measures have aimed to support islands to date. Several insular regions and municipalities call for the development of an ‘insular dimension’ in EU policies, and for EU regional policy to take insularity factors, that affect them disproportionately, into account. They also claim that due to the European Commission’s established method of regional funding – based on GDP – certain islands and insular territories are severely penalised.

The Scottish Islands Federation hopes this may change if the measures proposed by the new resolution on islands  (see  below) are implemented:   the resolution calls  for new statistical indicators besides GDP  that can reflect the economic and social vulnerability arising from being an island territory.  An island desk, special financial instruments aimed at islands, an agenda for the islands, a White paper to monitor the situation,  a European Year for Islands and Mountains are amongst other welcome proposals to ensure that the island situation is considered as it should.

However, such resolutions have to be supported by all EU member states. Therein lie the problem of the Scottish Islands: the UK government cares little for its island territories and will care even less if voters decide to leave the EU.

European Parliament resolution of 4 February 2016 on the special situation of islands (2015/3014(RSP))

The European Parliament,

  • –  having regard to Articles 174 and 175 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU),
  • –  having regard to Regulation (EU) No 1301/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 December 2013, on the European Regional Development Fund and on specific provisions concerning the Investment for growth and jobs goal and repealing Regulation (EC) No 1080/2006,
  • –  having regard to Regulation (EU) No 1303/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 December 2013 laying down common provisions on the European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund, the Cohesion Fund, the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund and laying down general provisions on the European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund, the Cohesion Fund and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund and repealing Council Regulation (EC) No 1083/2006,
  • –  having regard to Regulation (EU) No 1305/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 December 2013 on support for rural development by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) and repealing Council Regulation (EC) No 1698/2005,
  • –  having regard to the Commission’s Sixth Report on Economic, Social and Territorial Cohesion (COM(2014)0473),
  • –  having regard to the European Economic and Social Committee’s opinion on ‘Specific problems facing islands’ (1229/2011),
  • –  having regard to the question to the Commission on the insularity condition (O-000013/2016 – B8-0106/2016),
  • –  having regard to Rules 128(5) and 123(2) of its Rules of Procedure,
  1. whereas islands, classified as NUTS-2 and NUTS-3 regions, have common and permanent specific features, which clearly distinguish them from mainland areas;
  2. whereas Article 174 of the TFEU recognises the permanent natural and geographical handicaps specific to the situation of islands;
  3. whereas the reduction in economic, social and environmental disparities between regions and polycentric harmonious development are the main objectives of cohesion policy, in close connection with achieving the objectives of the Europe 2020 strategy;
  4. whereas the economic crisis has impacted dramatically on the national and regional budgets of many Member States by limiting the availability of financing in many sectors and leading to a 20 % collapse of public investment; whereas, as also pointed out in the Sixth Report on Economic, Social and Territorial Cohesion, the impact of the crisis has seriously affected the potential development of many disadvantaged regions, including islands; whereas the economic crisis has reversed the long-term trend of convergence of GDP and unemployment rates across the EU, resulting in increased poverty and social exclusion and preventing the achievement of the Union’s long-term objective of economic and territorial cohesion;
  5. whereas EU islands are also 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 globalisation, demographic trends, climate change, energy supply and, especially for the southern areas, exposure to increasing migration flows;
  6. whereas European islands contribute to the diversity of the Union in both environmental terms (specific habitats and endemic species) and cultural terms (architectural heritage, sites, landscapes, agricultural and non-agricultural features and geographical identities);
  7. whereas European islands can contribute to strengthening sustainable development in the Union, given their high potential for producing energy from renewable sources due to specific exposure to wind streams, ocean swell and sunlight;
  8. whereas the accessibility of regions and connections within islands are key factors in making island areas more attractive for 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, in accordance with the principle of territorial continuity, while also making efforts to reduce emissions and pollution deriving from maritime and air transport;
  9. whereas agriculture, breeding and fisheries constitute an important element of local island economies, which are a source of supply for a significant part of the agro-industrial sector, and whereas these sectors suffer due to lack of accessibility, particularly for SMEs, a low level of product differentiation, and climate conditions;
  10. whereas intensive tourism is, for most islands, an important part of their local economy but tends normally to be concentrated only in certain periods of the year and not adequately planned outside the season, and this may entail risks for the environmentally sustainable development of island regions;
  1. Encourages the Commission to provide a clear definition of the type of geographical, natural and demographic permanent handicaps that insular regions can suffer from, with reference to Article 174 of the TFEU;
  2. Asks the Commission how it intends to implement the wording of Article 174 of the TFEU regarding the permanent handicaps of insular regions that hinder their natural development and prevent them from achieving economic, social and territorial cohesion;
  3. Recognises the importance of providing support to tackle the significant depopulation trend in island regions; recalls that certain handicaps are more difficult to cope with for islands, in proportion to their small size and their remoteness from the European continental coasts;
  4. Requests that the Commission launch an in-depth study/analysis on the extra costs incurred as a result of being islands, in terms of the transport system for people and goods, energy supply and access to markets, in particular for SMEs;
  5. Is of the opinion that islands should have a proper definition/categorisation that will take into account not only their differences and specificities but also their specific situation; invites the Commission, on the basis of Article 174 of the TFEU, which recognises the special situation of islands, to set up a homogeneous group made up of all island territories; calls on the Commission, furthermore, to take into account, besides GDP, other statistical indicators that can reflect the economic and social vulnerability arising from natural permanent handicaps;
  6. Recalls that, in accordance with Council Directive 2006/112/EC, certain European islands have been granted special tax arrangements as a counterbalance to their natural and demographic permanent handicaps; stresses the importance of those special tax arrangements for local communities and economies, and calls for their continuation, especially in those Member States that are under economic adjustment programmes;
  7. Recalls especially the need for better connectivity through maritime routes, improved access to ports and better air transport services; considers that particular emphasis should be placed on transport hubs, inter-modal transport and sustainable mobility; stresses also the need to support balanced territorial development of island regions by promoting innovation and competiveness in these regions, which are remote from the major administrative and economic centres and do not benefit from ease of access to transport, and by strengthening local production for local markets;
  8. Stresses that digital capacity is a vital means of counterbalancing the connectivity handicaps of island regions; emphasises that investments in infrastructure are required in order to ensure broadband access on islands and the full participation of islands in the digital single market;
  9. Recalls that many islands in the Mediterranean have seen huge numbers of migrants arriving and are having to deal with this situation; underlines the need for a holistic EU approach, which should include EU support and a joint effort by all Member States;
  10. Underlines the importance of providing education at all levels, where necessary also by making more use of distance education systems; recalls that islands are also facing serious

climate change impacts, with particularly serious consequences, including increasing numbers of natural hazards;

  1. Emphasises that, while islands face constraints, they also benefit from a territorial potential, which should be used as an opportunity for development, growth and job creation; stresses the importance of low tax and red tape reduction policies as key incentives for attracting investment; mentions, in this context, the development of sustainable tourism in addition to seasonal tourism, focusing on the promotion of cultural heritage and specific artisanal economic activities; stresses also the huge potential of ocean, wind and solar energy and the potential of islands to become important sources of alternative energy, to be as energy-autonomous as possible and, above all, to guarantee cheaper energy supplies for their inhabitants;
  2. Stresses, in this connection, the importance of using all possible synergies between the European Structural and Investment Funds and other Union instruments with a view to counterbalancing the handicaps of islands and enhancing their economic growth, job creation and sustainable development situation;
  3. Calls on the Commission to establish an ‘EU Strategic Framework for Islands’ with a view to linking up instruments that can have a major territorial impact;
  4. Calls on the Member States and regional and local authorities to play an important role in the development strategies of islands on the basis of a vertical approach that involves all levels of government, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, with a view to ensuring the sustainable development of EU islands;
  5. Suggests that the Commission establish an ‘islands desk’ linked to the Commission’s Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy (DG REGIO) and made up of a small group of officials in order to coordinate and analyse issues relating to island regions;
  6. Calls on the Commission to submit a communication containing an ‘Agenda for EU Islands’ and, subsequently, a White Paper to monitor the development of islands, based on best practice and involving local, regional and national authorities and other relevant actors, including economic and social partners and representatives of civil society;
  7. Calls on the Commission to propose a European Year of Islands and Mountains;
  8. Invites the Commission to bear in mind the specific situation of islands when preparing the proposal for the next multiannual financial framework;
  9. Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council, the Commission, the Committee of the Regions and the Member States.

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