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Overcoming Barriers to Economic Development – A Remote Island Perspective

Overcoming Barriers to Economic Development –            A Remote Island Perspective

A seminar organised by the Committee of Regions  and Shetland Island Council

9 September 2016, Lerwick, Shetland

Seminar objectives met

The objective of the seminar was  to create a greater un- derstanding of peripheral issues faced by islands and other remote communities and thus to draw evidence of the state of play of Cohesion in the EU.

Remote islands and communities have a range of structural circumstances that are difficult for policymakers to grasp unless they are experienced directly.

Presentations by Shetland, Orkney and Western Isles Councils  included an examination of the barriers and opportunities to pursue economic development strategies in their remote communities.

By meeting local experts and local community groups dealing with matters such as sustainable economic development, social inclusion, environmental protection, the seminar provided first-hand information on the enablers and barriers that such communities face in achieving sustainable economic development and Territorial Cohesion.

Islands have their own geographical specificities

In her presentation, Ilona Raugze from the ESPON EGTC explained how ESPON’s work on areas such as islands with geographical specificities brought a new understanding of their challenges.

The 2011 Euroisland study showed that

  • Islands have a below average connectivity
  • islands are below the European GDP average
  • economic convergence is slower
  • job and career opportunity are low
  • Low quality and high cost of services

Insularity has to be considered as a permanent, natural feature that affects negatively, directly and indirectly, islands’ attractiveness and subsequently places obstacles to their performance in terms of sustainable development. 

Insularity creates unequal opportunities between these territories and the rest of the European Union.

EU should stress on attractiveness parameters in order to address the different characteristics and costs of insularity by a differentiated policy.

The 2012 Geospec showed that  general characteristics for island territories were

  • Social capital – “closely-knit communities”
  • High value of natural capital
  • Preserved history and culture and biodiversity
  • Goods and services that do not receive market pricing (air purification, hazard prevention, groundwater recharge, bioremediation of waste and pollutants, recreation)
  • Renewable energies (hydropower, offshore wind, wave, tidal energies, biomass, solar energy)
  • Higher vulnerability to climate change (islands – sea level rise, storms, extreme temperatures, flooding)

The Geospec study concluded that recognising diversity was very important in policy making: an integrated place-based approach is needed since geographic specificity is only one of many factors influencing the performance of any given territory. Understanding specific processes to inform policy-making is more important than benchmarking. And the focus should be on potentials rather than on relative performance.

New policy recommendations emerged

1/ Recognising diversity in policy-making

  • 
European debates on cohesion and competitiveness need to focus on different models of growth and development rather than convergence or divergence of regional performance
  • Supporting development strategies that respect territorial potential is more valid than attaching particular funding to lines of geographic conditions

  2/ Recognising diversity in policy-making

  • 
European debates on cohesion and competitiveness need to focus on different models of growth and development rather than convergence or divergence of regional performance
  • Supporting development strategies that respect territorial potential is more valid than attaching particular funding lines to geographic conditions

3/ Fields of action

  • 
Policy measures should be tailored to local potentials and challenges. 
There should be a balance of measures to compensate for permanent handicaps and measures to promote the assets (“territorial capital”)

For example:

  • Seasonality in employment (tourism) to be integrated with other employment opportunities (multi-activity)
  • Overcoming physical remoteness by developing new ICT solutions to ensure accessibility of services, learning opportunities, e- democracy etc.
  • Investment in alternative energy sources
  • Encouraging young people to return after university studies
  • Branding, self-perception
  • Niche products (aquaculture specialised in seed mussels)

4/ Territorial cooperation practices need to show that territory matters

  • Dealing with geographic specificities is often about creating new types of connections between areas 
- Within regions
- Across regional and national boundaries
  • Compensating for imbalances in flows
  • Creating alliances through which actors can strengthen the 
robustness and resilience of their local communities
  • Gaining greater weight (critical mass) in economic and political systems dominated by main urban areas
  • Building of mutual trust and social capital

5/ Vision for the European Territory 2050

  • European visions for the future should not be territorially blind
  • Unleash regional diversity and endogenous development: 
- Targeted policy steps have to be successful to tackle issues faced by areas characterised by a specific permanent geographic or demographic handicap
  • A New Governance Approach:
- New planning and territorial cooperation initiatives are needed
  • Accessibility is regarded as a necessary condition for economic growth, having a direct impact on the attractiveness of regions for businesses and people

Need for new sustainability indicators 

ESIN has long argued that to overcome these barriers, the EU does need to understand the smaller island situation in greater details.

Both the chair of ESIN, Bengt Almkvist and the chair of S.I.F., Camille Dressler who attended the seminar stressed the need to use a more refined set of indicators that are used at present.

The ESPON Territorial Impact Assessment (TIA)  tool presented by Mrs Raugze was suggested as a simplified, evidence-based procedure and a user-friendly methodology combining expert knowledge gathered in a workshop with an Excel tool and standardised indicators that could show possible impacts in maps at NUTS 2 level.

Participants all agreed on the need for an improved framework for dialogue between the European, national, regional and local levels, making it possible to reflect unique patterns of opportunity and challenges in each territory. This was felt to be particularly relevant to the island situation.

This framework required

  • A general method for the assessment of local situations
  • Support to the formulation of development models adapted to 
local conditions
  • Better access to data of local development conditions
  • Improved quantitative and qualitative analyses of local situations
  • Alternative methods for analyses at the NUTS 2 and 3 levels
  • “Smarter” indicators going beyond the current focus on GDP

Through presentations and discussions with local actors, the seminar reached its goal of informing the ongoing assessment of the application of the EU objective of Territorial Cohesion as well as the thinking on the future shape of EU programmes and the future of EU Cohesion policy.

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