Local and regional leaders of European islands stressed the need of more particular consideration in the debates of the Conference on the Future of Europe (COFE) as well as the lack of a long-term strategy for EU islands to reduce regional disparities.
The importance to include European islands’ inputs, needs and concerns in the debate of the Conference on the Future of Europe was highlighted by local and regional decision-makers at today’s event “Cohesion our fundamental value – a contribution from European islands to the Conference on the Future of Europe”, organised by the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) and the Islands Commission of the Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions (CPMR), in the framework of their work within the #CohesionAlliance. Representatives of islands from all over Europe explained their visions and stressed that the EU should have a clear and consistent strategy for its islands, which are home to over 20.5 million inhabitants, giving them the specific attention prescribed by the Treaties.
Opening the high-level conference, Nathalie Sarrabezolles (FR/PES), Chair of the CoR Commission for Territorial Cohesion Policy and EU Budget (COTER ), said: ” Defending the principle of cohesion as a value – i.e. to defend its inclusion in all European policies – also means ensuring that the European Union is present in solidarity in all regions in order to help them realise their potential, which is an extraordinary opportunity for the EU as a whole “.
Rosario Sánchez Grau, Regional Minister for Finance and External Relations of Balearic Islands (ES), stated on behalf of the CPMR Islands Commission Presidency: “The long-term vision for the EU’s rural areas published last year sets an inspiring precedent, and we call the European Commission to follow suit. The idea to create a reference framework that could steer future long-term policy addressing specific areas should be at the core of an EU Strategy for the islands”.
Christian Solinas (IT/ECR), President of the Sardinia Region and first signatory, on behalf of a wide interregional island partnership, of a petition in support of the today’s high-level conference, highlighted that “there is no specific strategy for the islands and no specific legal arrangements, similar to those envisaged for the outermost regions, to respond to the challenges we tackle on a daily basis, as government authorities. The homogeneous application of the same rules to profoundly dissimilar territorial situations is a violation of the substantive equality principles .” He therefore called on the CoR to make island regions’ voice heard in the upcoming institutional debate. ” By asking for a specific European legal status, we are not asking for a condition of privilege, but for tools for the economic and demographic survival of our territories,” he said.
“The Conference on the Future of Europe has been a tremendous opportunity to gather views of citizens all over the EU on priorities and future direction of the European Union. The EU needs to listen to all people, whoever they are, wherever they live,” said Kieran McCarthy (IE/EA), member of Cork City Council. He further emphasized that islands have special needs and are facing specific challenges, structural disadvantages and constraints. In order for citizens to fully reap the benefits of the European integration, the EU must engage more with them . Mr McCarthy is a member of the delegation of representatives of cities and regions to the Conference on the Future of Europe.
European island regions are home to over 20.5 million inhabitants (Eurostat, 2020), which represent 4.6% of the EU’s population. They belong to 13 Member States. Article 174 TFEU defines island regions as being in need of particular attention in terms of the Union aim to reduce disparities in development levels between the various regions within and across Member States. Article 349 TFEU creates a clear legal basis for special measures for outermost regions.
However, there is no common EU strategy for all islands so far. A necessary step that the islands expect from COFE would therefore be the creation of an initiative dedicated to their revitalisation, extending the scope beyond the Mediterranean islands to the islands in the Baltic Sea, the North Sea and the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans. Their specific challenges, but also their assets and potential, need further attention in order to adapt them to the specificities of each EU sea basin.
The Conference on the Future of Europe is a citizen-driven debate and discussion series that provides a unique and timely opportunity for European citizens to discuss Europe’s challenges and priorities. The Conference has entered its final phase, where work on the final outcomes is underway. Visit the COFE website for more information.
The CoR supports European islands through its interregional group on insularity by providing a platform for all islands to discuss ways to ensure equal development opportunities. In addition, the #CohesionAlliance raises awareness of the crucial role of cohesion policy for all regions and cities, with the fundamental value of leaving no region and no person behind.