The Malta Independent 28 June 2022, Tuesday

The well-deserved islands pact

Josianne Cutajar Sunday, 22 May 2022, 08:07 Last update: about 2 months ago

Those who know me and follow my work, easily gather that islands’ policy is something that is truly close to my heart. I was born and raised in Gozo, in the village of Nadur. Therefore, I understand first-hand the permanent disadvantages that islands face and, additionally, what it means to suffer from double insularity. Islands share a number of permanent characteristics that influence their socio-economic development. Coming from an island Member State, we face permanent geographical disadvantages, disadvantages that are felt even more in Gozo.

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When investors seek new places to invest, they could very well find that owing to transportation costs, they would have to fork out substantially more in running costs every day, and this within itself may constitute a disincentive, to say the least. This is why it is essential to recognise this reality, which islands face and assist them accordingly.

Whilst islands face several disadvantages, we must however also recognise and help them reach their potential. Indeed, speaking about Malta, it has various features that can be used to its favour as well. For a start, we are both an island as well as a country and the small size could sometimes work in our favour. People who might be willing to test certain products or services would be hitting two birds with one stone if they were to choose Malta as their first testbed, for example. Moreover, Malta is economically resilient, with a government that constantly strives to prop up the economy, even during the challenging times we are experiencing. In a world of constant uncertainty, stability and adequate support and incentives for local businesses and foreign investors alike is key.

However, a European island’s intentions and potential by themselves should be supported also via EU policy. Indeed, on a European level I am constantly pushing and working towards a stronger islands’ policy. I am proud to have contributed directly in this regard as the S&D negotiator for the Islands in Cohesion Policy report, a report that makes a strong call for the European Union to enter into a Pact with islands. After all, it is useless to recognize potential unless we act upon it in real terms.

Last week, in Gotland, Sweden, I was invited to address the Annual General Meeting of Islands Commission within the Conference of Peripheral and Maritime Regions. I made it clear that even though we are different from each other, as islands we still share so many characteristics and everyday challenges.

These challenges, however, should not dishearten us from moving forward with the right assistance and enabling conditions. On the contrary, they should fill us with courage in order to keep on working for sustainable development and growth. Key areas to prioritise in our policy are transport and mobility, digital connectivity, businesses and sustainable tourism; these priorities are key in helping us mitigate the permanent disadvantages that other regions do not suffer from.

To be successful, it is important to cooperate with local authorities and stakeholders, also fostering a research and innovation culture, which can help towards sustainable economic growth and resilience. This is a point, which I emphasised in a conference in Paris during the European Week of Innovative Regions, which was organised jointly by the French Presidency and the European Commission. For innovation to take place on our islands, the European Union must address the gap between urban and central areas and regions on the periphery facing obstacles to innovation. After all, the European Union does not only belong to those living in major continental cities but also to those living in remote regions and islands.

We are not asking for handouts. All that we are asking for is enough flexibility to make sure that as islanders, the EU recognises our specificities and that there are growth opportunities for our citizens and businesses alike.  This applies both when it comes to areas of the economy  which our islands are naturally dependent upon such as tourism, but also emerging niches that can be explored such as the digital nomads’ phenomenon.

Using the European Union’s own motto, islands too are united in diversity and thus deserve a proper Pact and recognition at EU level.

 

Dr Josianne Cutajar is a Member of the European Parliament

 

 

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