The Malta Independent 26 May 2024, Sunday
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Gozo: 20 years in the EU

Emmanuel J. Galea Sunday, 12 May 2024, 08:02 Last update: about 15 days ago

Since Malta joined the European Union in 2004, Gozo has experienced significant transformations. The impact of EU membership on Gozo had several aspects, bringing about both advancements and challenges that have reshaped the island’s economic, social, and cultural landscapes.

In the past, agriculture played a central role in Gozo’s economy and was deeply ingrained in the island’s cultural identity. However, the last two decades have seen a considerable decline in this sector. The integration into the EU brought stringent regulations and increased competition from imported goods, making it increasingly difficult for traditional agricultural practices to survive. This shift has had adverse effects on the local farming community, leading to decreased profitability and diminishing the sector’s relevance to the island’s economy.


In stark contrast, the tourism and real estate sectors in Gozo have flourished, largely driven by EU funding and global exposure. The entry into the EU market has attracted a significant number of tourists and foreign investors to the island, transforming its economic landscape. Real estate has particularly thrived, with an increasing number of foreigners, including Maltese from the main island, seeking properties in Gozo. This boom has not only boosted the local economy, but also led to a dynamic real estate market.

The European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) has played a crucial role in preserving Gozo’s cultural heritage. The restoration of the Ċittadella, which received an investment of approximately €14.5 million, is also a notable project. This extensive project not only restored the historical site but also improved visitor access and facilities, enhancing the overall tourist experience while preserving the island’s historical narrative. The Ċittadella now stands not just as a monument of the past but as a fully integrated cultural hub. In 2022, the Ċittadella project won the first prize in the Public Choice Award category of the prestigious Regiostars competition, that is Europe’s label of excellence for EU-funded projects. 

The EU funded another significant project, which transformed the Xewkija Windmill into a centre for traditional dance and culture. The restoration included refurbishing the windmill’s grinding mechanism and structural improvements, making it a unique attraction in Gozo’s tourism landscape.

In August 2020, the Ministry for Gozo launched a project costing about €2.2 million, financed by European funds, to restore and rebuild three kilometres of rubble walls around the fields that overlook Ramla Valley, Gozo.

The ‘Il-Ħaġar’ Gozo Museum and Cultural Centre is another testament to the island’s rich cultural heritage, funded by the EU and community crowdfunding efforts. This centre serves as a vibrant hub for cultural exchange and education, hosting a variety of events, exhibitions, and educational activities that engage both locals and tourists in Gozo’s artistic and cultural scene.

Villa Rundle Gardens in Victoria underwent a transformation through an EU-funded project of €2.5 million aimed at restoring its historical and environmental significance. The project included the creation of a stage for cultural events, infrastructural improvements, and the transformation of a war shelter into a water reservoir. The gardens, named after British General Leslie Rundle, have become a hub for educational and social activities. The revitalisation contributes to Gozo’s social and economic aspects, aligning with the EU’s goal of preserving and promoting cultural heritage.

Between 2014 and 2020, Gozo received €105 million in EU funds, about 10% of Malta’s total EU funding. The authorities used these funds to finance a variety of projects aimed at improving education, infrastructure, and social services. Initiatives like the VASTE Programme and the Training for Employment initiative have been crucial in providing vocational training and employment opportunities, particularly for vulnerable groups on the island.

The Gozo Museum project, funded mainly by the European Union, was first announced in 2016, with construction starting in 2017. Yet, presently, the project remains unfinished, and the workers are making slow progress. The government has approved direct orders that surpass the original budget and scope of the project, resulting in a threefold budget increase.

Despite these advancements, Gozo continues to face significant challenges. The island’s geographical position as an island off an island contributes to economic and social disparities compared to mainland Malta. The EU has recognised these unique challenges, and negotiations are currently underway to ensure that Gozo can access adequate funds in future budgetary periods to address these disparities.

As Gozo continues to integrate into the broader European framework, the impact of EU membership presents a complex mix of significant advancements and ongoing challenges. The EU’s commitment to funding cultural and social projects is a powerful indicator of its dedication to preserving Gozo’s heritage and enhancing its socio-economic landscape.

Looking forward, it remains crucial for Gozo to balance modern development with the preservation of its unique cultural and agricultural heritage, ensuring a sustainable future that benefits all residents. This strengthening relationship with the EU is key to Gozo’s future prosperity and identity, as the island navigates the challenges and opportunities presented by its EU membership.

Addressing a conference in Ghajnsielem in September 2021 with the theme ‘Renewing Gozo and the environment in which we live’, Prime Minister Robert Abela announced Gozo will benefit from a record €162 million in European funds. Gozo will have a permanent environmentally friendly fourth boat and will be the first place on the Maltese islands to become carbon neutral. These funds will support sustainable urban projects until 2027, which will lead to a better quality of life for Gozitans.

In a related vein, Dr Alfred Sant, in a recent commentary in The Malta Independent, stated: “An essential column on which Gozitan life depended – agriculture - has surely been badly affected. What really progressed were tourism and, above all, real estate for take up by foreign clients, including those from Malta. On this basis, however, it would be ridiculous to pretend that the improvement happened because of EU membership.” 

Perhaps Dr Sant and I share a belief akin to President Kennedy’s famous quote, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” In contrast, while I embraced the opportunity for Malta to join the EU, Dr Sant had campaigned against it.

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