On 7 February 2017, in the context of the exploratory opinion on "Islands in the EU: from structural handicap to inclusive territory" requested by the Maltese Presidency, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) organised a hearing on "What future for islands in the EU" at the Malta Chamber of Commerce in Valletta. The President of the Malta Chamber of Commerce, Mr Anton Borg, warmly welcomed the participants and the event was open by Mr Joost van Iersel, President of the ECO Section at the EESC and Mr Chris Cardona, Minister for the Economy, Investment and Small Business in Malta.
The subsequent round tables focused on identifying the challenges islands face and finding relevant solutions.
During the first part, Mr Nectarios Santorinios, Greek Vice-Minister of Maritime Affairs and Insular Policy, Mr Tonino Picula, Member of the European Parliament and Vice-President of Seas, Rivers, Islands and Coastal Areas EP Intergroup and Ms Judit Torokne Rozsa, Head of Unit in the European Commission (DG Regio) discussed the role of EU in this process.
The results of the discussion clearly underlined that a greater effort must be undertaken by the EU to recognise the uniqueness of the challenges facing islands. Such challenges cannot be addressed only through Cohesion Policy. It was also highlighted that islands suffered from a number of structural handicaps which often resulted in difficult conditions for carrying out business. Therefore it was concluded that key policy areas such as the Single Market, Competition Policy, Transport Policy, Rural Development Policy and Fisheries Policy must be applied with a greater degree of flexibility when it comes to island economies.
In the second part Mr John Vassallo, President of the Malta Business Bureau, Mr Gianfranco Fancello, Professor at the University of Cagliari, Ms Caroline Buts, Professor of Economics at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel and Mr Luc Gobin, Director of ISTO Europe discussed their experiences and the results of their work in their respective fields.
Following the general debate, Mr Stefano Mallia, rapporteur of the opinion, concluded that people with disabilities, and more generally all people with disadvantages, must be given specific attention as they tend to suffer more than others the effects of the problems being faced by islands. He also considered it essential that all efforts to assist islands should give priority to providing access to public services, promoting sustainable growth, and fostering full employment, competitiveness and cohesion in European islands. Finally, it was also pointed out that islands and island regions often provide unique opportunities for clean energy solutions.
For more information please visit the website of the opinion.