Island regions have common and specific permanent characteristics and features that clearly distinguish them from mainland regions. Article 174 of the Lisbon Treaty recognises that island regions as a whole face practical handicaps that require special attention. Nevertheless, the EESC considers that there is a need for further work to secure the adoption of an appropriate strategy for addressing the specific needs of these island regions.
The EESC considers that accessibility to islands and the connections between them absolutely have to be improved. Since accessibility is a vital element in enhancing the attractiveness of island regions, goods and passenger transport costs should be reduced by applying the principle of territorial continuity and improving Regulation 3577/92.
Many European islands have found tourism to be an essential factor for the survival of the local population, their identity, cultural traditions and values, and landscapes. It has generated economic growth, created more jobs and brought considerable diversification to their economic foundations through tourism-related services. Island economies have, however, become too dependent on tourism: diversification towards non-tourism activities is needed, facilitating the economic development of islands in the face of crises such as the present one which have a powerful impact on tourism.
Some islands are faced with the emigration of their populations to more prosperous regions; others receive immigrants who contribute to local economic development; yet other islands, on account of their geographical location, receive immigrants in excess of their reception capacity.