[WATCH] Insularity: Josianne Cutajar calls for a ‘new pact’ between the EU and its islands

MEP Jsoianne Cutajar says that one size does not, in reality, fit all and that the EU needs to recognise the challenges and specificities of islands much better

Labour MEP Josianne Cutajar
Labour MEP Josianne Cutajar

Labour MEP Josianne Cutajar has called for a “new pact” between the European Union, its islands suffering the effects of insularity and its peripheral regions.

Cutajar told a webinar on ‘The EU and Insularities: A relationship to build?’ that it is time for a new pact between EU and its peripheral regions, including islands, that suffer from insularity.

“As an MEP I am not happy with the current state of play,” she said. “The EU is not adequately taking into account the positions of islands that suffer from insularity and there is definitely a lot more that needs to be done.”

Cutajar, herself from Gozo and as such no stranger to the island’s problems of double insularity, said she is campaigning with other like-minded MEPs to see more “island mainstreaming” when it comes to the formulation of the EU’s policies and legislation.

She listed out the three main pillars of her mainstreaming vision for the EU’s islands: SMEs, the backbone of the economy; cleaner environment and sustainable destinations; and digital and physical connectivity.

In terms of mainstreaming such particular challenges and concerns faced by islands into the wider EU ambit, Cutajar said the areas in focus for islands are cross-sectorial but essentially revolve around issues of connectivity, environment and energy.

In these areas and several others, Cutajar said, there is definitely more that can be done for islands.

She said that Article 174 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU – the section that refers to economic, social and territorial cohesion – recognised the special importance of islands and the challenges they face.

“We need to move from a declaration and special recognition in the Treaty to actual and effective recognition when it comes to the EU’s policies and legislation,” she said.

The Article in question stipulates: “Among the regions concerned, particular attention shall be paid to rural areas, areas affected by industrial transition, and regions which suffer from severe and permanent natural or demographic handicaps such as the northernmost regions with very low population density and island, cross-border and mountain regions.”

Cutajar’s home island of Gozo suffers from the affliction of double insularity, being a small island that forms part of an island state. And when it comes to blanket EU legislation she insists that while one-size-fits-all is the typical approach to the formulation of EU legislation and policies, “one size does not, in reality, fit all and we need to recognise the challenges and specificities of islands much better”.

Using Gozo as an example, Cutajar pointed out how the islands’ residents and businesses depend on a ferry connection to Malta and on a digital connection to the main island.  She remarked how the Maltese government, in fact, had recently invested in a second fibre optic cable to Gozo so as to improve the island’s digital connection with the rest of the world.

“The EU,” Cutajar stressed, “needs to recognise these differences.”

Islands, the ETS and Covid recovery

Cutajar also called on the EU to consider the plight of islands when it comes to inclusion of the maritime sector into the Emissions Trading System, saying, “It is important for the EU to not disregard the effects that such a proposal would have on islands and islands like Gozo.

“I am in favour of maritime sector fully contributing toward the system because, at the end of the day, the Green Deal is also important for islands. It could also present some interesting opportunities islands to serve as test beds of important, cleaner technologies.”

Cutajar proposed the introduction of compensatory measures such as what had been provided for the Just Transition Fund should islands’ maritime sectors be adversely affected.

“There are funds and schemes that islands can tap into, but we need more,” Cutajar said.

She posited as a case in point the extension of the relaxation of state aid measures for the Covid pandemic, suggesting islands that have been impacted adversely because of their insularity could see that relaxation extended beyond the Covid recovery period.

Cutajar also called for national governments to better incorporate their islands and their tourism sectors into their national Covid recovery plans, and to also take into account the economic sectors that their islands rely upon.

“I believe the EU, in its recovery plan, must give tourism and travel the focus they deserve.  We’ve now come to the shocking reality of just how fragile the tourism market is when it comes to shocks such as that of the current pandemic. As such, we need to push as much as possible for better coordination and harmonisation measures when it comes to the travel and tourism sectors.

“We have an upcoming summer season and we cannot risk losing another summer of tourism.”

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