The 7500 kilometres of coast of the Greek archipelago - of the total Greek coastline of 16 000 kilometres - constitutes a geopolitical feature which is ripe for exploitation by way of a development strategy but also represents a permanent disadvantage by exacerbating the competitive position of the islands even further. An important priority for the development of the island regions is to eliminate any obstacle to accessibility, particularly in terms of the services provided in the areas of transport, communications, health, education, social solidarity and welfare, energy security and waste management.
How will the Commission apply, in practice, the declared and established principles of territorial cohesion and subsidiarity in the case of the Greek islands and, in particular, the small islands? Subject to feasibility studies, can the Commission provide funding to improve services, particularly in the transport sector?
Islands and in particular small remote islands have since long occupied a special place in Cohesion policy. Article 29(3) of Council Regulation (EC) n° 1260/1999 on the Structural Funds(1)
for the 2000-2006 period foresaw the possibility of a Community co-financing rate up to 85% (as opposed to the normal ceiling of 75%) for the outermost regions and the outlying Greek islands.
In a similar spirit, Article 52(f) of Council Regulation (EC) n° 1083/2006 on the Structural and Cohesion Funds(2)
for the 2007-2013 period provides for the possibility of modulating co-financing rates under the Regional competitiveness and employment objective specifically in the case of islands. Moreover, Article 10 of the Regulation (EC) No 1080/2006(3)
provides that programmes co-financed by this Fund, covering areas facing geographical and natural handicaps as referred to in point (f) of Article 52 of Regulation (EC) No 1083/2006 shall pay particular attention to addressing the specific difficulties of those areas. To this purpose the ERDF may, in the cases of islands, contribute towards the financing of investments aimed at improving accessibility, promoting and developing economic activities related to cultural and natural heritage, promoting the sustainable use of natural resources, and encouraging sustainable tourism.
Concerning the programming period 2007-2013 in Greece, most islands are covered by the regional operational programme "North and South Aegean islands and Crete". The Ionian islands and the Sporades are covered by, respectively, the regional operational programmes "Western Greece, Peloponnesus and Ionian islands" and "Thessaly, Continental Greece and Epirus". For each of the regions covered by these programmes, a specific priority axis addresses needs in terms of accessibility infrastructures and services. Because the South Aegean region has become part of the Regional competitiveness and employment objective, the relevant priority axes have been reinforced by additional national resources allocated specifically to the South Aegean islands, in order to compensate for the relative decrease of available Community funds for this region.
Apart from these regional programmes, all islands are eligible to receive support under the thematic operational programmes "Improvement of accessibility" and "Environment and Sustainable development", of which the former covers accessibility infrastructures and services.
As concerns small island communities, in 2005 the Greek authorities and the Commission agreed to create under the Third Community Support Framework a special package in support of such islands. This same idea has inspired the inclusion, in the 2007-2013 regional operational programme "North and South Aegean islands and Crete" already mentioned, of a specific priority axis to address the needs of small islands in the South Aegean region.
Council Regulation (EC) No 1083/2006 of 11 July 2006 laying down general provisions on the European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund and the Cohesion Fund and repealing Regulation (EC) No 1260/1999, OJ L 210, 31.7.2006