Islands of the EU: Taking account of their specific needs in EU policy

Briefing 29-01-2016

Many EU Member States have islands and insular territories (e.g. archipelagos). Among these islands are several world famous tourist destinations, while they are home to considerable natural and cultural wealth. Certain islands also produce renowned agricultural products and handcrafts. However, islands also face considerable challenges. They may lack adequate transport links with the nearest mainland. Their ecosystems are vulnerable and natural resources are often scarce. Some are small and/or mountainous. Many are located on the periphery of a Member State, or constitute border regions, placing considerable limitations on their potential for economic growth. Islands are usually too small to allow economies of scale. They may lack human capital and possess limited public resources in health, education, research and innovation. More recently, the EU's southern islands have seen a large influx of migrants, whilst lacking the resources needed for their accommodation or integration. In most cases, islands are not self-sufficient in agricultural and industrial products or tertiary-sector services. They are usually reliant on imported fossil fuels and dependent on mainland energy networks. As the majority of products and services have to be transported to islands, prices are considerably higher, adding to the cost of living in insular territories. However, although the state of insularity creates a large number of problems, various studies suggest that islands can become 'lands of opportunities' by investing in their relative strengths. Article 174 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) recognises the special nature of island territories. However, very few concrete EU measures have aimed to support islands to date. Several insular regions and municipalities call for the development of an 'insular dimension' in EU policies, and for EU regional policy to take insularity factors, that affect them disproportionately, into account. They also claim that due to the European Commission's established method of regional funding –based on GDP – certain islands and insular territories are severely penalised.