As we reported here earlier https://europeansmallislands.com/2016/11/20/island-residents-treated-as-guinea-pigs-says-finnish-newspaper-2/, the Finnish government planned to make big changes in the existing ferry fares system.
Referring to the feedback she has got during the last months, Minster Anne Berner today announced she has decided to call of the planned experiment.
At the EESC Public Hearing 7th of February, Croatian MEP Tonino Picula mentioned that the islands of Europe, if grouped together, would rank as Europe’s ninth nation. I double-checked him, making a table based on Wikipedia, from which I excluded islands that are nations (Great Britain, Ireland, Cyprus and Malta) but included all the remaining 2.136 ones, summing up their areas and their populations.
The result is a complex, widespread, divided, illusive island nation with an area of 454,753 km2 and with 18,889,077 inhabitants. Were it a nation, it would population-wise place itself after Romania but before Kazakstan. Counting by area, it would rank as the 4th nation of Europe, just after Norway. Assuming humans are more important than land, the islands of Europe grouped together would rank as the number 11 among the 50 sovereign states of Europe. Were it a nation, it might be called ISLANDIA.
Is this 11th nation of Europe different from the other 28 nations of Europe? Yes: it has some very valuable assets: (1) shores, that attract hundreds of millions of tourists every year; (2) seas, that contain tides, waves, oil, gas, fish, motorways of the seas as well as more ordinary waterways; (3) unrivalled natural and cultural heritages.
This 11th imaginary nation also has an invisible obstacle surrounding it: remoteness – a permanent handicap causing extra costs for its small-scale societies, enterprises and inhabitants. There are 671 ro-pax ferries connecting the islands with the mainland. On the one thousand smaller islands, 38% of the total energy spent is used for sea transports, larger islands somewhat less. To reengineer these sea transport systems would be an economical, ecological and social revolution.
On a short visit to Malta, ESIN tries to be the voice of Europe’s two thousand small islands in a ‘Public Hearing’ arranged by EESC on the subject ‘What future for islands in the European Union”
I am sad to find Vasilis Margaras much detested study here, where he states that the number of small islands in Europe is 228, but I do comment on it. I am puzzled when the EESC president asks ‘What is the really the difference between an island and the French countryside?”
Luckily, there are many smart persons here to answer such a question: Marie-Antoinette Maupertius from the Committee of Regions (who is working on an opinion on entrepreneurship on islands), George Assonitis from INSULEUR, Malta Minister for Economy Chris Cardona, professor Caroline Buts and Rapporteur Stefano Mallia stating: “This debate on islands is like Brexit: a wake-up call.”
We are some 40 people discussing during three hours. I get the opportunity to speak to Tonino Picula, Vice Chair of the Parliament Intergroup for Islands, and Nektarios Santorinios, Greek Vice Minister of Maritime Affairs and Insular Policy, regarding the project on Water Saving on eight european islands that we are about to start.
Much is happening in our european union now, our European Union.
On January 30, island Mayors Spyridon Galinos (Lesbos) and Giusi Nicolini (Lampedusa and Linosa) received the Olof Palme prize 2016.
Both are in Stockholm to receive the prize, hailed for their inspiring leadership, for having saved thousands of refugees and for showing it is more important to protect people than the protect borders.
Nicolini and Galinos tells of the often overcrowded inflatables with terrified, frozen passengers who started coming to their islands. In Lampedusa it culminated in connection with the Arab Spring, in 2011 when over 25,000 people arrived in two months. In Lesbos, the first boats came in winter 2014-2015.
The lack of timely support from their own governments and the EU forced the two mayors to organise care for thousands of refugees – and at the same time calm their local communities. Spyridon Galinos did not sleep many hours a night during the first ten months of 2015, when approximately 400,000 fugitives came ashore on Lesbos. slept.
– We had to stay calm. I spoke a lot with my islanders about wars and conflicts leading to situations which are not the refugees’ fault, says Galinos. Much of what we saw was shocking: mothers with small children and people cried and kissed the ground. But knowing that we saved lives gave us power.
The situation is different today. EU agreement with Turkey has resulted in fewer boats coming to Lesbos. 5500 migrants on the island is manageable and Galinos is proud of the accommodation which local forces operate. Nicolini has gone a round with her own government to get the neighboring islands of Lampedusa and Linosa recognized as the first reception centers, where no refugees should stay longer than a week. Both warn that the number of unaccompanied children is high.
Both are critical of the restrictive refugee policies in the EU and the “moral dark time” that prevails. At present they rely on working locally and through a network of European mayors who seems to have their hearts in the right place.
Camille Dressler, chairperson of ESIN, lives on the small island of Eigg (30 km2, 80 residents). “I was living in France studying English, and my boyfriend’s mother found us this place on Eigg for a winter let so we came to spend the winter here to study, write and paint!”
The islanders took ownership of Eigg in 1997. Looking back on her time as a director of the Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust, she said “Before the buyout we were just surviving. After the buyout, we could look ahead and build a solid future. Ten years later, we have put together the first renewable energy system that integrated sun, wind and water and our young people are coming back. This just shows what can be done if you give power to the community.”
Camille is devoted to community empowerment and community energy, as well as heritage and the arts. She is studying energy arts such as qi gong and dao yin yoga, also writing and making arty crafty things. A Gaelic learner, she has established a small croft museum modelled on the Spinster House she visited in the island of Huksara, on one of the ESIN inter island trips to Finland. She has also created a bilingual crofting trail to go with it. Her first project was a shoe-string presentation of the island’s history, geology and wildlife in the the island’s former shop, involving the island children in creating the artwork as part of the Eigg Primary school Green flags. Having spent much time recording the older inhabitants of Eigg, she became the island historian, writing the tale of her island: “Eigg. The Story of an island” published in 1998, from which I quote: …”a new sort of Gall has come to the land of the Gaidheal. I am one of them”…
As a Director she helped build the organisation that owns and runs the Isle of Eigg, experiencing at first hand the benefits of working in a co-operative way. She has seen the role that creative thinking and learning as a group can have in improving community dynamics.
Now, she is the chair of the Scottish Islands Federation, representing the Small Isles Community Council (the islands of Eigg, Rum, Muck and Canna) on its board. She was also elected as Chair of the European Small Islands Federation in September 2016 for which we are very happy.
You must be brave to live on such a small, remote island as Eigg, you must be brave to go all the way to Brussels with your propositions, and you need to be witty to overcome the people who disregard such propositions with the ever-prevalent buzzkill phrase, “it can’t be done.”
It can be done. We can do it. Camille and her fellow islanders proved it. On Saturday 21 January, they were marching in solidarity with the US women, the Eigg march being the second smallest in the world wide event!
The event is organized by European island authorities and actors and builds on the outcomes of the 1st Smart Islands Forum hosted by on 21-22 June in Athens, Greece. For more information on the Forum, see http://www.dafni.net.gr/en/archives/250616.htm
Key objective of the event is to present the Smart Islands Initiative, currently supported by 70 island authorities from 13 countries across Europe. Further, during the event representatives from island local and regional authorities will sign the Smart Islands Declaration.
Overall the event will engage EU policy-makers and representatives from local and regional authorities, research institutions, the private sector and civil society on a discussion about islands’ potential to drive Europe’s transition into a low-carbon, sustainable and inclusive economy.
Satellite image of Malta, Gozo and little Comino in between
ESIN has been invited to the EESC public hearing “What future for islands in the European Union?” which will take place in Valetta on February 7, http://www.eesc.europa.eu/?i=portal.en.events-and-activities-islands-in-eu-programme
We have prepared four messages to the hearing:
Heavy human pressure on small islands
There is a magnitude of challenges facing islands. Within Europe, the European Small Islands Federation (ESIN) represents 1,640 small and very small islands with a resident population of 359,357 people. These small islands have 3-4 million summer residents and ten times as many visitors, which creates a heavy human pressure on the islands’ hydrogeological system, infrastructure and nature, especially in high season.
The cost of living on a small island is generally at least 30% higher compared to the mainland. Direct overcosts are due to sea transports and affect goods and services such as construction materials and construction workers, fuel, foodstuff, craftsmen, consultants, culture, waste disposal and healthcare. Indirect overcosts come from the lack of local competence, technical service, spare parts and raw materials.
Small islands are forced to and have learnt to be smart and sustainable because of their scarcity of resources and high costs for external goods and competence. They have a lot to gain in being economically, environmentally and socially self-sufficient.
Sea transports count for 38% of a small island’s total energy use, which is not the case on the mainland and ought to be in focus for sustainable development.
The messages of the Smart Islands Declaration to be considered in order to tap the significant, yet largely unexploited potential of islands: http://www.scottish-islands-federation.co.uk/the-smart-island-initiative/
The new President is an island
We are honoured to have been invited to the public hearing about the Future of the Islands and are hoping that Malta – an island nation with both a big island and two small, inhabited ones – will use its Presidency to be the voice of all European islands, regardless of size.