Imagining the Small Islands

Compiled and written by:

Lise Thillemann Sørensen, Head of Secretariat, Association of Small Danish Islands / Sammenslutningen af Danske Småøer

Virtual workshop for the small European Islands January 19, 2021

Imagining the small islands – 2040

How will the islands look in twenty years’ time?

What will life on the islands be like? What do we aspire to? What is needed to achieve the vision?

This was the topic for the 21 islanders taking part in the vision workshop. The following is a summary of the discussions. In short, the vision for the future looks like:


The small islands of Europe have strong, resilient, well connected communities, who are meeting their challenges in a smart way through action on housing, broadband and good local governance to achieve their green recovery goals.

What is important?

Bearing in mind that the situation differs widely for the different countries and islands, there was a wide consent that the most important themes are the threat of population decrease that is directly linked to housing shortage and poor quality broadband: these are the two main challenges that the small islands of Europe have in common and all face.

Within different categories the participants pointed out the following themes  as being particularly important for the islands:

ThemesChallenges and potentials (in 2040)
  There is a shortage of housing on the islands! Whilst tourism is an important source of income on many islands, when many houses become holiday homes local people and newcomers, some with essential skills like health professionals or teachers, are no longer able to access the housing needed to keep the community viable. Policies that deal with island housing are lacking. Financing is also an issue (difficult to get loans for island properties). > < if the housing issue is solved, it will facilitate population increase – which will have a positive effect on ALL other issues.
Ferry service is essential:  it is expensive for passengers as well as goods therefore acts as an extra tax on island living. Level of service has significantly improved – will be good in 2040, though there are still gaps.  Service will depend on the population size. ‘Green’ ferry service is also an issue.
Health service will improve with better broadband, e.g. virtual consultations. The current presence of doctors, nursers etc. must be secured. Mental health will be an attractive theme for newcomers.
Education. Children in the later classes are forced to live on the mainland. Virtual possibilities will be depending on the population sizes, the smallest islands are threatened on the education issue.
Energy solutions
  Broadband. Good broadband is now equivalent to electricity in importance for the future development of the islands: It has the potential for the islands to sustain themselves as the nature of available work changes with remote working. It also underpins provision of health and social care (e-health) and also increases possibilities for education. Good broadband is a main issue for people looking to settle on the islands. Broadband affects education, health services, gives opportunities for remote work, enables modern farming and other enterprises to operate from the islands.
Green energy. Technology will make Island living better and more sustainable through solutions on green energy projects. Every Island needs to have fibre broadband to take advantage of such technological solutions.
SOCIAL INCLUSION/VITALITY: Community building  Local democracy is important for the island community. The tradition of democracy on the small islands is attractive and is connected to the traditions of the area. Controlled by islanders themselves, and also dependent on younger people taking part in the functions on the islands. It is an active decision to move to an island – people look for the possibility to engage in the local community. There is a necessity for policies to support the local democracy.
Traditional jobs    
Remote working    
Local food production     Tourism
  Traditional jobs like fishing and farming will adapt and deliver new food products. Aquaculture will do the same and be a resource for new jobs on Islands.
Covid has inspired remote working: People will prefer to work from home and go to the office once a week: this will suit island living. A fast ferry link to the mainland can support this way of living.
Food produced on the islands. EU food regulations need to be adapted for Islands. We need to look at how our ancestors farmed on the Islands in the past to learn their ways of food production.
Tourism, sustainable and of good quality will provide jobs for islanders.
CLIMATE CHANGE:  Extreme weather will affect the islands with an increased frequency of storms, floods in some islands and drought and shortage of water in others. Rising sea levels will be affecting all our islands. Climate change may result in a loss of biodiversity.

Keeping the status quo of the island populations or even increasing it is the predominant issue for all the islands, with housing and broadband issues being the most urgent challenges.

A discussion on what is needed to solve these challenges pointed at both islanders themselves and at regional, national and EU governance:

What is needed?

  • Housing is a critical issue. Solving this challenge will allow for the increase of all year population on the islands. Better island planning is needed, and the input from the islands in these plans is vital.
  • Good Broadband will keep the population on the islands by enabling remote working. Better broadband will make the islands more attractive generally and add value to the housing stock.
  • Community building is very important! A strong community is the driver for all sorts of development. Island representation in decision making bodies is needed on a larger scale. Specific criteria for islands are needed in policy making. There is a need for an Island plan for each and every island.
  • Policies at local, national and EU level need to take the islands’ situation into account:

          Recognition by EU that islands have (very) specific needs and situations, challenges and opportunities, which differ from island to island.

          There is a need to acknowledge the extra cost for islands in all aspects of their development: job creation, establishing broadband, housing, representation etc. Therefore support is needed. There must be a specific response to the island needs.

          EU should implement the Smart Islands Initiative covering all aspects of the islands’ sustainable and climate resilient development and not only on the Clean Energy front.

          There is a need to resource a facilitating network like ESIN, which links islands internationally to ensure sharing and replication of good practice. There is a great potential for ESIN to help with island sustainable development, habitability plans, circular economy action plans, transition agendas etc. But as a pan-European NGO, ESIN struggles to identify a funding mechanism in the current EU funding packages including INTERREG. This limits the scope of our work, which is entirely dependent on voluntary effort.

From the workshop brainstorm on what makes Islanders proud of the Small Islands

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