Archive for Politics
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.
The European Commission wants to boost the transition to clean energy. To this end, it is revising how it uses the financial tools of the Structural and Investment Funds.
As was indicated by DG Energy’s Marie Donnelly during the FOP22 meeting in Marrakech, 14th of November, islands are in the package.
In the Work programme Annex dated 30.11.2016, the Commission urges the Parliament, the Economic and Social Committee, the Committee of the Regions and the European Investment Bank to consider that “islands and island regions provide platforms for pilot initiatives on clean energy transition and can serve as showcases at international level.” … “The Commission would like to help accelerate the development and adoption of best available technologies on islands and island regions, including exchange of best practice in financing and legal and regulatory regimes, and in energy for transport. The first step is to bring the islands themselves together, regardless of their size, geography or their location.” …
“In the first half of 2017, the Commission will hold a high level meeting in Valletta on the clean energy opportunities and challenges for islands. This will launch a process to support islands in their clean energy transition.” (see page 14 in the Annex attached).
Estonia has an administrative reform in progress, where local municipalities with populations under 5,000 must merge. If they do it voluntary they get financial compensation, if not, government can inforce compulsory mergers. There are some exceptions, though: small pelagian islands with local authority (Ruhnu, Kihnu, Vormsi) can stay self-governing in spite of that their population is less than 5,000, if they wish and submit reasonable arguments for this to the government by the beginning of the next year. It seems they will.
– “Independence is a sweet word, but the questions is if these small municipalities have enough administrative capability,” says Elle Puurman from Wormsi, active member of the ESIN board.
The Ministry of Finance’s map of possible future mergers of local governments across the country paints a motley picture of a country full of parishes too small to remain independent under the stipulations of the new administrative reform. Those who go willingly in merging with neighbouring parishes will be rewarded handsomely for their cooperation; those who don’t will be forced to merge anyway come the new year.
According to the latest round of administrative reforms, the new government-mandated minimum population required for an independent administrative unit is 5,000, although the suggested minimum population is actually 11,000 residents per local government. Extra effort made in meeting the latter number will be rewarded as well — in addition to the 100€ per resident already to be paid out to merging parishes, any local governments formed by merger to newly surpass the 11,000-resident mark will be awarded an additional 500,000€ merger grant as well.
The grant, however, is only available until January 1, 2017, after which any remaining parishes not meeting minimum size requirements will be forced into merging regardless.
In certain situations, such as with parishes with much smaller neighbours, the new stipulation all but requires that the small parishes all merge with one another and possibly with their larger neighbour as well, as that is the only way to guarantee that all of the parishes involved would meet the 5,000-minimum requirement.
This is the case in Hiiumaa, for example, where the island’s largest parish, Hiiu parish, would only need the addition of one of its neighbouring parishes to surpass the 5,000 mark, but no two remaining parishes combined would be able to meet the requirement as well.
The parishes of Saaremaa are similarly planning to merge into one big parish, with the exception of the neighbouring island of Muhu, which, like Vormsi, can take advantage of an exception that will be made for small maritime islands that do not wish to merge local governments with any island or mainland neighbours.
Pictures: Kihnu lighthouse
Greek journalist Kostas Argyros, seconded by Eleni Korovila and a film team, has been island-hopping around Europe, covering some of its small islands. On Sunday evening, the Greek television program “28europe” showed his 45 minute long report https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8AVzC1LvOCw
Such great contributions from islanders Bengt, Lefteris, Tarja, Camille, Christian, Denis, Laurids and Maria. Such beautiful portraits of Skaftö (though Bengt seems a bit mislocated), Prangli in Estonia, Eigg in Scotland, the Åland Islands, Houat and Ouessant in France, Sejerø in Denmark and Tilos in Greece. But not just beauty – Kostas catches some of the important issues regarding life on small islands.
I especially like the interviews with Tarja from Prangli and Maria from Tilos.
All in all: a fantastic portrait of ESIN (the only thing missing is English subtitles).
Our stats show that the news of our sustainable islands conference in Brussels have now passed 1,000 views on our blog and even more on our FaceBook site (which mirrors what is published on the blog).
We have typically 1,000 visitors a month to our site and have already passed that for October. Most frequent visitors are from UK, Greece, Belgium (=Bussels), Ireland, Denmark, Sweden and France.
Islands as beacons of low carbon and sustainable living
“The Small Islands of Europe are extremely precious as potential beacons of sustainability and low carbon living” was the message delivered at the conference organised at the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) in Brussels as part of the 16th AGM of the European Small Islands Federation (ESIN), the organisation that federates 11 small islands federations throughout Europe.
“The ESIN conference and AGM in Brussels on Tuesday 27th and Wednesday 28th September were a resounding success” said Máirtin Ó’ Méallóid from Cape Clear island, vice-chairman of Cómdhail Óileán na hÉireann, the Irish Islands Federation, “we are delighted that the European Small Islands were welcomed so warmly at the heart of Europe.”
The valuable work done by ESIN, notably regarding renewable energy issues, and promoting the use of sustainability indicators to describe the small island situation was noted by the European Commission. It also garnered the strong support of Mr George Dassis, President of the EESC, who sponsored the conference, and Pierre-Jean Coulon, President of the EESC’s TEN section who championed the EESC Smart Islands study.
Smart strategies to counter-act brutal love
It is in the islands’ nature to be smart as they have to constantly re-invent new solutions for their issues, notably those resulting from their popularity as tourist destinations. The home of 359,000 all-year islanders, the European Small Islands also have 3 million summer residents and 30 million yearly visitors: they are the objects of a somewhat brutal love which may bring them money but also uses vast amounts of energy and water and leaves huge amount of waste to be dealt with, not to mention the marine waste which ends up on their shores.
Initiatives at opposite ends of Europe such as storage of energy from wind and sun in the small Dodecanese island of Tilos (800 inhabitants), which already boasts unique protection for wild birds (it has 10% of the world population of Eleanora falcons), the well-established Green Grid on the isle of Eigg, an island in the Scottish Inner Hebrides (100 inhabitants) and the brand new tidal turbine providing electricity to the 3 unconnected islands of Ouessant, Sein and Molene in Brittany’s Iles du Ponant, (900, 170 and 216 inhabitants respectively), show what can be done through European programmes such as Horizon 2020 and the European Structural Fund as well as with collaboration with a forward thinking electricity company.
United Small islands of Europe
The total number of inhabited islands in Europe, big or small, bridged or un-bridged, in seas, rivers and lakes, which are states, regions, municipalities or local communities is 2,418 with a resident population of almost 14 million people.
Among these, 1,640 are small islands in the 11 nations that are members of ESIN: the Aland Islands, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Sweden. Founded 16 years ago, the aim of ESIN is to present issues of common interest for its members to the European institutions, and to exchange knowledge and experiences between its members.
“Islands are ‘buttons of the European Coat’ and as such, they are one of the EU’s great assets. It is important that their reality is adequately captured, because it is not the case at present” said Christian Pleijel from Kökar island, Åland, who has presented his pioneering work on the concept of ‘Atlas of the Small Islands of Europe’ at the conference. Mr Pleijel is ESIN’s newly appointed general secretary, working closely with the ESIN board to implement a library of island good practices, zero waste strategies and island product labelling among other projects as part of the federation’s smart objectives. He is also the editor of ESIN’s website.
New Chair from the Scottish Islands
French born Scottish resident of 35 years on the isle of Eigg, historian and social entrepreneur Camille Dressler is new chair of ESIN. Being also the chair of the Scottish Islands Federation, she says: “The Scottish Islands Federation has been involved with ESIN from its very beginning and took an active part in the very valuable 3 years exchange of experiences financed by the INTERREG 3 C programme. Along with all the ESIN members, we are extremely encouraged by the support we have now received from European institutions such as the EESC and the interest shown by the European Commission. It sends a very strong signal to everyone that that the EU has a strong interest in supporting grass-root organisations and help European citizens exchange examples of best practice. I am delighted that the work which the Scottish Islands Federation has put into ESIN has been recognised by my appointment and I will ensure that the Scottish Islands can continue to share their valuable experiences with our friends and colleagues throughout Europe. ESIN will also work closely with the CPMR’s Island Commission to help tackle the effect of climate change on our islands and we are also very excited by some of the ideas mooted at the conference such as a possible Erasmus plus for our small islands’ youth and the setting up of a ZeroWaste Island strand within ZeroWaste Europe.”
Mrs Dressler takes over from Bengt Almqvist, resident of the small island of Sankt Anna in Sweden, founder of ESIN, who has been championing ESIN issues from its inception in 2001. The board as a whole and its national members all expressed their gratitude to Mr Almkvist for his devoted contributions to the small islands of Europe
Making the most of our opportunities in the EU
As to Scotland’s position in the EU, Mr Gary Robinson, member of the EU Committee of the Regions and political leader of the Shetland Islands Council, who also attended the conference as panel member on the discussion about the need for new island indicators, was unequivocal: “Scotland is in Europe until such time as someone tells us we areu8788 not. For that reason, we’ve got to make the most of our opportunities.”
Just such an opportunity for close collaboration between all ESIN members is the ESIN INTERREG Europe proposal – Developing Island Entrepreneurship – which one of the two ESIN vice-chairs, Eleftherios Kechagioglou from Hydra in Greece, will be taking forward with the Hellenic Small islands Federation (HSIN) as lead partner. “We want to help those who want to help themselves,” said Mr Kechagioglou, “and especially our young islanders. We need to help them find ways to stay on the islands and contribute meaningfully to island life. All our islands in Europe have a huge natural, cultural and renewable energy potential that we must learn to utilize to the best advantage in the digital age.”
Here is this pressrelease as a Word document in English, Estonian, Greek and Italian (the latter ones are google-translated, please excuse our bad language):