12 Feb. 2022 - FM Kasoulides addresses event on insularity as a priority for future of EU

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Speech by the Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr. Ioannis Kasoulides at the event “Insularity as a priority for the future of the European Union” organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Hellenic Republic and the South Aegean Administrative Region

Kastellorizo, 12 February 2022 [speech delivered via VTC]


Distinguished guests,

Dear friends,

It is a great pleasure for me to participate in this event and I would like to thank the Alternate Minister of Foreign Affairs, my good friend Miltiadis Varvitsiotis for this initiative that will allow us to touch upon this very important issue.

Allow me to start by quoting John Donne one of England’s greatest poets in the 17th century. “No man is an island”. John Donne used his famous phrase to express the idea that the fates of human beings are inextricably intertwined. Our lives are connected and that connection is of paramount importance for our well-being and prosperity. In the globalised, interdependent world we live in one could say that island communities, just like humans need to be able to connect with others in order to survive and prosper. Undoubtedly, connectivity is indeed one of the major challenges faced by insular territories along with economic, social and green challenges inter alia. Although every island is different in many respects such as size, population and economic activity, island regions as a whole have to overcome a number of common obstacles:

  • First of all, insularity translates into higher transportation costs, higher consumer prices and hence a higher cost of living compared to continental regions.
  • Islands are dependent on imports to provide for basic needs such as fuel, energy, food and healthcare.
  • Moreover, low frequency of flights has a negative impact on economic activity
  • Limited access to markets leads to decreased competitiveness.
  • Infrastructure is more costly to provide on islands and can be more vulnerable to weather conditions.
  • Meanwhile, the non-diversification of economic activity which is usually limited to one sector, such as tourism or fishing, entails more risks for island economies.
  • Furthermore, islands are the first to experience the devastating effects of climate change and extreme weather conditions.
  • Limited waste management capacity is another challenge, in particular during high tourist season when waste production rises.

As a result of all of the above, the inhabitants of islands migrate in search for more employment opportunities, access to better education and healthcare services which causes a brain drain phenomenon and a lack of human resources that poses new barriers to growth.

Large disparities in the European Union have always been potential obstacles to integration and growth. Recognizing the significance of economic and social cohesion for achieving stability and prosperity among its member states, the EU dedicates a great proportion of its budget to reducing these disparities.

A number of solidarity mechanisms have thus been established to date. Article 174 of the of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union recognizes that island regions as one of those regions deserving of particular attention. Islands belong to 13 Member States including Greece. Ireland, Malta and Cyprus are insular Member States.

Certainly, regions which are lagging behind owing to geographic impediments, such as islands and cross-border or mountain regions need further support. We recognize the need for an appropriate strategy for addressing the specific needs of island regions. Accessibility to islands and the connections between them must be improved. Since accessibility is a vital element in enhancing the attractiveness of island regions, goods and passenger transport costs should be reduced by applying the principle of territorial continuity.

The European Commission considers Cyprus and Malta to be the two most vulnerable Member States as a result of insularity and energy isolation. Cyprus, Malta, Corsica or Crete as well as almost all of the Greek islands cannot be connected to the backbone of the EU, due to distance.

Isolated energy networks with a low possibility of interconnection, forces us to depend on the use of fossil fuels and energy imports. At the same time, renewable energy sources are not fully exploited due to technical or economic barriers.

In addition, Cyprus economy, similarly to that of other island economies has become too dependent on tourism. The Covid-19 pandemic crisis has had a powerful impact on tourism industry worldwide; however, in the case of Cyprus, tourism dependence has exacerbated the negative effects.

Water stress is another problem faced by our country. While desalination is an option for many insular territories it is often costly and insufficient.

Cyprus is struggling with rising numbers of asylum seekers. On account of their geographical location islands are faced with a growing irregular migration and often receive immigrants in excess of their reception capacity. On top of that, due to the continuing illegal Turkish occupation the government cannot exercise any control in the northern part of the island, Turkey takes advantage of the situation to push immigrants to the Republic through the UN buffer zone. Consequently, the effects of the migration crisis are still strongly felt in Cyprus. The number of asylum seekers in Cyprus was five times higher in 2019 than it was in 2015, and data released by the EU demonstrate that Cyprus is the top receiving country of refugees in the EU by share of the country’s population. More than 85% came from Turkey through the occupied territories.

How can we address all of these challenges facing insular territories in the EU?

With the use of cutting-edge technologies complemented by an enabling regulatory and financial framework, islands can address the challenges they are facing and tap their largely unexploited sustainable development potential.

To this end, a bottom-up effort of European island authorities and communities, the “Smart Islands Initiative”, seeks to convey the significant potential of islands to function as laboratories for technological, social, environmental, economic and political innovation.

The Smart Islands Initiative portrays islands as ideal test-beds that can host pilot projects and produce knowledge on smart and efficient resource and infrastructure management.

Furthermore, a number of measures and actions are essential. To name a few:

  • Priority support of projects of common European interest (PCIs) that are mainly related to Cyprus and Crete, as well as others that may in the future cover the other Greek islands.
  • Diversification towards non-tourism activities by exploiting our intrinsic characteristics,
  • Reduce water scarcity by applying non-conventional and smart water resources management
  • Fully take advantage of our significant energy efficiency potential
  • Special tax regime and reduced VAT rates
  • Indicators other than GDP, such as the regional competitiveness index, should be taken into account in order to determine more accurately the economic and social situation of insular territories due to permanent natural impediments and their funding needs.

To conclude, allow me to note a recent important initiative by Cyprus Government and more specifically the Ministry of Transport, Communications and Works, that led to the Declaration on Air Connectivity. The initiative, which was first presented to the Transport Council in June, is supported today, by a number of Member States including Greece and Malta. The Declaration stresses the urgent need to develop a comprehensive plan that benefits the Single Market and the Union's economy in general, but also ensures the environmental sustainability and competitiveness of aviation for the benefit of EU citizens. The coronavirus pandemic and the challenges posed by the green transition have made this need even more urgent.

As a matter of fact, the effort to reduce carbon emissions is expected to increase the cost base for air transport within the EU, which is expected to affect the competitiveness of the European tourism industry, especially in relation to third countries. With rising fuel prices, air connectivity, which is already limited, will adversely affect the economies of island states.

More targeted initiatives are needed at European level to overcome the problems facing island regions. There’s much that needs to be done, nevertheless we have come a long way and today’s event is tangible evidence of the progress achieved as regards the coordinated effort to point out the importance of responding to islands’ challenges effectively for the future of the European Union.