The CPMR General Assembly, hosted this year by the Region of Sicily in Palermo (Italy) took place from 17th to 19th October 2019. The Islands Commission’s (IC) pre-assembly meeting was marked by a high-level political discussion on the place of islands in the EU political agenda for 2019-2024 between IC Member Regions and key representatives from EU institutions.
The plenary session of the Islands Commission took place on 17th October prior to the CPMR General Assembly. This session was an opportunity to follow-up the last IC General Assembly in Corfu in March 2019 and to discuss on activities and priorities for the months ahead, in a critical context of institutional and legislative renewal at European level.
Indeed, a new European Parliament has taken office in July 2019 and a new College of Commissioners should be appointed by the end of the year for the next 5 years. At the same time, key political discussions are taking place between EU co-legislators to agree on the next long-term EU budget and on new legislative proposals for EU policies and programmes for the 2021-2027 programming period.
Gilles Simeoni, President of the Islands Commission and President of the Territorial Collectivity of Corsica, reminded this decisive context in its opening speech and stated: ‘The place of EU islands is today an unfinished business. Article 174 in the EU Treaty foresees that the specific conditions of EU islands require the adoption of specific policy measures and actions, but it has remained only declarative. This insularity condition urgently needs to be properly taken into account at EU level.’ In that respect, President Simeoni outlined the IC strategy to urgently request to the European Commission a White Paper based on the specific provisions foreseen in Article 174 of the Treaty.
Gaetano Armao, Vice-President of Sicily Region, added that the concept of ‘insularity clause’ should be enshrined in all EU policies affecting island regions, such as Cohesion Policy, state aids, mitigation and adaptation to climate change or energy transition, for the next legislative term.
In addition, Croatia is about to hold for the first time the Presidency of the Council of the EU as of 1st January 2019 and is expected to put insularity issues high on the EU political agenda given its specific geographic and territorial conditions, with one of Europe’s largest archipelago along its coastline. In that respect, Ms Tajana Huzak, Assistant Minister, Ministry of EU funds and Regional Development of the Government of Croatia was invited to provide a keynote speech during which she ensured that ‘the upcoming Croatian Presidency will represent the interests of EU islands and support their initiative to other Member States during its mandate.’
Also keynote speaker during the IC plenary meeting, Younous Omarjee, MEP, Chair of the committee on Regional Development (REGI) in the European Parliament, originally from Réunion island (FR), stated that he will commit to support the proposals and interests of EU islands in the European Parliament. In particular, he considered the request of the Islands Commission for a White Paper on territorial cohesion and Article 174 of the EU Treaty. He shared the call of President Simeoni for a joint and speedy political mobilisation of island regions and insular Member States. In the next months, the REGI committee could very likely host dedicated events and develop specific initiatives focusing on insularity issues. The plenary session was also attended by François Alfonsi, Member of the European Parliament.
Throughout the CPMR General Assembly, IC Member Regions actively participated in the thematic working sessions to reiterate the key messages put forward during the plenary meeting. Gilles Simeoni contributed to the political discussions between elected representatives of CPMR Member Regions in the Future of Europe and Territories session and Justyne Caruana, Minister for Gozo, spoke in the post-2020 Cohesion Policy session to stress the need to review EU legislation, in particular state aids, to make it more flexible for all island regions. Meit Fohlin, Deputy Mayor of Gotland, participated in the climate change session to highlight the specific challenges affecting island territories in terms of climate and environmental issues and their strategy to become a sustainable and eco-friendly society.
The Islands Commission will convene again for its General Assembly in the Azores (Portugal) on 28-30 April 2020.