Now that we have just closed this year’s European Week of Regions and Cities, it’s as good a time as any to look back, reflect on our achievements, and look to the future to address pending challenges.
This year, the week-long event focused on the diversity of regions which together form our European continent. Naturally, discussions also centred on the upcoming new Cohesion Policy, its new priorities, and, most importantly, the funds it intends to invest in our cities and regions.
We call it the ‘cohesion’ policy for a simple reason: its main goal is to help all regions within the EU to develop as equally as possible, despite the innate difficulties each region may face. These issues can range from a lacking availability of human resources, to the effects of economic transitions, to permanent geographic limitations, such as the ones we face as Mediterraneans.
The current policy was the EU’s response to a continent coming out of the economic crisis of 2008, and indeed, it focused on mitigating the huge impact the crisis had on struggling areas. We can safely say it has delivered: it is estimated that without it, crucial public investment in the less developed Member States would have collapsed by an additional 45% during the crisis.
Cohesion policies work because as legislators coming from different regions, we pour our experiences and the needs of our regions in it, and we push for the resources our regions sorely need. This investment seeps through every level of society, and positively impacts fields such as education, employment, energy, and the environment. Small businesses, universities, NGOs and voluntary organisations are just a few of the organisations which stand to benefit from a sound cohesion policy.
It is this work we must now embark on to create a new Cohesion Policy which takes into account a changed regional context, and successfully boosts each and every region.
As a Gozitan and as an islander, my focus naturally veers towards the needs of Mediterranean islands. Our home is beautiful, but our geographic attributes present unique challenges for us as residents, and as a nation that seeks to develop its socio-economic status.
Our insularity – and in Gozo’s case, its double insularity – is a serious handicap which the new cohesion policy should address. A well-connected state is automatically advantaged when it comes to access to services, having a dynamic labour market, and retaining a skilled population. From experience, we Maltese know that these issues have always made our progress more difficult.
As a tiny island in a vast continent, making our voice heard is sometimes tough. But the solution to this is simple, and it lies in the unity with our fellow Mediterraneans.
Just this week, I participated in a high-level conference where the political representatives of Gozo, Sardinia, Corsica, and the Balearic Islands focused on our common, specific insular dimension. Our shared challenges emerged clearly during this meeting, and it was also clear to me that the way forward in the coming negotiations for the new cohesion policy is to present a strong, united front for the Mediterranean islands.
Together, we have an infinitely better chance to put enough pressure on the newly appointed Commission to get the tailor-made attention our region needs.
The new cohesion policy, banking on the successes of its predecessor, has the unique opportunity to be innovative and resourceful in its investments. Now is the time to take the leap towards even better access to services, education, and infrastructure. Now is the time to focus on clean, renewable energy sources. Now is the time to explore the exciting field of digitalisation, which is the key to reaching our decarbonisation goals, as well as create a more efficient and equal society.
Our region is often celebrated for its unique beauty, but as Mediterranean islanders, we know that its unique challenges are often side-lined. It is high time we changed that.