August 26, 2017 Interviews

Interviews: Our Islands are full of potential

MEP Tonino Picula initiated forming of the EP Intergroup for Seas, Rivers, Islands and Coastal Areas, and he is in charge of islands. His recent meeting with Minister of Regional Development and EU Funds Gabrijela Žalac, who announced new law on islands, shows that he took his job very serious...

Government announces new Law on islands? What was wrong with current ones, in your opinion?

Analysis of the existing situation on the islands clearly reveals many deficiencies in the existing law on Islands therefore it is entirely justified to rethink some new solutions. The valid law did not give expected results because, with the exception of exceptions, we are witnessing economic, demographic and social weakening of islands and island communities. There has never been a clear vision of the goal and purpose of the law or policy that we would call "island policy" and this is a fundamental mistake that should be corrected with the new Law. There are also problems with inadequate sorting of islands, insufficient coordination role of the Ministry, local and regional bodies who have no necessary competencies, etc. The main consequence is that today, as well as ten years ago, we are aware of the potential our islands have but we mostly only talk about it.

Croatia praises with its numerous islands, but rough reality shows that barely fifty of them are inhabited, that the interrelationship is still relatively weak and in few days, when the new school year starts, we will again be suprised how  entire classes are disappearin and with the depopulation trend. Will that ever change?

Trends are bad, but that does not mean that we have to give up. Quite the opposite, islands and islanders are more and more often in the focus of discussions of various European institutions. I am proud that we have launched several projects and we have been working within the European Parliament on addressing their problems. The turning event was establishment of the Intergroup for the Seas, Rivers, Islands and Coastal Area in which I am in charge of the European Islands. When I realized that there are different working bodies in the European Parliament and that there has never been any body that deals with islands, I have come up with the idea of ??establishing an Intergroup that will bring together MEPs from different countries in order to have as much influence on European institutions as possible to propose concrete solutions. One of the biggest problems that island communities are faced with, is closing of schools. When a school disappear on an island, people disappear also. Greece, for example, has a secondary school on almost every inhabited island. That is why my first action when I became a MEP, was to call kids from small islands Prvić, Iž and Silba to the European Parliament. I wanted to draw the attention of Croatian and European institutions on the danger of closing regional schools on the islands because that kills the perspective of islands.

The islands are obviously coming in the focus of the European Parliament more and more, especially since the founding of the Intergroup for Seas, Rivers, Islands and Coastal Area. Such a body has not existed so far, and you are the initiator.  What will the Intergroup do, and what are its, so to speak, tangible possibilities of influence?

The Intergroup aims to point to focal points and provide suggestions or solutions that apply to the islands and coastal communities. It shows going through European institutions, but also through public events, conferences- in two years we organized them 20 and gathered and connected almost two thousand participants. Intergroup gathers 90 MEPs from 21 countries of the European Union with a common goal - moving things forward and "pushing" different initiatives on the islands. And we have already achieved that the European Commission stars treating islands differently, and financially. I will remind you, that me and two other colleagues, received two million euros from this year's budged for priority energy and drinking water. Generally speaking, with new politics, we want to transform islands to becoming a permanent and high-quality space to live and not just a pleasant seasonal stay.

Read the whole interview on the link.

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