Islands and insularity

Malta and Crete*, are in part characterised by their insular nature. Insularity in the context of islands can be defined as disconnection from the mainland. it can also be defined through the common characteristic of all islands, namely small size (relative to the mainland), remoteness and isolation, special experiential identity and particular, rich and vulnerable natural and cultural environment. Insularity has an impact on the development of eco-clusters, as it poses a number of challenges to the regions:

  • Challenges in transport and trade logistics: Islands are more dependent on well-functioning, reliable, sustainable and resilient transportation systems, in particular maritime and air transport. The disconnection from transport and energy networks could result in the reliance of islands to fossil fuels and energy imports.
  • Market accessibility & Economies of Scale: Most islands are only accessible for relatively smaller vessels and thus smaller cargo volumes. This may limit their ability to benefit from economies of scale or attract shipping services and investors.
  • Geographic remoteness & Economic Dependencies: Geographic remoteness is an important factor contributing to higher transport costs and higher degree of economic dependency on imports/exports.
  • Vulnerability to external shocks: Islands are in general more vulnerable to trends such as globalization, environmental degradation and climate change.
  • Access to funds: Islands are often highly indebted and have limited access to financial sources.
  • Access to technology and know-how: Technology and know-how needed to advance in the territorial development of islands is not always present.

The level of exposure to these challenges is dependent on context-specific factors, such as the size, population, location, urban endowment and institutional status of the island.

Insularity also affects local governance. In insular areas, social ties and community involvement are often strong, which can allow for quick and effective decision making and for engaging people in both policy formulation and implementation. However, the close proximity between elected representatives, senior officials and stakeholders may also lead to a degree of clientelism and conflict of interest. There may also be over-reliance on central government, or a lack of communication between national and regional authorities, leading to barriers to innovation and untapped opportunities.

Malta, for example, as an island state, benefits from a high degree of autonomy in policy formulation and implementation, allowing to consider and mitigate the challenges, as well as to make use of specific governance opportunities and challenges linked to close ties between a limited number of stakeholders.

Crete, meanwhile, is more dependent on the capacity of the national authority on the mainland to take account of its needs and integrate it into the national networks of exchange, energy and communication.

The insular nature of islands also provides them with natural and cultural assets that can bring development opportunities and even competitive advantages. Tourism is a common competitive advantage for the islands in the Mediterranean, and for example, in Greece, the sector largely depends on the insular regions. The development of sustainable tourism, taking into account both the ecological carrying capacity and the needs of the local community, is an opportunity and a necessity.

There is a potential for cooperation between islands across the EU and globally, for example for the purpose of sharing knowledge and best practices. Malta and Greece both participate in the Observatory on Tourism for Islands Economy, which collects data and publishes research on island tourism.

More information

*Two of the four stakeholder regions studied in the ERMES project

Author: Thijs Fikken, Ecorys

Edited: Nikos Lampropoulos, ESPON EGTC

ESPON Targeted Analysis ERMES

Sandra Di Biaggio, ESPON EGTC