The new strategy of the Commission for the nine outermost regions mentions the so-called “accessibility gap”, the specific barrier that residents in these remote and insular territories endure when moving to the European continent, to neighboring countries in their basins, or within their own territories. It affects the quality of life of the people and reduces the options of reaching the income level of the other European regions. It is one of the definitive conditions of the outermost status. It is at the origin of the long political and cultural reflection that crystallized in Article 349 of the Treaty of Functioning, which recognizes remoteness and insularity as the basis for a specific modulation of the policies of the European Union. It appears, as a priority, in all strategy updates for these regions. It is present in all the forums where the Rup agenda is reviewed.
The next November Conference, in the Canary Islands, will not be an exception. The “accessibility gap” will be a recurrent idea in the interventions of local leaders, members of the Commission and representatives of the Governments of France, Portugal and Spain.
In October 2017, the Commission renewed its strategy for the ORs. In the chapter on transport policy, he cited the Report of the Group of Experts that has studied the specific “accessibility gap” of the outermost regions. Their findings and recommendations were known in March 2017.
The study has gone almost unnoticed in Spain, France and Portugal, and in its ORs regions. Even so, the Commission wants to build on its conclusions the strategy to boost the accessibility of residents in these regions to the European continent and to other regions and countries within their respective regions.
These are the main recommendations of the Group of Experts coordinated by Claudio Mantero, economist, manager in Funchal of the Civitas 2020 network of cities for sustainable mobility, and manager of the public transport company in the capital of Madeira:
To the European Commission and Governments
1. Improve the quality of statistical information. In some ORs regions, updated data is missing. And in general, there are no common indicators. For example, while the French statistical provider measures the number of overnight stays of tourists, Spain gives priority to the number of tourists.
2. Adopt political measures that favor an increase in competition on air routes from the European Union to the outermost regions. Experts predict that, with increased competition, ticket prices will tend to fall.
3. Where the price of tickets continues to be prohibitive -for example, for certain population groups, such as students and pensioners- apply direct subsidies to users -such as those that already exist in Spain, for residents of the Canary Islands and Baleares, and in Portugal, for certain groups of residents in Açores and Madeira.
4. National and regional ultraperipheral authorities should invest more in the infrastructure of ports and airports to increase the attractiveness of these regions as a tourist and business destination. The Group of Experts invites to take advantage of the financing channels available in the European Union, such as loans from the European Investment Bank and the Strategic Investment Program, also called the “Juncker Plan”.
5. The European Union Cohesion Policy must remain the main instrument to repair the “accessibility gap”. “Strong support must be ensured” in the future multi-annual financial framework 2021-2027 – the Expert Group points out.
6. The Commission should include projects that improve the mobility conditions of Rup residents in the priorities of the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) program.
To ORs with double insularity
7. Increasing competition in the inter-island transport market would help reduce the pressure on public subsidies to these routes. The Group of Experts proposes specific fiscal aids for the start of activity of the operators, such as the exemption of port and airport taxes during a period of three years.
8. In addition to fiscal aid, it is necessary to attract new operators of the inter-island routes with investments in the modernization of ports and airports. The Rup regions should go more frequently to the calls for European guarantee loans of the European Investment Bank.
9. The Commission should press for the exploitation of growth opportunities in regional transport services in each of the regions of the different outermost regions. It is not only a matter of developing internal transport in these regions, but also the services between these regions and their entire region.
To share good practices
10. The outermost regions can create a forum on transport policy, accompanied by a website that allows the local authorities of a region to enter into a dialogue on accessibility with those of the other regions.
11. Promote your achievements in terms of sustainable mobility. Learn from the achievements of others and integrate them into the region itself.
12. The Rup are well placed to offer their areas as sustainable mobility laboratories.
To train professionals in the transports industry
13. The Rup must invest in vocational training in the transport sector. The initiative must correspond to the local authorities and universities. The Group of Experts encourages universities to cooperate with the European Network of Transport Institutes and with continental universities that have specialized centers in this field of knowledge.
14. The training of new professionals should focus on the development of three dimensions: design, operations and management in the different modes of transport.
15. Subsidies for young people to travel to European centers specializing in the transport profession “will be essential, and the Commission should promote these instruments” -the authors of the report say.