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Gozo – An Active Player in the EU – Dr Chris Said

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Gozo Business Chamber ConferenceThe Parliamentary Secretary for Public Dialogue and Information, Chris Said, spoke this morning at the Gozo Business Chamber Conference entitled ‘Vision for the Development of the Island Region of Gozo’: Gozo – An Active Player in the EU.

Dr Said said that under the pre-accession Funds Programme, funds were provided for the construction of the Sewage Treatment Plant. Then, in the 2004-2006 Funding Programme, Gozo was identified as a specific priority having specific issues which mainly arise from Gozo’s double insularity. Following the Gozo Special Needs Assessment, finalised in May 2002, the problems arising from the island’s double insularity were addressed. As a result, the priority axis of the Single Programming Document outlines three main objectives relating to Gozo:

· To facilitate the integration of the Maltese territory by upgrading the transport infrastructure;

· To contribute to the upgrading of basic infrastructure in Gozo and increase the competitiveness of the tourism sub-sector by supporting niche markets and improving the marketing of the Gozo tourist product; and

· To support human resources development, particularly addressing demand and supply mismatches of the Gozitan labour market with a view to increasing the employment rate in Gozo by upgrading education and Vocational Education and Training (VET) centres in Gozo.

Gozo also stands to benefit from the various EU funding programmes and schemes. Through the Gozo Employment Aid Scheme, for example, 94 enterprises employed 264 employees, whilst benefiting from incentives that amount to more than €1,400,000. Gozitan Local Councils and non-governmental organizations have also started benefitting from EU funds. However, we can do much more than that.

For this reason, at MEUSAC we are offering a one-stop-shop for those eager to tap EU funds. It is another step in the government’s series of initiatives to help Councils and other organizations maximise the potential of EU co-financing. MEUSAC is committed to assisting Councils in the choice and planning of proposals for co-financing, in the selection of the most adequate programmes to acquire funds and in the preparation of applications. At the moment MEUSAC is assisting 11 Gozitan Local Councils in applying for funds under the Rural Development Plan, and is helping other Gozitan Local Councils applying for more funds under the Europe for Citizens Programme and the Youth in Action Programme.

There are challenges ahead for Gozo. The inherent characteristics of this island, mainly its smallness and double insularity, imply the need for specific interventions to promote its development on a level playing field with the rest of the national economy. Furthermore, Gozo possesses distinctive environmental and cultural assets whose sustainable exploitation could be productively used for the development of the national economy. The need for positive action towards the socio-economic development of Gozo is recognized in a number of recent Government proposals, including the Eco-Gozo initiative.

The biggest challenge for Gozo – five years after our accession to the European Union – is that of keeping Gozo appealing both for leisure and for WORK – the creation of more jobs and more value-added in Gozo is essential. Tourism, retail and associated services need to become ever more important drivers of economic development on our island. These activities are viewed to have potential to enhance their productivity levels as well as the magnitude of jobs they provide. Productivity levels in the sector including financial and real estate activities are already sufficiently high in Gozo. This potential needs to be better exploited through the creation of additional jobs. This could happen through synergies with the development of tourism and other service activities.

We need to work on the introduction of services business based on “new economy” concepts such as web-based provision. The provision of specialized health and education services could also offer potential in this regard. From the operational perspective, it is to be also considered that the creation of more and better jobs requires a solid basis of skills and educational attainment. Data from the 2005 Census reveals gaps in educational attainment in the Gozitan population compared to that of Malta. Whereas the proportion of the working age population with no educational attainment is under 50% in Malta, the ratio pertaining to Gozo is closer to 55%.

The challenges are big. But so is our will to turn them into opportunities. We know the climb is steep but being Gozitan we cannot but challenge ourselves to reach for something better. For when we faced down impossible odds, when we’ve been told we’re not ready or that we shouldn’t try or that we can’t, we always proved the cynics wrong. And here’s yet another occasion to do it again.

It is an exciting time for our island. Yet while we want it to prosper we cannot afford putting at risk what makes it so unique. Our vision is to turn Gozo into a sustainable island. An island that offers its people innovative jobs. An island that welcomes quality tourists all year round … that better exploits its identity, its heritage, its natural beauty.

We should aim high to reach levels of excellence, which would in turn enable us to offer our people more jobs and a better quality of life. The Governments plan is to turn Gozo into an ecological island that exploits all the potentials of renewable energy.

· An island with an efficient, clean and reliable network of public transport, with eco-hotels and green businesses offering attractive jobs and high quality services.

· An island with a rich cultural calendar, attracting quality tourism all year round.

· An island that regularly hosts international events – conferences, festivals, training camps, business meetings and research opportunities for foreign students and researchers.

· An island that offers its people all the necessary tools to excel – the best educational facilities for its students, the best equipment for its workers.

· An island with the most modern and efficient transport links and, above all,

· an island that attracts local and foreign investment, offering a most attractive package – skilled, enthusiastic and fast-learning workers, a bilingual island within the European Union, excellent quality of life, an efficient and reliable services sector and financial security.

We should help our medium-size and small businesses to prosper. We should encourage more agri-tourism and eco-tourism projects and make the best of all our assets.

Judging by the achievements and performance over the past five years, I believe we can truly look at the future with head held high, fully aware that, warts and all, EU membership has proved to be a beneficial and rewarding experience. Looking back at what we have already managed to achieve, one finds it hard to believe it has only been five years. We’ve come a long way. But the road ahead is much longer. There are more benefits to exploit. More obligations to observe, opportunities to snatch, ideas to conceive, solutions to find. More imagination to foster, innovation to seek. And more progress to create in order to make the most of our membership in the European Union. But we keep looking forward with confidence, aware of how our nation always turned obstacles into challenges – and challenges into opportunities.

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