Smart Islands project

The Smart Islands project is based on the EESC TEN section's own-initiative opinion TEN/558 on Smart Islands, which was adopted on 19 March 2015. The project aims to gather feedback from island communities and to identify best practices introduced on some of the islands, which could suggest similar or adapted solutions for other island communities in the EU. In practical terms, the EESC is identifying remarkable infrastructures and network initiatives developed and often implemented in an interactive way.

Project members:

Stéphane Buffetaut, member

Pierre Jean Coulon, TEN Section president

Meelis Joost, member and project leader

Charles Vella, member

Rapporteur: Meelis Joost

The methodology is based on:

  • the identification of islands, based on the current definition: territories with a minimum of 1km2, a minimum distance between the island and the mainland of 1km, a resident population of more than 50 inhabitants, and no fixed link (such as a bridge, tunnel or dyke) between the island and the mainland;
  • the location in Europe's oceans and seas: Aegean Sea, Atlantic Ocean, Baltic Sea, Mediterranean Sea, North Sea;
  • six fact-finding missions;
  • a questionnaire (set out in the Annex) sent to local players.

Geographical information on the islands

The project focused on Île d'Yeu in France, Mallorca in Spain, Favignana in Italy, Samsø in Denmark, Kythnos in Greece and Saaremaa in Estonia.

These islands represent a sample of islands in the EU. They range in surface area between 23.32km2 for Île d'Yeu and 2 714km2 for Saaremaa, 38.32km2 for Favignana, 99km2 for Kythnos, 114.26km2 for Samsø, and 208km2 for Mallorca. Geographically, the islands are spread across the Aegean, Mediterranean, North and Baltic Seas and the Atlantic Ocean.


Despite their differences, all these islands face the same challenges: overcoming the difficulties associated with geographical separation and distance from the mainland; solving the conundrum of public facilities that need to be able to meet peak demand during the tourist season but may be excessive for most of the year (information and communication technologies, energy, transport, waste collection and processing, sewage treatment, etc.); maintaining the demography; organising the necessary educational structures and providing vocational training and jobs for local people;

guaranteeing the livelihoods of people working in the tourist industry, who have short seasons and often perform several different jobs; protecting the natural coastal and marine environment that is put under significant pressure at certain times of year; finding the necessary funding to provide public services when the year-round population is often small and ageing; and providing affordable housing for young people when holiday homes, the protection of natural areas and limitations on areas approved for building development all lead to high housing costs.

The size and population of Mallorca mean that it is very different from the other islands visited, with their small size and low population. In general, islands constitute a concentrated version of the economic, social and environmental difficulties encountered on the mainland, albeit exacerbated by their limited size.

The solutions proposed vary, but they all satisfy the desire to make the most of technological and environmental limitations, and they all require flexibility, adaptation, inventiveness and hard work.


Identical challenges but varied responses, due to opportunities, history and geographical situation.

Some islands have very similar circumstances, such as Favignana and Île d'Yeu, which used to be major centres for tuna fishing which has virtually disappeared due to European regulations. Mallorca and Saaremaa are industrial. Samsø and Kythnos are betting on energy self-sufficiency.

Development via tourism is a reality, but has to deal with the high degree of seasonality which is emphasised on islands.

The lack of jobs and the need to go to the mainland for secondary and higher education leads to a brain drain of young people and an ageing population, which has implications for all sectors but especially for healthcare demand.

Communication and promotion of islands and their unique aspects are an important factor for development, but circumstances vary widely in this respect, as illustrated by Kythnos, a wind power producing island that is far less well known than other Aegean islands.

The fact remains that attracting tourists, preserving an often exceptional environment, making greater use of ICT and sources of renewable energy, and communicating on the strengths of islands, are the pillars of economic and social development on islands.

The EESC will continue to support islands, in its role as bridge between civil society and the EU.

European Economic and Social Comitee TEN

Saaremaa Development Center

Saaremaa Development Center belongs to the network of county development centers. We provide free of charge consultations for potential, start-up and operating companies, non-governmental organisations and local authorities.

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