An influential European committee has backed a number of proposals aimed at making EU policies better reflect the problems of islands, remote areas and local communities.
The range of proposals was tabled by Shetland Islands Council leader Gary Robinson in Brussels on Friday. Mr Robinson represents Scotland at the European Committee of the Regions.
Mr Robinson highlighted Scottish expertise in the use of local indicators that go beyond gross domestic product and are more effective than the EU statistical regions, also known as NUTS.
In most countries, including Scotland and the rest of the UK, these NUTS do not reflect local communities or even regions, not even clearly recognised areas such as Shetland Island Council’s. Instead they are designed by national and EU statisticians by grouping together council areas to meet a given population threshold. According to Mr Robinson this has implications for successful application of EU law and indeed the distribution of EU funds into the local communities that need it.
Mr Robinson said: “Often poorer, inaccessible, demographically or environmentally challenged communities are not recognised properly in EU statistics because a statistician decided to randomly add it into a larger region just to fit the demographic requirement of the current so-called, and aptly named, NUTS areas.
“This is unfair and has negative consequences over EU policymaking that goes well beyond mere funding. The bottom-line is that two communities having identical challenges anywhere in Europe should be recognised in EU statistics”.
“I believe comparable statistical data on local and sub-local areas must be developed as a matter of urgency, we need the OECD, Eurostat and the European Commission to translate the urban-rural dimension to new EuroStat areas, drawing from reliable information from the ground to ensure that EU policies make real sense for our communities”,
In that respect, said Mr Robinson, Scotland has real and tested models to target EU and national funds using new indicators .
He added: “In Scotland we already use a number of quite sophisticated territorial, indeed sub-regional, indicators for domestic and EU policy decision making; on multiple deprivation, rurality and socio economic performance against Europe 2020 targets. Surprisingly no EU official survey has even been made on these national experiences that could be used to develop EU-wide comparable local indicators. “
The vast majority of Mr Robinson’s proposals were approved by members by a large majority of the committee, that brings together 344 members from all 28 EU Member States.