Islands, Fixed Links, and The European Union – Jean-Didier Hache
Yet, in the early 1990’s, on a EU15 basis (when the total EU population was 380 million), that proportion of island populations to the grand EU total was over 20%, not only because the Union was smaller, but mostly because most of Great Britain and Eastern Denmark still geographically qualified as islands. When the Channel tunnel (1994) established a fixed link between France and Britain, and when the bridges and tunnel of the Great Belt (1997), followed by the Øresund link (2000), inter-connected Jutland, Zealand and Sweden, over 60 million EU citizens ceased to be permanently isolated by the sea. As a result, the percentage of Europeans living on an island went down to less than a quarter of its original proportion. The issue of fixed links across the sea has not been an insignificant matter for the European Union.
Nor will it become so in the near future, for a few other EU islands still have the potential to be linked to the nearest land, should there be the political will and the funding to proceed. The prospects of linking the Isle of Wight with Hampshire in England, Saaremaa and Hiumaa with the mainland in Estonia, Gozo with Malta, Rødby in Denmark with Puttgarden in Germany across the Fehmarn Strait, and Sicily to the rest of Italy across the Straits of Messina, have all been contemplated. While some of these projects are mere technical possibilities, which have not gone much further than the debating stage, others are effective proposals. Such is the case of both the Fehmarn link, and of the bridge to Sicily. If the authorities keep to their plans, both infrastructures should be completed by 2015. While the Danish island is already linked to the Great Belt / Øresund network, the construction of a 3.4 km road and rail bridge across the Straits of Messina would mean that Sicily would cease to qualify as an island. This would reduce the number of EU islanders by a further 5 million people, down to only 3.5% of EU 25 population (and below 2% if one leaves out those Member States which qualify as islands).