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Highlands & Islands Lead Way In Pressing Case For European Diversity

16th October 2001

The issues and problems facing Europe's island, mountain and sparsely populated regions are being highlighted in Brussels today in a bid to make sure that future EC policies reflect their special circumstances. (Wednesday 17th October)

The case is being put during Highlands and Islands day - part of Scotland Week - held at Scotland House in Brussels. The event is being organised by the Highlands and Islands European Partnership - a consortium involving Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) and the seven local authorities in the HIE area: The Highland Council; Moray Council; Shetland Islands Council; Orkney Islands Council; Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles); Argyll and Bute Council; and North Ayrshire Council.

According to Frank Gaskell, HIE's head of European affairs, island, mountain and sparsely-populated areas across Europe face many of the same challenges and it is important that these are fully understood by EC policy-makers. It is also important that Europe realises the value of the contribution these areas make to the whole regional identity.

He said: "Much of what makes Europe distinctive is its wide mix of cultures, skills, heritage and so on, and much of this is inextricably linked to areas falling within these three categories. It is also important to realise that, at a time when globalisation is bringing people and cultures together and making them more homogenous, there is a growing interest and demand in the diversity which is displayed here. However this is not simply an argument about recognising and preserving different cultures, there is a real driver for growth here - Europe's diversity underpins much of what makes its economy successful."

To underline the arguments being made, Highlands and Islands day will also provide a platform for other similar European areas. Speakers will represent the Piedmonte, a mountainous area in the Turin province of northern Italy, Lapland in Northern Finland - a sparsely-populated area, the mountain areas of the Czech republic and also the island of Corsica.

HIE chief executive Sandy Cumming said: "An event like this is a valuable platform for informing and influencing the Commission's regional policy, especially as it's being organised and run with participation from EC officials. Our acknowledged track record of spending EU funds wisely means that we have laid a strong and favourable foundation to build upon - and I am confident that the EC will give our arguments, and that of our European partners, full consideration."

Highland Council convener David Green said: "If the Commission wishes to understand the impacts of being mountainous, sparsely populated and peripheral it need look no further than the Highlands and Islands of Scotland.

"Our day has been structured to both highlight the difficulties such a region faces and to showcase what can and has been done to overcome such barriers. The Commission should come away from the day with a better appreciation of what makes the Highlands and Islands different and that this difference is something that should be nurtured for the benefit of the whole European Union."