Madeira: Self Governing Islands

This is the third in a series of articles about self governing Islands and what we in Orkney can learn from their governance. The Islands Bill is currently making its way through the Scottish Parliament and it will see more powers transferred to Orkney. 


Map of Madeira (Bourichon)

Madeira is an archipelago (group of islands) and an autonomous region of Portugal. It is closer to the continent of Africa (800Km) than to the capital city of Portugal, Lisbon (1,200Km).  The autonmous region includes the islands of Madeira, Porto Santo and Desertas.

It is a member of the European Union and is in a group called “Outermost Regions”. It is also part of the Schengen Area (no passport or border controls in participating countries).

“EU law and all the rights and duties associated with EU membership apply to the Outermost Regions, except for cases where there are specific measures or derogations. “ EU Regional Policy

The specific measures that a member of the Outermost Regions can adapt and change relate to “challenges…. because of their remoteness, insularity, small size, difficult topography and climate, and economic dependence on a few products.”

Madeira could change some EU laws but chooses not to. Its VAT is lower than that of mainland Portugal even though it is still inside the EU VAT area.

Working with all the EU regions within this special status Madeira has agreed an action plan till 2020 which looks at ways the region can develop stable jobs and a strong economy. The action plan identifies current constraints to economic growth being

  • the low level of qualifications of the population
  • a fragile business sector with a predominance of micro and small companies
  • poor development in the areas of research and the information society 

Madeira has a very high rate for dropping out of school, low qualifications and high unemployment. In the area of renewables where it would be expected to surge ahead it is performing extremely poorly with the region itself not investing sufficiently in research and development.

The landscape of Madeira is a huge attraction for tourists with its dramatic views and southern Mediterranean climate. With a high population density (over quarter of a million people)  and large numbers of tourists wildlife is put under pressure. Of more longer lasting concern ,however, is the threat of climate change.

“One of the greatest vulnerabilities witnessed in recent weather in Madeira is the exposure to the effects of climate change, resulting in a greater frequency of extreme weather phenomena (torrential rain, severe droughts, fires and strong winds). Since the main water courses traverse intensely urbanised areas along the southern coast of the Island of Madeira and since over the course of time human settlements have sprung up on dry river beds which now flood there is a pressing need to adopt measures to prevent the risks associated with such situations, which climate change tends to intensify.” (Madeira Action Plan)

Wild fires are on the increase. In 2016 one caused over 1000 people to be evacuated and led to the death of 3 people.

Madeira is hugely dependent on importing fossil fuels. Its location is ideal for developing renewables both land based and marine. The EU has invested large amounts of funding in Madeira including in this sector.  The impact of renewables would be significant not just in addressing the energy needs of the area but in reducing considerably its carbon footprint.  The AlgaeRef research project has identified valuable substances that can be extracted from algae and other plants.  Investment in the AlgaeRef project so far amounts to EUR 1,863,109  of which EUR 1,217,700 is from the European Regional Development Fund.

The Madeira  International Business Centre has been set up as a tax free zone offering financial advantages and tax privileges to a range of international companies including offshore financial services. This is a route which Madeira seems determined to go down.

Over three weeks The Orkney News has looked at different island groupings and how they use the degree of self governance that they have. Orkney has so many advantages with its low population density and highly qualified but ageing workforce. Our climate may not be as ‘Mediterranean’ as that of Madeira but we all share the commonality of being islanders. Next week we will again feature another self governing island.


Madeira (Bengt Nyman)

Reporter: Fiona Grahame


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