Officials in Crete are looking at ways to optimize the potential for yacht and luxury boating in a 3-day event in Agios Nikolaos that took place last week. The event was the lead-in to the implementation of the EU-backed iBLUE project. As has been the case in other EU-Greece initiatives, the question arises as to whether or not Crete and other destinations will ever see any gains from these programs. Here is a look at what is being presented as progress, followed by a brief assessment of the project.
The event in Agios Nikolaos, which was organized by the Lasithi Chamber, with the participation of the Crete Region, was focused on examining ways to invest in sustainable blue growth and competitiveness. According to the organizers, the
“Sea tourism, and in particular, that which involves recreational craft is an area that must be developed on the island as it is aimed at higher-income visitors, has a long duration and generates increased revenue for the host communities.”
However, the ideas and strategies being brought forward by Vamiedaki and others, they are nothing news. The tourism commissioner went on to detail to describe the major stumbling block for Crete as a yachting destination, the lack of infrastructure, missing qualified personnel, and the complicated taxation framework, not to mention Greece’s difficult economic climate. Like I said, nothing new.
Reading the reports from the meetup, it’s clear that destinations like the example of Agios Nikolaos’ marina, should be a template for the western part of Crete as well. And while the at the iBlue Program mini-summit know clearly the geography of Mediterranean yachting, their narrative says nothing further after five years of the European Cooperation Program and Interreg. Put bluntly, the Interreg Med program that runs iBlue has a set of goals and targets that are, if anything, nebulous where any short to mid-term gains for the 13 listed partner states are concerned. Let me quote from their own literature here.
The iBlue Project is about “Investing in sustainable blue growth and competitiveness through 3-Pillar Business Model (3-PM). iBLUE project contributes to a systematic collection of data about yachting in the Med area and the creation of a Med yachting transnational network for sharing knowledge.
All of these initiatives hinge on something known as the EU ”Cohesion Policy 2014-2020,” which seems like yet another bureaucratic quagmire designed to create regulatory job security. The total budget for Interreg Med from 2014 thru 2020 was €275 million euro. Now, based on the EU’s documents, this means that each of the 57 original regions that were supposed to be helped by the program could have received €4,825,000 euro for whatever purposes. But instead of building a new quay or yachting support infrastructure in, let’s say Agios Nikolaos, iBlue and Interreg MED only “study” and have meetings to analyze what is already readily available in databases around Europe. I’ll prove out on this in a later report, but my point is well made here.
The documentation goes on to reflect that only 35 enterprises are to receive any kind of grant, but that some 4,000 or more will be engaged to help the “Blue” initiative forward. I’m sorry, but the whole framework resembles a gigantic hook intended to lure desperate regional players into integrating into a massive bureaucratic mess. The EU funded project is insulting for anybody who’s ever built a local strategy with only state help. It’s as if the EU thinks local decisionmakers are incapable, and that they need Brussels organizational skills. Turning to yachting and other thematic tourism, the EU funded project does not even pre-suppose to issue grants, but only helps create more study and organizational structures.
The reality of these EU programs as far as sustainable coastal and maritime tourism amounts to the following results sought from efforts 2014-2020:
- 17 instruments available to enhance the development of sustainable and responsible tourism
- 108 tourist destinations covered by a sustainable tourism evaluation tool
- 11 strategies applying sustainable tourism management criteria
- 144 regions and sub-regions engaged (through charters, protocols, MoU) in implementing sustainable tourism plans
I’ll let the reader ascertain how long Agios Nikolaos and the rest of Crete will have to wait for anything concrete to happen in harbors or offshore.
So far €176 million of the total of €275 million euros dedicated for this “counting project” has been spent. The interesting thing for me here
The whole process only seems to benefit the EU for the purpose of gauging Heraklion and other cities’ efficacy to meet the union’s standards, if you ask me. They’ve created something called IMPULSE, which stands for Integrated Management Support for Energy Efficiency in Mediterranean Public Buildings. And if you follow the links to the IMPULSE dedicated website you may get the same impression as me. The news on this “tool” takes us to places like Nice, Marseille, Cannes, Rome, and you get the picture. But jumping off into the IMPULSE project diverges from my purpose here.
If you research the current progress of iBlue via the web you’ll eventually run across this report from the October of 2017 Marseille event, which outlines “works in progress” toward goals I cannot discern have ever been achieved. I make this point because iBLue and the greater EU funded project have little or no major press coverage. Furthermore, I cannot isolate a single case where anything “physical” has been done to assist these local entities. The iBlue Facebook profile has 156 likes, and there’s not a whole lot about any of these efforts in social media. Given the huge sums being diverted, this seems strange for a data and information-centric effort. The University of Udine is in some PDFs and mentions, but the endeavor seems like a relatively closed door operation compared with other programs. Ditto for KEDGE Business School, which brings me to a final point.
Everywhere in the literature for Interreg Med, iBlue, and for IMPULSE there’s prominent mention of the “three pillars of sustainability,” but there’s sparce mention of environmental or sustainability experts in the whole process. This seems to be the case since the launch of iBlue at the University of Udine in 2017. Unless I am wrong, there’s not one representative on this list from environmental sciences.
In conclusion, these programs from the EU resemble a building a controlling and policymaking network more than creating initiatives that assist Crete and other local players directly. A good example here is the MISTRAL effort with the “ambition to develop a wider governance vision towards 2020.” Blue Growth looks more like a regulatory trap than any kind of environmental and business sustainability effort to me. Of course, this is only my impression. I hope I am wrong about these well-funded initiatives, just to be honest. The core principles in the narrative are much needed on Crete and elsewhere, I’m just not seeing that much progress after so many years.