Between 2000 and 2008, Gozo’s GDP per capita in purchasing power parity terms fell from 59% of the EU average to 48%. By 2012, it had gone up to just 50% and it took until 2017 for Gozo’s prosperity in relation to the EU average to return to what it had been in 2000. By 2021, Gozo’s GDP per capita was up to 65% the EU average.
The economic harm that had been wrecked on Gozo through the pre-2013 administration’s policies were made up for following change in government 11 years ago. Today, the number of Gozitans registering for work are one thirteenth of what they were in 2013 and employment in the private sector has nearly doubled. Yet, the island remains much less prosperous than Malta. Malta’s GDP per capita has exceeded the EU average, while Gozo’s remains a third less.
The current administration understands full well that Gozo’s economic development strategy needs to differ from that adopted in Malta. Gozo has its own characteristics, strengths, and opportunities that need to be valorised. Moreover, Gozo’s catch-up with the EU average prosperity will occur in a very different environment than Malta’s. It will have to be done during years where the focus will be on achieving climate neutrality and digitalisation.
In this light, the launch of Gozo’s first regional strategy, ‘Gozo: an island of villages’, is very welcome. This comprehensive exercise spearheaded by the Gozo Regional Development Agency confirms the importance of the setting up of this entity by the Labour administration. For the first time in many years, Gozitans have been given the ability to come up with a set of economic and social goals and the means of achieving them. This regional development strategy, developed in close consultation with stakeholders, presents a clear way forward of how Gozo can become a model of the new prosperity.
A vision for Gozo
This vision has three main themes:
- the promotion of sensible use of land and the natural environment,
- the re-alignment of economic growth with well-being, and
- the enhancement of Gozo’s identity.
Rather than trying to fit Gozo to some economic model imported from a different environment, this vision seeks to adopt a formula based on Gozo’s traditions and characteristics.
Regional development will focus on responsible urban design and the implementation of nature-based solutions, continuing to position Gozo as distinct from mainland Malta. Gozo will spearhead the ecological transition, with incentives to promote green buildings, a data-driven waste monitoring and management plan, and the prioritisation of the electrification of transport. The strategy gives due importance to sustaining Gozo’s agricultural sector, while at the same time continue to foster the diversification of the Gozitan economy. Clear examples are the ambition to turn Gozo into a centre of excellence in agri-tech, the support of more innovation in the medical sector (expanding on the success story of the Queen Mary University Gozo Campus) and the proposed actions so that Gozo becomes a leader in the decarbonisation of the Maltese economy.
Similarly, rather than trying to wean off Gozo from tourism, the strategy seeks to gradually evolve this sector so that it develops differently than it has done in Malta. This will be done not just by developing tourism niches, but also by promoting Gozo’s character and traditions. In fact, the regional strategy is permeated by a sense that Gozo’s economic success should depend on strengthening the island’s identity and culture. This includes efforts to promote and conserve the physical identity of Gozo’s villages, together with their cultural identity (including festas, traditional social networks, and the village pjazza).
In this regard, the strategy has two ambitious aims: that of Gozo becoming the European Capital of Culture in 2031 and having the Cittadella declared a UNESCO heritage site, besides Gozo’s participation in the European Commission’s Mission of “100 Climate-neutral and smart cities by 2030”. Gozo, with another 99 EU cities, is acting as a testbed for experimentation and innovation in the transition to climate neutrality and digitalisation.
‘Gozo: an island of villages’ is innovative, ambitious, and forward-looking. At the same time, it is rooted in the island’s identity and traditions and seeks to create a prosperity that does not dissonate with what makes Gozo so special and unique. Over the coming years, the success of this strategy will ensure that Gozo achieves its economic catch-up with the EU in a much more sustainable and socially conscious manner.