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The pretty little island that's in the EU but has a 'special relationship' with Brussels

Europe is littered with autonomous regions and republics that enjoy the benefits of the EU but hold on to certain privileges.

Those advantages vary, from complete controls on economic levers to more concentrated levels of political sovereignty.

Most people won’t be entirely aware that many of these places hold “special” roles on the continent, though many will have likely visited them on holiday.

One such region is Sardinia, the beautiful island that is a region of Italy but has a degree of domestic autonomy through special statutes.

This not only alters its relationship with Rome but also with Brussels, and has lent the island the image of a sunny bolthole away from the drab bureaucracy of the EU.

The most straightforward explanation behind the reason for Sardinia’s autonomy is found in the past. Due to its distinctive history and culture — much like other parts of Italy such as South Tyrol and Friuli Venezia Giulia — the island was always destined to call for a separation between itself and the mainland.

Sardinia played a central role in the Western Mediterranean for millennia, especially between Carthage, Spain, the river Rhône and the Etruscan civilization area. Soon, it transformed into a hub of trade and industrial works due to its rich lead and zinc resources.

A sense of national identity came with all this history, so by the time the Kingdom of Sardinia became a part of a unified Italy in 1861, it was already looking at itself as a separate entity from Italy, something islanders hold on to today. 

That unique position is held sacred in the European Committee of the Regions’ rule book. It lists Sardinia as one of the five regions in Italy that possess a “special status”.

But what exactly is this special status? Generally speaking, it gives the island legislative power in areas such as agriculture, hunting, fishing, industry, trade and tourism.

As per the 2001 constitutional reform act in Italy, Sardinia has concurrent legislative competence and greater legislative autonomy in some fields, which is passed on to the way it interacts with the EU.

In other words, Sardinia gets all the perks of being a part of the single market and customs union but maintains crucial legislative control that most other EU members do not.

Of course, Sardinia isn’t all politics. It is known as one of the finest places in all of the Mediterranean and is the vast sea’s second-largest island behind Sicily.

According to Simone, a local who lives in the capital Cagliari, Sardinia boasts “the best beaches in the Mediterranean”.

Writing on the website Go Ask A Local, he said: “[We have] exquisite food, untouched nature, and friendly local people, Sardinia offers everything that you could hope for in a Mediterranean vacation.” Crucially, he wrote, “Sardinia may be Italy, but we are Sardinian above all.”

This manifests in things such as the distinct language of Sardo (although Italian is a native language) and unique culinary treats, like its hundreds of different varieties of bread and pastries.

Sardinia is also known for its native costumes. In a closed island community, costumes were once not only a symbol of where a person came from but also of the wearer’s status.

Putting on traditional dress and jewellery are as such a vital part of being Sardinian, and something that happens at every festival.

There are some 400 different models of costume across the island, from veils to different patterned dresses, hoods or scarfs, long plain skirts to pleated ones, Sardinian caps and shirt-liked doublets, to black hand-woven cuffs made of unscoured wool.

The Nuoro Folklore Museum on Sant’Onofrio Hill also exhibits a selection of traditional costumes for those who miss out on the festivities.

A Mediterranean gem waiting to be discovered, you can fly direct from the UK to Cagliari for around £200.


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