ABU DHABI // The president of Sardinia has urged the European Union to grant Emiratis visa-free entry to the Schengen group of countries as soon as possible.
Ugo Cappellacci, leader of the autonomous region of Italy, said ending the visa requirement would benefit the UAE and Europe.
The Schengen area is a group of 26 countries in western Europe that have abolished immigration controls at their common borders.
"I am totally in favour of this because it will be a great opportunity for both Emiratis and Europe, especially Sardinia," said Mr Cappellacci.
"This can go towards the bill of our new relationship, the one of friendship and fraternity between our populations."
Mr Cappellacci arrived in the UAE this week to develop investment and tourism opportunities and hold talks with government officials.
In the three days he met Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, Minister of Culture, Youth and Social Development, and officials from the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development and Abu Dhabi Investment House.
Initially Germany, Austria and Belgium were against the UAE's inclusion for visa-free entry to the area, but Germany has since changed its stance.
Mr Cappellacci said freedom of travel for Emirati citizens in Europe would be welcomed in his region, the second-largest island in the Mediterranean, as it would complement economic restructuring and growing focus on tourism.
"Tourism accounted for 10 per cent of our GDP previously and now we are in the process of implementing a new economic strategy where we will focus on investment in to that sector," he said.
The Sardinian economy previously focused on heavy industry but has now turned towards renewable power.
"In the past, we focused on heavy industry like chemicals, aluminium, metallurgy, mining and textile production," Mr Cappellacci said.
"We have turned the chemical industry into a green chemical production and into the production of biodegradable materials."
He said the services industry accounted for 66 per cent of Sardinia's gross domestic product, which provided a strong base for greater emphasis on tourism.
Sardinia has three international airports that connect it with the big Italian cities and places in the UK, Scandinavia, Spain and Germany.
Mr Cappellacci said his development plan for tourism would include subsidised air fares from October this year for cheaper travel to Sardinia.
"A plane ticket to Cagliari [from Rome or Milan] costs, on average, €400 (Dh1,957) now. From now on, between September and May a ticket would cost only €50, while in peak seasons between June and August, it would cost €400," he said.
There was a major Qatari investment this year in Costa Smeralda, in the north of the island.
Golf clubs and hotels costing up to US$3,000 (Dh11,000) a night in peak season now stand along 20 kilometres of coastline.