Written by Christiaan Van Lierop,
Located far from the European continent and with regional gross domestic product well below the EU average, the EU’s outermost regions – the Azores, the Canary Islands, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Madeira, Martinique, Mayotte, Réunion and Saint-Martin – face many challenges to development, owing to factors such as climate or economic dependence on a few products. A report on promoting cohesion and development in the outermost regions is due to be debated in Parliament’s July session.
In contrast to the EU’s overseas countries and territories, which are not members of the single market, the outermost regions are an integral part of the EU and are fully governed by the provisions of the Treaties. Article 349 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union provides for specific measures in areas such as customs, trade, agriculture and fisheries policies to support their development and reduce the impact of their structural challenges. Measures include the Programme of Options Specifically Relating to Remoteness and Insularity (POSEI), which promote specific supply arrangements to limit the additional transport costs of agricultural produce and provide support for local agricultural production, with a similar scheme also existing for the fisheries sector. The 2014-2020 cohesion policy framework also provides support, with the Common Provisions Regulation providing for special aid of €30 per inhabitant per year in the outermost regions, with some €6.6 billion also allocated under the European Regional Development Fund and the European Social Fund across 14 operational programmes. Total EU funding for these regions is estimated at €13 billion.
Addressing the challenges facing the outermost regions
People in the outermost regions face a unique set of challenges such as high living costs, limited market competition, problems with mobility or high rates of unemployment and social exclusion, exacerbated by strong population growth. The Commission has initiated a number of strategies to help the outermost regions address these problems, with its most recent 2012 communication setting out measures to improve access to the single market, increase competitiveness, strengthen regional integration, reinforce the social dimension and mainstream climate change action. With the Commission due to review implementation of the measures outlined in the 2012 communication by the end of 2017, stakeholders have already begun to draft their contributions to the new strategy. Common concerns raised include the need to ensure that trade agreements take better account of outermost regions’ needs, the importance of maintaining specific provisions in areas such as cohesion policy, and providing the outermost regions with better access to horizontal programmes. In a joint memorandum published in March 2017, the outermost regions stressed the need for the EU to adopt a differentiated approach for them in all European policies, to take account of their specific nature, while the Conference of Peripheral and Maritime Regions’ proposals include referring to Article 349 and territorial cohesion in the rules on partnership to ensure greater outermost region involvement.
Report on promoting cohesion and development in the outermost regions
A recent Regional Development Committee (REGI) report on the issue should also feed into the discussion on the future shape of the Commission’s strategy. Stressing the development potential of the outermost regions in areas such as blue growth and renewable energy, it calls for a more innovative interpretation of Article 349 to help frame ad hoc programmes and specific new policies for the outermost regions. The report considers it vital to maintain the POSEI and argues that new POSEI programmes should also be envisaged in other policy areas, calling also on the Commission to put forward an action plan accompanied, where applicable, by legislative initiatives to allow implementation of a coherent, effective strategy for the outermost regions.
Own-initiative report: 2016/2250(INI); Committee responsible: REGI; Rapporteur: Younous Omarjee (GUE/NGL, France)
Read this Plenary At a Glance note on ‘Promoting development in the outermost regions‘ in PDF.
Listen to podcast ‘Promoting development in the outermost regions‘