Written by Balázs Széchy.
The European Union’s outermost regions (ORs) qualify for special treatment owing to structural difficulties – such as remoteness, difficult topography and economic dependence on a few products – that can severely hamper their development. In addition, the coronavirus pandemic has hit their economies particularly hard. While these regions are quite different from one another, they have levels of unemployment and GDP significantly worse than EU and national averages.
Article 349 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union provides for specific measures to support the ORs, including the tailored application of EU law and access to EU programmes. Specific support mechanisms exist under cohesion, agricultural and fisheries policies, and other policy areas, with the Commission outlining measures aimed at assisting ORs in communications published in 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2017. In July 2021, the Commission opened a public consultation to feed into its plan to renew the EU’s strategic approach for the ORs, with Parliament adopting an own-initiative report in September 2021 inviting the Commission to ‘co-construct’ a new strategy for and with the ORs, accompanied by a precise action plan. On 3 May 2022, the Commission adopted a renewed strategy for the ORs, prioritising place-based approaches and tailored support for the ORs across all EU policies, aiming to unlock their potential through appropriate investment and reforms.
In addition to the unprecedented level of funding for the ORs already negotiated in the 2021-2027 funds and programmes, the Commission is creating, with the renewed strategy, dedicated opportunities in many EU policy areas, including the launch of a series of dedicated calls for projects exclusively for the ORs. However, no legislative initiatives or significant new financial resources are included in the 2022 communication. While the EU plays a key role in helping to unlock the ORs’ growth potential, their well-being and development fundamentally rely on choices and actions by the regions themselves and their Member States. Therefore, the Commission’s communication, while presenting a number of initiatives to be developed at EU level, encourages action by these regions and their Member States, for example to take account of their specificities in cross-cutting policies and instruments. This, however, raises questions about the extent to which the new strategy will truly be sufficient to improve the situation in the ORs and boost their development.
This is a revised and updated version of a briefing from May 2021 by Christiaan Van Lierop.
Read the complete briefing on ‘Outermost regions of the EU‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.
Listen to policy podcast ‘Culture and regional development’ on YouTube.