Regional policy & outermost regions

The European Union counts nine Outermost Regions, which are geographically very distant from the European continent:

  • Guadeloupe and La Réunion, (2 French Regions)
  • Mayotte (1 French overseas department)
  • French Guiana and Martinique (2 French territorial collectivities)
  • Saint-Martin (1 French overseas collectivity)
  • Madeira and Azores (2 Portuguese autonomous regions)
  • Canary Islands (1 Spanish autonomous community)

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They are islands and archipelagos located in the Caribbean basin, in the western Atlantic and in the Indian Ocean or landlocked territory in the Amazonian forest. Despite the thousands of kilometers separating them from the European continent, these regions are an integral part of the EU. They welcome 4.8 million of citizens, a population equivalent to that of Ireland.

EU law and all the rights and duties associated with EU membership apply to the Outermost Regions, except for cases where there are specific measures or derogations. In accordance with Article 349 of the TFEU, these specific measures are designed to address the challenges faced by the Outermost Regions because of their remoteness, insularity, small size, difficult topography and climate, and economic dependence on a few products.

The Outermost Regions benefit from Cohesion Policy funding through the European Regional Development Fund and the European Social Fund.

As well as specific constraints, the ORs also have unique potential and assets which can benefit the Union. They provide a European presence in strategic areas of the world, and have exceptional geographical and geological characteristics which make them useful laboratories for research and innovation in industries of the future such as biodiversity, terrestrial and marine ecosystems, pharmacology, renewable energies, and the space sciences.

All community policies apply to the Outermost Regions and contribute to their development. Firstly, the cohesion policy helps them to move towards the EU’s 2020 targets, and to modernise and diversify their economic activities. The European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), including an additional financial grant to offset the additional charges to ORs and sparsely populated regions in Finland and Sweden, the Cohesion Fund (for the Portuguese ORs) and the European Social Fund (ESF) are key tools that help to structure public and private investments in these regions.

The ORs also benefit from several financial instruments and specific measures that have been introduced in the areas of fisheries (the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund – EMFF) and agriculture (the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development – EAFRD and the Programme of Options Specifically Relating to Remoteness and Insularity – POSEI).

The POSEI Programme provides aid for the production, processing and marketing of agricultural products from the ORs and is the first pillar of the common agricultural policy concerning the regions.

The ORs are also heavily involved in territorial cooperation programmes (INTERREG) co-financed by the ERDF, which provide them with an essential tool to strengthen their regional integration. There are six cross-border and transnational programmes devoted to them for the 2014- 2020 period.

Other horizontal European programmes offer direct aid or financial instruments that can benefit the ORs; in particular their SMEs, their stakeholders in research and innovation and the social economy, and their youth. This is particularly the case for Horizon 2020 research programmes and the European programme for SMEs (COSME) or the education, training, youth and sport programme (ERASMUS +). It is in this context, along with the support of the cohesion policy, that smart specialisation strategies support the researchers and innovative businesses of the ORs in their quest for excellence in order to better utilise the comparative advantages of each region.

In addition to these programmes, the investment plan forEurope endowed with EUR 315 billion offers guarantees to risky investments that facilitate the setting up of public-private partnership projects. The doubling of this plan by 2022 offers additional investment support across the EU from which the ORs can benefit.

In terms of other EU policies, it is worth mentioning that State aid policy recognises the specificities of the ORs in order to ensure they have an adequate environment to develop SMEs and micro-enterprises. Thus, Article 107(3)(a) of the TFEU allows higher aid rates to be applied in the ORs, irrespective of their GDP per inhabitant. In tax matters, the ORs benefit from specific exemptions or terms appropriate for their local situation.

The outermost region and eu financial support

Between 2014 and 2020, the EU allocates EUR 13.3 billion to these regions under the European Structural and Investment Funds (in the form of additional envelopes) and POSEI (Specific 'Remoteness and Insularity'), a program for the common agricultural policy, particularly for the outermost regions.

The Commission has set out actions in favour of the Outermost regions within in a series of four Communications on the Outermost regions (2004, 2007, 2008 and 2012).
The latest Communication of 20 June 2012 (COM (2012) 287 final): "The outermost regions of the European Union: towards a partnership for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth", establishes five priorities for action in line with "Europe 2020" strategy and proposes a series of measures in different EU policies with a view to:

  • improving Outermost regions' accessibility to the single market,
  • increasing their competitiveness,
  • strengthening their regional integration within their respective geographic zones,
  • reinforcing the social dimension of their development including through measures for employment creation,
  • promoting climate change actions.

These actions are to be delivered in partnership. The national and regional authorities concerned drew up an action plan to maximise the potential of each outermost region and ensure that national rules and practices are adapted where necessary to reflect their needs. Meanwhile, the Commission commits to pursue efforts to strengthen the integration of the ORs in the single market and in their geographical environment.
By the end of 2017 at the latest, the Commission will review the implementation of each of the proposed measures and adopt a renewed strategy.

Action Plans:

  • Guadeloupe
  • Martinique
  • Guyane
  • St-Martin
  • La Réunion
  • Madeira
  • Azores
  • Canarias

The action plans form the basis of the European Structural and Investment (ESI) Funds programmes.

For all the outermost regions, these programmes and the Programme of Options Specifically Relating to Remoteness and Insularity (POSEI) provide financial support amounting to EUR 13 billion for the 2014-2020 period.

The Commission relies on a solid partnership with the outermost regions and the three Member States (France, Spain and Portugal) as well as with other EU institutions: the European Parliament under the impulsion of a cross-party group of the nine Member of the Parliament from the OR and the Council (a specific working group is convened as needed). The Commission cooperates also with the Committee of the regions and the European Economic Social Committee (e.g. a seminar on employment in the OR was organised jointly with the European Economic Social Committee in March 2016).

More Publications

The European Commission hosts the Fourth Forum of the Outermost Regions entitled "The Outermost Regions, European lands in the world: toward a renewed strategy" in Brussels on 30-31 March 2017 (Charlemagne Building, 170 rue de la Loi).

Fourth Forum of the Outermost Regions

Smart Regions' story : The Canary Islands

The Canary Islands region had an extremely high unemployment in the past years. The main problem was its isolation. Being located far away in the middle of the ocean, meant they had less opportunities for business activities and economic exchanges then other regions on the mainland. But once they started to see their unique remote location as an opportunity, and started to use the ocean as a new source of energy, the economic recovery kicked in. Now having a scientific and an industrial test site, funded by the EU, offers its users not only data and knowledge on oceanic parameters, but also offers services. This opportunity has been exploited in order to create economic growth and bring the Canary islands to the path of recovery and job creation. As Dominique Foray, from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, explained: "Every region is able to identify some strategic domains where new opportunities can be identified and supported, to build competitive advantage for the future.