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3 Territorial cohesion: towards a more balanced development

3.5. Areas with specific geographical features

Mountainous areas, coastal and maritime regions, islands and archipelagos form an important part of the Union and are even more significant in some Member States. Most of the ultra-peripheral regions are islands. These, however, do not form a distinct geo-morphological area as such, but are treated as a group of 7 regions listed in the Treaty and recognised as having a number of inherent disadvantages, particularly because of the problem of accessibility caused by their remoteness from other parts of the Union.

While the regions identified as being entitled to structural assistance from the Structural Funds are defined in terms of administrative and socio-economic criteria, the geo-morphological areas are distinguished in terms of their physical features. These are not always easy to define and often there is no commonly-accepted definition (urban, rural and so on). Moreover, the features concerned are not always synonymous with structural problems.

The three main types of geo-morphological area are considered below.

Mountain areas

Mountainous areas represent geographical barriers. Over time, activities concentrated in the valleys which are natural passages, but today many of these have become transport bottlenecks and the growth of traffic of goods and people involves increasing risks to safety and the environment. Areas such as the Alps, Pyrenees, Dolomites, the Greek mountains, the Highlands of Scotland and Fjällen in Sweden cover approximately 39% of the EU land area. In many of these areas, economic activity is concentrated in agriculture - on the land which is usable - tourism and other services. The others have very little economic activity at all. While some mountainous areas are economically viable and integrated into the rest of the EU economy, most have problems, as witnessed by the fact that more than 95% of them (in terms of land area) are eligible for assistance under Objectives 1 or 2 of the Structural Funds (Map 7 and Tables A.13-A.14, in annex)

Coastal and maritime areas

Coastal areas are defined as those situated on the strip of land around the coasts of the EU, which is of variable width depending on geographical features and administrative boundaries. They include many large cities (London, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Helsinki, the Hague, Dublin, Lisbon, Barcelona, Marseilles, Rome, Naples and Athens) and cover a significant part of the EU land area. Many of the areas are densely populated with a high level of tourist activity, generating significant income but also substantial environmental pressure, the reconciliation of which poses a serious challenge. Other areas, however, are scarcely populated at all. The growth of maritime traffic involves increasing risks to safety, the environment and conservation of the coastline (See Table A.15: Coastal areas in the European Union, in annex)


Islands are particularly important in the four Southern Member States, three of which are cohesion countries, though there is also a large number of islands in France, the UK and the three Nordic countries, many of them eligible for Structural Funds support (Table A.16 and Table A.17, in annex).Indeed, nearly 95% of the population of EU island regions is eligible for such support under Objectives 1 or 2. In the case of the smaller islands, accessibility is the main problem which makes it difficult to maintain economic activities which are competitive and a young work force with a high level of education. Accessibility is an even greater problem for ultra-peripheral regions. The largest islands are much better integrated into the rest of the EU economy, even if many are at present reliant on structural support to catch up with other parts of the Union.

The areas identified above have marked differences in terms of their economic and social characteristics. Regional policies for furthering their development should continue to be aimed at strengthening relations between different parts of the Union rather than take the form of isolated measures specific to individual types of area. Nevertheless, such policies should include cooperation programmes between areas of the same type, which are tailored to their particular geographical features and which can bring additional benefit.

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