The Pacific region comprises 15 states: three quite differentiated larger countries, which constitute 90% of both the region's landmass and population (Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste); and twelve Small Island Developing States, which face a number of common challenges (Cook Islands, Kiribati, the Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, Niue, Palau, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu). Also in the region are four Overseas Countries and Territories (OCTs): New Caledonia, French Polynesia, Pitcairn, and Wallis and Futuna.
The population of the 15 states is 11.4 million people while the Pacific OCTs have 570,000 inhabitants. The region has a combined land area of only 580,000 km2 – smaller than Germany and UK combined– but a vast Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of approx. 30 million km2. The distance between countries and islands represents a major obstacle to regional integration. The island nations are vulnerable to extreme weather events and their small size, extreme remoteness and rising sea levels and temperatures also delimit sustainable life on these islands, particularly for Kiribati.
Politically, the Pacific is a stable region with good neighbourly relationship. Most countries feature stable and well-functioning democracies, although good governance and the respect of human rights, particularly rights of women and girls, are uneven.
Kiribati, Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste, Tuvalu and Vanuatu are Least Developed Countries. The remaining Pacific-ACP states are Middle Income Countries. Pacific economies are generally characterised by narrow domestic markets, high level of debts, small administrations and an undiversified productive base, which limit their resilience to external shocks. Weak competitiveness acts as constraints to sustainable growth.
With its member states, the EU is the third largest donor to the region, after Australia and Japan. Funding to Pacific ACP countries and to the region's four OCTs for the period 2014-2020 under the 11th European Development Fund (EDF) is around €800 million. Our work focuses on six areas, as detailed below.
The low lying islands of the Pacific are susceptible to unexpected climatic shocks, especially during the cyclone season (November – April). This has been particularly exacerbated by the El Nino effect of the past few years. The EU is not only supporting post-cyclone recovery efforts, but is also helping countries to cope with the adverse effects of weather and to allow them to be more resilient to such effects in the future.
The Pacific region is an important partner for climate action. In 2015, a High Ambition Coalition was formed, which was crucial for reaching an agreement at COP21 in Paris. Moreover, the EU is currently supporting projects to increase the use of renewable energy and improve energy efficiency in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, Niue, Palau and the Kingdom of Tonga.
Years of relying on cheap imports and lack of infrastructure investment have left many Pacific-ACP states with unsustainable food supplies and poor quality living conditions. The EU is working closely with governments in agriculture, aquaculture, energy, waste and water sectors to ensure that life on the islands is sustainable into the 21st Century.
Growth of Pacific-ACP states will always be limited by their size and geographic remoteness. The EU is helping the region to mitigate these limitations by supporting regional economic integration and building skills and capacities in economic governance, as well as by ensuring a sustainable, diverse productive base.
The region still suffers from damaging gender stereotypes which limit opportunities and access to services for vulnerable groups. The EU is formulating a regional programme to work towards gender equality and will mainstream gender issues into all future actions in the Pacific, with particular attention to ending gender-based violence.
The regional architecture is fragmented and diverse; programmes aimed at the regional level sometimes miss the end beneficiary. The EU is working with Pacific-ACP states to improve the work of regional organisations so that EU regional programmes have tangible benefits to the inhabitants of the region.