Regional policy & outermost regions

The European Union (EU) counts nine outermost regions, which are geographically very distant from the European continent. These are French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Mayotte, Reunion Island and Saint-Martin (France), Azores and Madeira (Portugal), and the Canary Islands (Spain).

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EU Outermost Regions

The outermost regions are islands, archipelagos and one land territory (French Guiana). They are located in the western Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean basin, the Amazonian forest and the Indian Ocean. In total, they are home to 4.8 million citizens.

Despite the thousands of kilometres separating them from the European continent, these regions are an integral part of the EU. Therefore, EU law and all the rights and duties associated with EU membership apply to the outermost regions. However, in accordance with Article 349 of the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), specific measures and derogations in EU legislation help these regions address the major challenges they face due to their remoteness, insularity, small size, difficult topography and climate, and economic dependence on a reduced number of products.

The outermost regions have unique potential and distinctive assets that can benefit the EU as a whole. They provide a European presence in strategic areas of the world and have exceptional characteristics that make them excellent laboratories for research and innovation in biodiversity, terrestrial and marine ecosystems, renewable energies, pharmacology and space sciences.

The specific status granted to the outermost regions under Article 349 TFEU has led, since 2004, to European strategies that seek to address the challenges these regions face and to help explore their assets. The implementation of these strategies is based on a strong partnership between the European Commission, the outermost regions and their Member States (France, Portugal and Spain). The European Parliament also takes part in this partnership through a cross-party group of nine Members of Parliament representing the outermost regions. The European Council convenes a specific working group for the outermost regions when necessary.

 

The European Commission has set out strategic orientations in favour of the outermost regions in four Communications (2004, 2008, 2012 and 2017).
The latest Communication of 24 October 2017 (COM (2017) 623 final), A stronger and renewed strategic partnership with the EU's outermost regions, proposes a new approach to provide opportunities and better address the specific needs of each of the nine outermost regions. By encouraging the regions to capitalise on their unique assets, the strategy helps them create new prospects for their people, boosts competitiveness and innovation in key sectors, and deepens their cooperation with neighbouring countries.
The Strategy is based on four pillars:

  • Strong partnership: the strategy  foresees a closer cooperation between the outermost regions, their respective Member States and the European Commission, establishing a closer dialogue in the shaping and implementation of EU programmes and policies.
  • Building on assets: the strategy encourages the outermost regions to make use of their assets through investments in growth-enhancing areas such as blue economy, research, circular economy, space science, responsible tourism, or renewable energy; it also focus on the modernisation of key traditional sectors such as fisheries and agriculture sectors.
  • Enabling growth and job creation: with higher unemployment rates, the outermost regions require specific measures to increase employability and skills, in particular amongst young people. The strategy aims to strengthen exchanges in the field of higher education and training and to support the mobility of young professionals.
  • Scaling up cooperation: the strategy contributes to deepening the outermost regions’ ties with neighbouring countries by facilitating the uptake of joint projects and initiatives.

The European Commission has also reviewed the progress made with the implementation of previous strategies in the staff-working document (Part 1 / Part 2 EN PDF File) accompanying the Communication.

The implementation of the 2017 strategy to date

The European Commission adopted a report on 23 March 2020 reviewing the progress made in implementing the 2017 Communication “A stronger and renewed strategic partnership with the EU's outermost regions”. The report presents actions undertaken by the Commission, the outermost regions and their Member States.

The report concludes that:

  • the Commission, the outermost regions and their respective Member States are on the right track in transforming the Communication into reality with tangible results on the ground;
  • the Commission has delivered on its commitments by creating specific opportunities for the outermost regions in a wide range of EU programmes and by consistently adapting EU legislation, policies and tools to these regions’ specific circumstances in line with art. 349 of the Treaty;
  • further efforts are needed to address climate change, protect biodiversity, introduce circular economy, and boost renewable energy.

Since the adoption of the 2017 Communication, there has been significant progress in implementing the measures envisaged. The European Commission has enshrined the specificities of the outermost regions in 21 proposals for future EU programmes across a wide range of policies, including cohesion, research, agricultural and fisheries policies.

Cohesion Policy

  • The Commission proposed that the outermost regions continue receiving a specific additional allocation; that they benefit from the maximum rate of EU co-financing of 70%; and that they can invest EU funds in airports (not allowed in the rest of the EU).
  • The Commission further proposed a specific outermost regions’ component under the European territorial cooperation goal (‘Interreg’) to support outermost regions in their integration in the parts of the world where they are situated.

Maritime and Fisheries Policy

  • Under the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, the Commission proposed to allocate EUR 315 million to support the fisheries sector in the nine regions, including the continuation of a 100 % compensation for additional costs linked to their specific situation. The financial package earmarked for these regions aims to help develop sustainable fisheries and a sustainable maritime economy and to support small-scale coastal fishermen.

Agricultural and Biodiversity Policy

  • The proposal for a reform of the Common Agricultural Policy maintains the POSEI scheme – a special programme dedicated to the outermost regions with a financial support of EUR 627 million per year.
  • The Commission proposed further funding from the European budget for rural development, supporting biodiversity in agriculture and forestry and promoting the economic development of rural areas. The Commission proposal provides the most advantageous rate of European co-financing for the outermost regions (70%).
  • The Commission further proposed that the environment and climate action programme LIFE pays special attention to the outermost regions in its calls for proposals. The programme will support small projects for protecting biodiversity and ecosystems in these regions.

Investment and Infrastructure

  • The Commission proposal for InvestEU envisages that Member States can transfer part of their shared management resources to this new instrument — particularly in vulnerable and isolated regions such as the outermost regions — in order to access the guarantee provided by the EU budget.
  • The Commission proposal for the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) foresees support for transport projects in the outermost regions, including maritime ports and urban roads, with a higher rate.
  • The Digital Europe programme’s proposal seeks to contribute to greater connectivity and better digital skills in the outermost regions. Digital innovation hubs will help these regions to participate in the Digital Single Market.

Education and Research Policy

  • The proposals for Erasmus+ and European Solidarity Corps programmes seek to step up the outermost regions’ participation, in particular cooperation with third countries.
  • Under Horizon Europe, the Commission proposed to open the 'Widening Participation and Spreading Excellence’ programme” – to share expertise and help countries & regions lagging behind – to the outermost regions to help them build on their assets and develop their full potential. Horizon Europe covers important topics for the outermost regions such as renewable energy, combating climate change, tropical diseases, biodiversity and the blue economy.

Migration

  • The proposed new Asylum and Migration Fund and the Internal Security Fund envisage to provide Member States with resources to help their regions manage migration sustainably and address situations of migratory pressure with which some outermost regions are faced.

In 2019 and 2020, the Commission included the outermost regions’ concerns and interests in a range of initiatives.

European Green Deal

  • The Commission committed itself in the “European Green Deal” Communication to paying particular attention to the role of the outermost regions, taking into account their vulnerability to climate change and natural disasters and their unique assets: biodiversity and renewable energy sources. In its 2020 Circular Economy Action Plan, the Commission pledges to tailor circular economy solutions to the outermost regions and islands, due to their dependence on resource imports, high waste generation fuelled by tourism, and waste exports.

European Semester

  • The Commission recommended key sectors of investment in the outermost regions to France, Portugal and Spain in 2019. The 2019 Council’s specific recommendations further call on these Member States to use cohesion funds taking into account regional disparities and the situation of the outermost regions.

EU-Mercosur agreement

  • The Commission analysed the possible impact of trade agreements under negotiation on the outermost regions. The 2019 political agreement on the trade part of the EU-Mercosur Association agreement contains a safeguard clause to protect outermost regions’ local production.

In November 2018, the Commission further presented a series of concrete measures to promote innovation, circular economy and blue growth.

Public aid for the purchase of new vessels in the outermost regions

  • The amended guidelines on public aid for fisheries and aquaculture allow, exceptionally, the purchase of new vessels in the outermost regions, with the possibility of higher assistance rates for small and medium-sized vessels. This decision stems from the need to ensure fleet safety and protect an economic activity that is important to these regions.

Project FORWARD: promoting research and innovation in the outermost regions

  • The Commission launched a coordination and support measure backed by EUR 4.3 million under Horizon 2020, to which the outermost regions responded with the 3 year project FORWARD.
  • Bringing together 24 partners from the nine regions and coordinated by the Canary Islands, the project aims to increase these regions’ capacity to participate in international research projects.
  • The project will analyse the innovation systems of these regions and mobilise local stakeholders around long-term innovation strategies based on their specific strengths (‘smart specialisation’).

Better access to the Juncker Plan and flourishing investment projects

  • The European Investment Advisory Platform (the "Hub") has formulated recommendations to improve access to finance for small and medium companies in the outermost regions.
  • More than EUR 2.2 billion in additional investments were mobilised by the European Strategic Investment Fund (EFSI) in the outermost regions.

Tailored support from the EU, with the launch of two task forces in Reunion and the Canary Islands

  • The Commission launched two task forces to provide tailor-made support to two outermost regions: a task force on energy transition with the Reunion Island (2018) and a taskforce on waste management with the Canary Islands (2019).

Between 2014 and 2020, the EU has allocated EUR 13.8 billion to the outermost regions under cohesion policy, agriculture and fisheries. All community policies apply to the outermost regions and should contribute to their development.
Cohesion policy (regional development and employment) helps the outermost regions progress towards the EU 2020 targets; and modernise and diversify their economic activities:

  • The European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) includes an additional specific allocation to offset the extra costs of the outermost regions linked to their specific constraints.
  • The ERDF, the Cohesion Fund (for the Portuguese regions) and the European Social Fund (ESF) are key tools to support investment in the outermost regions.
  • Territorial cooperation programmes (INTERREG), co-financed by ERDF, help the outermost regions strengthen their integration with their regional partners. There are six cross-border and transnational programmes devoted to the outermost regions.

In the areas of fisheries and agriculture, the outermost regions also benefit from several specific measures and financial instruments:

  • The European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF).
  • The European Agricultural Funs for Rural Development (EAFRD).
  • The Programme for Options Specifically Relating to Remoteness and Insularity (POSEI).

The outermost regions are also benefiting from a range of European programmes:

  • The Horizon 2020 research programme.
  • The European programme for SMEs (COSME).
  • The EaSi (for employment and social innovation)
  • The ERASMUS+ programme (education, training, youth and sport).
EU strategy for the outermost regions, one year on

On 22-23 November 2018, Commissioner Corina Creţu attended the Conference of Presidents of the Outermost Regions in the Canary Islands. On this occasion the Commissioner presented various new initiatives on the implementation of the EU strategy for the Outermost regions, one year after its adoption. This includes the Outermost Regions' specificities being enshrined in twenty-one proposals for post-2020 European programmes; new rules on state aid to help fishermen in the outermost regions to buy new vessels; new opportunities for research and innovation through a new project under Horizon 2020, called 'FORWARD' ; the implementation of tailor-made solutions through task forces to support the energy transition in Reunion Island or the waste management in Canary Islands.

 

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.

Les régions ultrapériphériques: un partenariat renouvelé

Upcoming events:

Past events:

Legislation and other measures

General factsheets:

  • The outermost regions: a lasting support from the EU: EN ES FR PT
  • The EU strategy for the outermost regions, one year on: EN ES FR PT
  • The Juncker plan at work in the outermost regions: EN ES FR PT

Regional factsheets and projects examples

Programmes ERDF/ESF 2014-2020

Contributions of the Regions and the Member States

  • Déclaration des Présidents des Régions Ultrapériques" (Saint-Martin, 5-7 février 2020) PDF File Français
  • Declaration of the Presidents of the Outermost Regions (Las Palmas, 22 and 23 November 2018) PDF File ES FR PT
  • Déclaration des Présidents des Régions Ultrapériques" (Kourou, 26-27 october 2017) PDF File Français
  • Position commune des autorités espagnoles, françaises, et portugaises et des neuf régions ultrapériphériques PDF File FR
  • Contribution from Portugal to the new European Commission’s strategy for the Outermost Regions PDF File EN - pt
  • Spanish Authorities’ contribution to the new strategy for Outermost Regions PDF File EN - Es
  • Déclaration des Présidents des Régions Ultrapériques" (Madeira, 22 september 2016) PDF File Français

Studies and publications

  • ‘Assess the potential for Investment Platforms supported by the Junker Plan in the Outermost Regions’, study by the European Investment Bank (July 2018):PDF File EN  ES FR PT.
  • ‘Committing to the outermost regions’, article in Panorama, no. 67 (December 2018): PDF File EN ES FR PT
  • ‘EU Strategy to help its outermost regions’, article in Panorama, no. 63 (December 2017): PDF File EN ES FR PT
  • The economic impact of climate change and adaptation in the Outermost Regions (June 2014): EN
  • Study on migration and demographic trends in the outermost regions (February 2012): EN
  • Growth Factors in the Outermost Regions (January 2011): EN
  • Assess the potential for Investment Platforms supported by the Junker Plan in the Outermost Regions - Feasibility study PDF File EN ES FR PT
  • Analyse de la mise en oeuvre des stratégies de spécialisation intelligente dans les régions ultrapéripheriques PDF File FR
  • Realising the potential of the Outermost Regions for sustainable blue growth PDF File EN - Executive Summary PDF File EN
  • Final report on transport accessibility for the EU Outermost Regions PDF File EN
  • Final report on energy for the EU Outermost Regions PDF File EN
  • Final report on digital accessibility and ICT for the EU Outermost Regions PDF File EN
  • Final report on green and circular economy in the Outermost Regions PDF File EN
  • Memorandum conjoint des regions ultraperipheriques - Pour un nouvel élan dans la mise en oeuvre de l’article 349 TFUE PDF File FR
  • The Outermost Regions: European lands In the world English PDF
  • Les effets de l’octroi du statut de région ultrapériphérique
  • POSEI: evaluation and report from the European Commission

More Publications