EU Outermost Regions
Overseas Countries and Territories (OCTs)
The Overseas Countries and Territories (OCTs) are 25 countries and territories, which have special links with either Member States: Denmark, France, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. The relation between the EU and the OCTs is based on EU law, not on the constitutional law of the Member State. For instance, Saint-Pierre et Miquelon was previously an overseas department under French constitutional law, but has always been considered an OCT under EU law (and not an outermost region). Their nationals are in principle EU citizens.
The EU’s 28 overseas entities range from islands in the tropics to the polar regions and sections of the Amazon rainforest. These regions are on the front line when it comes to the effects of climate change. They also boast some of the richest biodiversity in the world. New Caledonia, for example, has 2,423 endemic species while mainland France has only 353.
Overseas Europe has more than 350 tropical, temperate and polar islands. Having developed in isolation they are the most productive playgrounds of evolution. But they are under threat. In the last 400 years, 75 percent of all species extinctions have been on islands. Invasive species remain the single biggest cause of biodiversity loss on islands. Rats introduced when islands were discovered, for example, are a major threat to many indigenous birds. The EU’s overseas entities are being first-hit by climate change.
There are significant differences between the OCTs themselves in terms of the degree of autonomy vis-à-vis the Member States to which they are linked, their economic and social development as well as their particular geography and climate. However, they do share common characteristics: none of them is a sovereign country, they are all parliamentary democracies, they are all islands, the size of their populations is very small and their ecological richness is extraordinary compared to continental Europe.
Their location, as well as their natural wealth, grants them significant advantages as does their role as European outposts in their respective regions. At the same time, they are all vulnerable to external shocks and are in general dependent on a narrow economic base that mostly revolves around services. In this light, the objective of the partnership with the EU consists in enhancing the OCTs’ competitiveness, strengthening their resilience, reducing their economic and environmental vulnerability and promoting cooperation between them and other partners. Specific arrangements are therefore established regarding trade and trade-related cooperation, while financial cooperation is foreseen in order to assist OCTs in their sustainable development.
The European Union counts nine Outermost Regions, which are geographically very distant from the European continent:
- Azores (Portuguese autonomous region)
- Canary Islands (Spanish autonomous community)
- French Guiana (French territorial collectivities)
- Guadeloupe (French Region)
- La Réunion (French Region)
- Madeira (Portuguese autonomous region)
- Martinique (French territorial collectivities)
- Mayotte (French overseas department)
- Saint-Martin (French overseas collectivity)
They constitute a single reality and form a whole within the European Union, separate from the other regions of Europe, characterised mainly by:
- a great remoteness from the European mainland, reinforced by insularity, or even double insularity or isolation. Isolated in their geographical areas and largely remote of the major trade routes, the ORs face the impossibility to take full advantage of the benefits of the EU market.
- a local market of small scale and, thus, economic dependence on a few products.
- difficult climatic and topographical conditions, small size, vulnerability to climate change and extreme weather events.
- a proximity neighbourhood exclusively composed of third countries or a space totally isolated, two strategic challenges in terms of inclusion and cooperation.
The permanent nature and cumulative effects of these characteristics are structural constraints which seriously hinder economic, social and territorial development of these regions. This justifies special and differentiated treatment. If in law Europe recognises the unique case of the outermost regions based on the status of the outermost regions, in practice, its implementation remains mitigated.
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