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Review, challenges and strategy for the outermost regions
The Commission has made a positive assessment of the partnership strategy with the outermost regions (OR). It presents the progress achieved since 2004 and proposes building on the focal points of the strategy through the implementation of additional measures. Furthermore, the Commission consults the stakeholders on the future prospects of the strategy for the OR.
Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions of 12 September 2007 - Strategy for the Outermost Regions: Achievements and future prospects [COM(2007) 507 final - Not published in the Official Journal].
The years 2004-2007 have been crucial to the implementation and delivery of the European strategy for the outermost regions (OR). The key instruments have been redefined and revised in view of the challenges and realities of these regions. Nevertheless, there is still room to improve the European Union (EU) policies, particularly as regards the coherence of Community action.
This document concerns the seven OR of the EU, namely: Guadeloupe, French Guiana, Martinique and R�union (i.e. the four French overseas departments), the Canary Islands (Spain), the Azores and Madeira (Portugal).
Additional measures for the OR
The Commission underlines the need to make full use of the possibilities under the 2004 strategy through the intensification of its focal points and the implementation of additional measures.
Reducing the accessibility deficit and the effects of other constraints specific to the OR is the first priority put forward for these regions. The Commission suggests exploiting the opportunities offered by the recently introduced instruments: specific allocations to offset the additional costs of transport and new information and communication technologies, trans-European transport networks (TEN-T), trans-European energy networks (TEN-E) and MARCO POLO II, and will assess the specific needs of the OR in the implementation report for the programmes of specific options for isolation and insularity (POSEI).
The increase in the competitiveness of the OR is the second objective in line with the Lisbon strategy and requires the support of suitable instruments such as:
- cohesion policy and in particular the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the European Social Fund (ESF);
- Community framework programmes, such as the 7th Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development (FPRTD), the Framework Programme on Innovation and Competitiveness and the Lifelong Learning Programme;
- services of general economic interest.
Boosting regional insertion of the OR through the implementation of the Wider Neighbourhood Action Plan is an innovation of the 2004 strategy which aims to strengthen dialogue between the OR and their neighbours. In order to build on this priority, the Commission proposes a number of measures, namely:
- recognising the special nature of the OR in Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs);
- the coordination of financial instruments;
- strengthening sea connections between OR and neighbouring non-member countries;
- joint participation by OR and non-member countries in research networks and Community framework programmes;
- recognising the special nature of the OR in migration policies.
The last priority concerns the support instrument for offsetting the effects of handicaps of the OR. The reform of the Community policies allows OR to benefit in the period 2007-2013 from funding to offset the factors which put their region at a disadvantage (remoteness, insularity, difficult topography and climate, etc.).
Issues and consultation
The Commission identifies four themes on which it wishes to launch a discussion with its partners. These are transversal themes which present major challenges for the future of the strategy for OR.
The challenge of climate change is an important issue, given the geographical locations and vulnerability of the OR. Extreme weather conditions are likely to become more frequent and affect the priorities of the 2004 strategy (accessibility, competitiveness and regional integration). The Commission therefore invites its partners to discuss the following questions:
- measures which would make it possible to reduce emissions without adversely affecting the accessibility, economy and citizens of the OR;
- how to exploit the new opportunities that the fight against climate change offers OR by virtue of their natural assets (geothermal energy, biodiversity, etc.) in order to improve their energy balance and boost their competitiveness;
- the possibility of progressing towards energy self-sufficiency by exploiting energy-saving potential.
Demographic change and migration have consequences for land-use planning, the labour market, education and training needs, and public services. The Commission wishes to consult its partners on:
- how best to meet the major challenges brought by demographic pressure and emigration to the mainland;
- how to strengthen measures to enhance the integration of legal migrants in these territories;
- measures which can be taken to tackle the root causes of migration to the OR due, for example, to their geographical locations.
Agriculture continues to play a fundamental role in the economy of the OR, which suffer from geographical and climatic disadvantages. Community support for the various agricultural sectors is integrated into the POSEI scheme, thereby allowing a coherent approach to the development of agriculture in these regions.
The role of the OR in EU maritime policy is of fundamental strategic importance. Indeed, these regions have a special geographical position in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans and the Caribbean Sea which gives Europe a global maritime dimension. Although the OR participated actively in the consultation on the future maritime policy of the EU, the Commission nevertheless wishes to engage in further dialogue on the following matters:
- the promotion of governance tools, such as the organisation of a conference per basin in order to formulate a coordinated approach in the various sea basins (Caribbean, the south-east Indian Ocean and Macaronesia);
- the support and promotion of various economic activities, research or technological development, such as blue technologies, by improving information and communication in this field;
- the fight against illegal fishing, ocean surveillance, the preservation of the marine environment, etc.;
- the sustainable management of the coastal zones in the OR and the contribution of these areas to sustainable development in Europe.
The special status of the OR under Article 299(2) of the EC Treaty led the European Council of June 2002 to ask the Commission to present a strategy for them. The Communication of 2004 is a response to this request and falls within the context of the European cohesion policy reform. This Communication reviews the implementation of the strategy and launches a consultation of the partners, to continue until March 2008.
The European Council of 14 December 2007 welcomed the Communication from the Commission of 12 September 2007 and asked the Commission to draw conclusions from the consultation under way and draft relevant proposals (paragraph 60 of the Council conclusions).