20 March 2013
The outermost regions: Europe's forgotten asset
In view of the special circumstances of the outermost regions (OR), the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (TFEU) makes it possible to adopt specific measures when applying the treaties to such regions. However, in order for these measures to have any impact, a more ambitious strategy is called for than the one proposed by the European Commission. Special attention should focus on the agricultural aid programme, an increase in financial resources, foreign policy, and trans-European energy, transport and research networks: this is the only way to achieve the Europe 2020 objectives in the EU's eight outermost regions.
The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) has been analysing developments in the outermost regions for twenty years now. In its most recent consideration of the subject it points out that Article 349 TFEU, which allows for special measures for these regions, is not being implemented as effectively as it could be. The opinion, on The outermost regions: smart growth, was adopted at the EESC plenary session on 20 March. "First and foremost, competition, public procurement, fisheries and environment policies all need to be reviewed. The Committee therefore asks the Commission to draw up and publish a detailed analysis of the application of Article 349", stated Henri Malosse, President of the Employers' Group and rapporteur for the opinion.
The Programme of Options Specifically Relating to Remoteness and Insularity (POSEI), which covers agricultural production, should also be reviewed. Until now, the programme has focused on these regions' traditional crops, namely bananas and sugar. Without prejudice to these, the Committee thinks that POSEI should cover other agricultural products such as vanilla and fruit and vegetables, and fisheries products, both for the domestic market and for export. The Committee thus calls for an assessment of POSEI and an extension of the range of products covered.
The Committee thinks that the links between mainland Europe and its outermost regions should be strengthened, in order to increase their sense of belonging and harness the opportunities offered by their geographic location. Thus, these regions must have access to appropriate financial means to allow them to achieve the objectives of the Europe 2020 strategy and to compensate for the disadvantages linked to their remoteness. Specifically, aid should focus on improving access to the major European networks for research, in the field of transport, education, training, employment and information technology. Small businesses play a key role in the economy of the outermost regions, and must not be neglected: the European Small Business Act, respect for free competition, and access to EU aid for small businesses are thus particularly important. The Committee also stresses the importance of the social dimension, and supports the proposal by the President of the Canary Islands Region to put in place an emergency plan to combat mass unemployment. The Committee draws attention to the impact which EU trade and fisheries agreements with countries neighbouring the OR can have on these regions, and recommends an impact assessment. The OR can also play a strategic role in external policy as outposts of the EU in neighbouring geographic areas, particularly in relation to trade, fisheries and development cooperation.
"The involvement of civil society in the EU's strategy must be more than just a slogan: the opinion therefore proposes that round tables be organised, bringing in civil society players in each OR, to prepare action plans", stated Luis Miguel Pariza Castaños, a member of the Workers' Group and president of the study group for the opinion. The Committee thus proposes strengthened cooperation with the Conference of Presidents of the Outermost Regions and their economic and social councils. An important milestone in this joint work came with the hearing held in November 2012 on the island of Reunion, which currently chairs the Conference of OR Presidents. According to Henri Malosse, this will be stepped up with conferences and meetings throughout 2013.
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