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Johannes Hahn

Commissioner for Regional Policy

Signing Ceremony of the Joint Memorandum on outermost regions

Figures and graphics available in PDF and WORD PROCESSED

Ministerial Conference

Las Palmas, 7th May 2010

Ministers, Presidents,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

First of all, allow me to thank you, Vice President, for your kind invitation and for your warm welcome. It is a real pleasure for me to be here. This is my first official engagement as Commissioner for Regional Policy with representatives of our Outermost Regions, and my first working visit on the island of Gran Canaria. I know that for some of you it is also your first joint meeting as President of the Region [Martinique, Guyane, Réunion] or as Minister [Portugal] and allow me to congratulate you!

I want to assure you that throughout my mandate you will be high on my agenda. The Outermost Regions are as valuable to the EU as my home region in Austria, or the regions of Belgium that I am just getting to know. You are fully a part of the EU – although you face different or additional challenges due to your geographical location far from the centre of the Union.

I am looking forward to getting to know your regions better: some I have already enjoyed as a tourist – but I hope in the course of my mandate to be able to visit most if not all of your fascinating territories.

It is natural that three Member States take a particular interest in the development of policy towards the Outermost Regions, and we are fortunate to have at present a Spanish presidency. I would like to thank the presidency for all its support to this important area of policy, as well as the French and Portuguese ministers here today.

But above all today is a valuable opportunity for me to meet our other key partners in this relationship, that is to say, you, the Presidents of the Outermost Regions My predecessors have built up a strong partnership with you, and you can count on me to maintain, and if possible, deepen this dialogue. With €7.85 billion for your territories in the current financial period the EU is playing a vital role in addressing the challenges your Regions have to face such as accessibility, , sustaining the economic life of your communities and ensuring you keep pace with the challenges climate change and globalisation pose to us all. To give just some examples of the actions underway I would mention

  • specific state aid schemes

  • special taxation schemes (such as octroi de mer for the DOM, AIEM (Arbitrio sobre Importaciones y Entregas de Mercancías) for the Canary Islands, Zona Franca for Madeira)

  • the reduced rate of excise duty for liquors & eaux de vie in Azores adopted last year,

  • the temporary suspension of Common Custom Tariffs for Industrial Products in Madeira and in the Azores (currently at second reading in the European Parliament)

  • the top-up allocation within the Structural Funds 2007 – 2013 worth 975 million Euros

  • the special programmes like POSEI for the support of traditional sectors such as agriculture and fisheries

AND in order to better assess the outermost regions' present situation, my services have launched two studies, one on economic growth factors for Outermost Regions and another on the impact of Migration and Demography on your social and economic cohesion. I hope to have the results by the end of this year.

Mr President, ladies and gentlemen,

I consider the joint Memorandum signed today (with the one adopted by the Regions last October) as a comprehensive, serious and in depth analysis of the current situation in the Outermost Regions and their needs in confronting new challenges. I will continue to study it very carefully. I will also ensure it is circulated to other Commission departments affected by this exercice.

I am aware of the work involved in putting this joint Memorandum together, and I applaud the co operative effort that has gone into developing a shared vision for the future.

It is right that we should take a fresh look at the current strategy, and develop an approach that reflects both your specific needs as well as your unique assets. As you know, this has been the thinking of the Commission in its reports both in 2007 and 2008.

Reading the Memorandum I found a great deal to agree with. We have both to help your traditional sectors like agriculture, fisheries and tourism in their modernisation efforts, AND develop new areas of activity with higher added value such as IT and green technologies.

I agree that we need to support the deepening of links with your geographical neighbourhood as well as with the EU. In fact, we have been pursuing this priority actively since 2004, with resources from the European Regional Development Fund, and we have put in place mechanisms to enhance synergies with the European Development Funds' (EDF) beneficiaries. But there is more that can be done, and I am already looking at what steps we need to take inside the Commission to remove obstacles to more efficient coordination between the EDF and ERDF. An internal Task Force has now been created to work on this.

Your Memorandum calls for continued financial support for the outermost regions. Believe me, we are determined to help you handle your so-called handicaps. Your physical location, the natural beauty of your territories and your proximity to other partners in your neighbourhoods are assets that I want to help you make the most of in our increasingly competitive world. I cannot prejudge the next financial perspectives, but I will be a very active advocate on your behalf.

You are to be congratulated on the special recognition you enjoy under the Treaty. The new Lisbon treaty is the fruit of years of debate, and the Member States will not be disposed to make amendments to it in the near future. This gives you the certainty that you will be treated not only on an equal footing with all other regions, but that there is a legal basis to adjust policy to your needs when necessary. Since you are in the same system as other regions, it is easy to compare your situation, and the comparison is favourable. You are "part of the family" and you know better than I do that EU policy already has been adapted in many fields for the Outermost Regions – in Cohesion Policy, taxation, state aids, agriculture, fisheries, customs, trade, and research and development. This situation is very precious and allows many benefits to flow to your regions.

Your memorandum suggests that in exceptional circumstances, flexible measures may be necessary to support your regions. As I have just said, we already show our willingness to adopt such measures, whether we think of POSEI or the special top up allocation we make to your regions.

This is certainly the moment to be thinking deeply about ways forward. We are, indeed, at a pivotal moment in the debate on the future of all policies. Europe 2020 has set out a vision of the way forward to green, inclusive and smart growth. Cohesion policy will be crucial to the success of this vision – and I hope to say more to you about this when we meet later this month in Brussels at the first Forum of the Outermost Regions.

Let me just say for now that 2010 will be a critical year - not least for the budget review. The debate will not be easy and the Commission will have to make difficult choices in the context of budgetary restrictions. I will be fighting hard for a budget that covers all regions, and that supports the key investments necessary to prepare a prosperous future. I believe that only Cohesion Policy can ensure the optimal use of funds, ensuring coherence between all sectors and all areas of the EU.

So let me close by saying that I am looking forward to working with you, to helping ensure a bright future for your regions, and to playing my part as your friend and supporter in Brussels.

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