The European Forum for the outermost regions

The European Commission is organising, since yesterday, the first Forum for Outermost Europe in partnership with the Spanish Presidency of the European Union. The event will is meant to provide a better understanding among the European institutions and the Member States of the situation in the nine outermost regions (OR).

The Forum will also provide an opportunity to strengthen dialogue with these regions and exchange experience. Another aim is to send a strong political message: the EU will continue to take account of the specific characteristics of these regions and support them with a view to transforming their potential into real growth opportunities. This means, for example, strengthening their capabilities in the fields of research and renewable energy sources, or using their unique position to measure the effects of climate change.

This event brings together the Presidents of the outermost regions, the 27 EU Member States, representatives from the European Commission, the European Parliament, the Committee of the Regions, the European Economic and Social Committee, NGOs, universities and socio-professional circles and other experts.

The European Union’s future strategy for the outermost regions from 2013 will be the focus of discussions in the Forum. 2010 is a pivotal year for these regions, given the ongoing discussions on the EU budget, the future cohesion policy after 2013 and the new economic strategy for Europe for 2020. The ORs and their Member States also recently presented a memorandum to the European Commission summarising their joint ideas for the future (IP/10/547).

Discussions will follow four main themes:

The cultural and natural heritage of the ORs

This heritage can drive development if properly exploited. For example, the very wide variety of plants in these regions may be useful in developing biomedical research and the Pharmacopoeia. In addition, internationally-renowned jazz and blues festivals, such as those in Saint Lucia or Marie-Galante, may stimulate economic development.

Dynamic partnerships and active European borders

Given their location within three oceans, these regions play an important role in the Union’s external action and in its neighbourhood policy. For example, Guyana cooperates with Suriname and the Brazilian states of Amapá, Pará and Amazonas in developing cross-border economic activities and bringing the populations together.

Prospects for agriculture and fisheries

These form the backbone of the ORs’ economy. Where agriculture is concerned, they export a number of products (bananas, sugar cane, fruit, flowers, etc.). They also benefit from impressive know-how in the agro-environmental and agri-food industries. Their fisheries resources are rich and relatively well-preserved in comparison with continental Europe.

Sectors with development potential in these regions

The many examples of projects carried out by the ORs in the field of research and innovation illustrate their ability to overcome the constraints of their isolation and geomorphological characteristics. They particularly excel in the fields of medical research, oceanography, aeronautics, agri-food and the development of renewable energy sources.

The European Commission’s objective is to continue to support the modernisation of traditional sectors such as agriculture, fisheries and tourism, while developing new areas of activity with higher added value, such as information technology and green technologies.

The European Union is making specific financial efforts for these regions, and a number of actions are under way. In the period 2007-2013, the outermost regions will benefit from Community investment totalling €7.8 billion under the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), European Social Fund (ESF), European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD), European Fisheries Fund (EFF) and the Programme of Options Specifically Relating to Remoteness and Insularity (POSEI). Specific public aid schemes and special tax regimes are being granted in order to take account of their situation.

Nota bene…

The European Union has nine outermost regions: the four French overseas departments (DOM) (Guadeloupe, French Guiana, Réunion and Martinique), two French overseas collectivities (Saint-Barthélemy and Saint-Martin), the autonomous regions of Portugal (the Azores and Madeira) and the Spanish Autonomous Community of the Canary Islands. Since 1999 they have had a specific status recognised in the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.

Diego López Garrido, Spain’s Secretary of State for Maritime Affairs, Marie-Luce Penchard, France’s Minister with responsibility for Overseas Territories, and Pedro Lourtie, Portugal’s Secretary of State for European Affairs, are taking part in the Forum.

In its 2008 communication, ‘The outermost regions: an asset for Europe’, the Commission undertook to organise a forum for ‘outermost Europe’ every two years, together with the Member States and the OR.

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