Outermost regions (ORs)

There are specific measures in place to support the development of the most remote regions of the European Union, known as the outermost regions: Guadeloupe, French Guiana, Réunion, Martinique, Mayotte and Saint-Martin (France), the Azores and Madeira (Portugal), and the Canary Islands (Spain). The purpose of this support is to compensate for the constraints arising from the geographical remoteness of these regions.

Legal basis

Articles 349 and 355 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU).


Some EU Member States have part of their territory located in areas of the globe that are remote from Europe. These regions, known as the outermost regions (ORs), have to deal with a number of difficulties related to their geographical characteristics, in particular: remoteness, insularity, small size, difficult topography and climate. They are economically dependent on a few products (often agricultural products or natural resources). These features act as constraints on their future development potential.

Currently there are nine outermost regions:

  • 5 French overseas departments — Martinique, Mayotte, Guadeloupe, French Guyana and Réunion;
  • 1 French overseas community — Saint-Martin (since 2009);
  • 2 Portuguese autonomous regions — Madeira and the Azores;
  • 1 Spanish autonomous community — the Canary Islands.

It should be highlighted that ORs are not the same as the EU overseas countries and territories (OCTs). There are 25 OCTs constitutionally linked to the following Member States: Denmark, France, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. OCTs are not part of the single market and must comply with the obligations imposed on third countries in respect of trade, particularly rules of origin, health and plant health standards and safeguard measures. The EU’s association relations with OCTs are detailed in the Council Decision 2013/755/EU, adopted on 25 November 2013. Article 355 of the Treaty of Lisbon allows the European Council, on the initiative of the Member State concerned, to amend the status of a given French, Danish or Netherlands overseas country or territory (i.e. ORs or OCTs) without having to amend the Treaty. Until the end of 2011, for example, Saint Barthélemy was an outermost region, but in 2012 it became an OCT by Council Decision No 528/2012/EU. The opposite happened in 2014 with Mayotte, which was an OCT and by Council Decision 2014/162/EU became an OR.


Regardless of the great distance separating them from the European continent, the outermost regions are an integral part of the European Union, and the acquis communautaire is fully applicable in their territory. However, owing to their specific geographical location and the related difficulties, EU policies have had to be adjusted to their special situation.

The relevant measures concern, in particular, areas such as customs and trade policies, fiscal policy, free zones, agriculture and fisheries policies, and conditions for supply of raw materials and essential consumer goods. Also, the rules on State aid and conditions of access to the Structural Funds and to EU horizontal programmes can be adapted to the needs of these regions.

Outermost regions benefit from the ESI funds. For the 2014-2020 programming period, EUR 6.6 billion is allocated to these regions via the European Regional Development Fund and the European Social Fund.

In the area of agriculture, the ORs are supported by POSEI programmes (Programmes of Options Specifically Relating to Remoteness and Insularity). Such programmes exist for each of the three EU Member States with outermost regions. In annual terms (based on 2010 data) the POSEI programmes provide significant financial support amounting to approximately EUR 278.4 million for France, EUR 268.4 million for Spain and EUR 106.2 million for Portugal. These programmes focus on two major types of measure:

  • specific supply arrangements designed to mitigate the additional supply costs relating to essential products for human consumption, for processing or for use as agricultural inputs; and
  • measures to support local agricultural production.

Role of the European Parliament

Despite the fact that all decisions as to which regions are accorded outermost region status are taken by the European Council, the European Parliament plays a very active role in support for the ORs.

Parliament has powers equal to those of the Council when it comes to the legislation concerning the most important EU policies, such as regional, agricultural, fisheries and education policy. In its work Parliament takes account of the specific situation of the outermost regions and supports initiatives aimed at boosting their development.

During the negotiations of the 2014-2020 regulatory framework, Parliament supported the principle that outermost regions should have differentiated treatment regarding cofinancing rates, special ERDF provisions on productive investments in enterprises, and specific rules as regards ETC programmes. Furthermore, in 2014 Parliament adopted a resolution on ‘optimising the potential of outermost regions by creating synergies between the Structural Funds and other European Union programmes’. In this resolution, it recalled the special features of ORs and emphasised the need for synergies between the Structural Funds’ support for ORs and EU-level programmes such as Horizon 2020, LIFE+ and COSME.

Table: Data on Outermost Regions

  Distance from national capital (km) Area (km2) Population GDP per capita as a percentage of the EU average (EU=100) (*)
EU 28 - 4 407 569.1 508 450 856 100
France*** - 633 186.6 66 415 161 117
Portugal - 92 226.0 10 374 822 61
Spain - 505 944.0 46 449 565 82
Azores 1 548 2 322.0 246 353 55
Canaries 1 850 (average for all the islands) 7 445.0 2 126 144  70
Guadeloupe 7 578 1 681.6 434 691 80
French Guiana 7 841 83 533.9 254 541 64
Madeira 1 041 802.0 258 686 57
Martinique 7 641 1 128.0 378 243 85
Réunion 9 921 2 503.7 843 529 77
Saint-Martin (**) 6 700 86 (53 for the French side) 36 457 -
Mayotte  8 444 374.0  226 915 34
(*) Data for 2014.
(**) Sources: INSEE (France), 2015 and ‘Ministère Français des Outre-Mer’ (Ministry of Overseas France); no recent data available for GDP
(***) Total area for France includes the ORs but not the OCTs.

Source: Eurostat 2015

Filipa Azevedo