Outermost regions (ORs)

The European Union supports the development of its most remote regions, 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:

  • Five French overseas departments – Martinique, Mayotte, Guadeloupe, French Guiana and Réunion;
  • One French overseas community – Saint Martin;
  • Two Portuguese autonomous regions Madeira and the Azores;
  • One Spanish autonomous community – the Canary Islands.

It should be highlighted that ORs are not the same as EU overseas countries and territories (OCTs). There are 13 OCTs constitutionally linked to Denmark, France and the Netherlands. OCTs are not part of the single market and must comply with the obligations imposed on non-EU countries in respect of trade, particularly rules of origin, health and plant health standards and safeguard measures. Article 355 TFEU 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 TFEU. Until the end of 2011, for example, Saint Barthélemy was an EU outermost region, but in 2012, it became an OCT. The opposite happened in 2014 with Mayotte, which was an OCT and by Council of the European Union decision became an OR.

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 27 - 4 225 127 447 319 916 100
France - 638 475 67 320 216 106
Portugal - 92 227 10 374 822 79
Spain - 505 983 47 332 614 91
Azores 1 548 2 322 242 796 90
Canary Islands 1 850 (average for all the islands) 7 447 2 236 992 73
Guadeloupe 7 578 1 685 412 682 68
French Guiana 7 841 83 751 288 086 48
Madeira 1 041 802 254 254 76
Martinique 7 641 1 108 359 821 70
Réunion 9 921 2 504 856 858 67
Saint Martin (**) 6 700 86 (53 for the French side) 35 334 -
Mayotte  8 444 367  278 926 32
(*) Data for 2019, source: Eurostat
(**) Data for 2017, sources: Institut national de la statistique et des études économiques, France, (National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies) and ‘Ministère des Outre-Mer’ (Ministry for Overseas France); no recent data available for GDP.

Source: Eurostat 2020


In spite 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 the supply of raw materials and essential consumer goods. In addition, 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 (e.g. European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) special allocations to ORs).

Apart from the special ERDF allocations, ORs also benefit, in the area of agriculture, from the POSEI programmes (Programmes of Options Specifically Relating to Remoteness and Insularity), funded from the European Agricultural Guarantee Fund (EAGF). These programmes focus on two major types of measures:

  • 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;
  • Measures to support local agricultural production.

For the 2014-2020 programming period, approximately EUR 13 billion of European Structural and Investment (ESI) Funds was allocated to ORs, as follows:

Table: 2014-2020 ESI Funds allocated to ORs

ESI Funds allocated to ORs (EUR billion)
(including special OR allocations and European territorial cooperation (Interreg))
European Social Fund (ESF)
(including Youth Employment Initiative (YEI))
European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) 1.5
POSEI programmes
(funded from the EAGF)
European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) 0.3
Total 13.3

Source: European Commission, Fourth Forum of the Outermost Regions, 30-31 March 2017

The European Union will continue its support for outermost regions. Between 2021 and 2027, it will allocate additional funding of EUR 1 928 million to ORs under the ERDF. European territorial cooperation will also address a new objective (strand) called ‘outermost regions’ cooperation’ (Interreg D). It will facilitate the integration of ORs and harmonious development in their regions. The budget for this strand is EUR 281 million. In addition, while the usual co-financing rate for Interreg programmes is 80%, the co-financing rate for outermost regions is set at a maximum of 85%.

EU strategy for outermost regions

In October 2017, the European Commission published a communication (COM(2017)0623) entitled ‘A stronger and renewed strategic partnership with the EU’s outermost regions’. This strategy proposes a new approach to better address the specific needs of each of the nine EU outermost regions. It will help them to create new opportunities for their inhabitants, boost competitiveness and innovation in sectors such as agriculture, fisheries or tourism, and enhance cooperation with neighbouring countries.

The strategy is based on four pillars:

  • A new governance model based on a strong partnership;
  • Building on OR assets;
  • Enabling growth and job creation; and
  • Scaling up cooperation.

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.

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

During the negotiations of the regulatory framework, the European Parliament supported the principle that outermost regions should have differentiated treatment regarding co-financing rates, special ERDF provisions on productive investments in enterprises, and specific rules as regards Interreg programmes. Furthermore, in 2014 the European 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[1], LIFE+[2] and COSME[3].

In 2017, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on promoting cohesion and development in the outermost regions of the EU: implementation of Article 349 of the TFEU. It focuses on the implementation of Article 349 TFEU, covering areas such as EU trade policy, maritime policy, fisheries and blue growth, cohesion policy, the environment and energy.


[1]The EU’s financial instrument implementing the Innovation Union, a Europe 2020 flagship initiative aimed at securing Europe’s global competitiveness.
[2]The EU’s funding instrument for the environment and climate action.
[3]Competitiveness of Enterprises and Small and Medium-sized Enterprises.

Marek Kołodziejski