Outermost regions of the EU

Briefing 25-05-2021

The European Union's outermost regions qualify for special treatment owing to structural difficulties – such as remoteness, difficult topography and economic dependence on a few products – that can severely hamper their development. Specific support mechanisms exist under cohesion, agricultural and fisheries policies, with the Commission outlining measures aimed at assisting outermost regions in communications published in 2004, 2008, and 2012. Nevertheless, with the outermost regions continuing to face numerous challenges in areas such as mobility, unemployment and climate change, discussions were launched on the formulation of a new strategy, which was published in October 2017. Offering a new approach to supporting the outermost regions' development by optimising their assets, exploiting new opportunities for growth and jobs, and focusing more on their specific circumstances and needs, the 2017 communication outlines a series of concrete and coordinated actions, calling for stronger partnership between outermost regions, Member States and the EU. In May 2018, the Commission put forward a broad package of proposals for the 2021-2027 period, providing the legislative framework needed to guide the strategy beyond 2020, taking account of the specific needs of outermost regions in a total of 21 proposals. Following political agreement between the European Parliament and Council, this new framework includes a number of new benefits for outermost regions, such as the right to use EU funds for investments in airport infrastructure, and extends many special measures from the 2014-2020 period. Published in March 2020, the European Commission report on implementation of the recommendations of the 2017 communication considers that concrete results have been delivered and that the process is going in the right direction. Yet with development continuing to lag behind in the outermost regions, it is clear that challenges persist, a situation that has been compounded by the heavy impact of the coronavirus pandemic in the outermost regions. This has led to calls for a new strategy, with European Commissioner Elisa Ferreira recently announcing plans to present a new communication in 2022. In light of the serious structural challenges facing these regions, however, it remains to be seen whether a future strategy and the special measures put forward for the post-2020 period will together be sufficient to close the inequalities gap with the rest of the EU. This is a revised and updated version of a briefing from May 2020.