The vision of the European Commission for the outermost regions has four pillars: to improve communication with France, Portugal and Spain, as well as with the regions, on the specific outermost regions agenda; guide cohesion policy and investments towards the development of natural assets such as biodiversity, the sea, geographical location or climate, where the regions furthest from the European Union have competitive advantages; improve training and increase Erasmus mobility for young people in these nine territories; take advantage of the neighborhood with third countries to cooperate and trade on a larger scale.
On October 24, 2017, the Commission announced its new strategy for the outermost regions, with the next financial framework for 2021-2027 on the horizon. From a first communication submitted in 2004, Brussels has updated its roadmap for the outermost lands in 2008, 2012 and 2017. The convergence of these regions with the average income in the EU has slowed down, despite European public investment in these nine regions it is 13,300 million euros between 2014 and 2020. In the case of the Canary Islands –the most populated of these regions, with 2.1 million people–, per capita income has fallen to a level that is below of what he had before the economic crisis.
Brussels admits in its report that there are problems in which progress has not been made, such as youth unemployment, which ranges between 40 and 55% in these regions. Not all responsibility for the stalemate is with the EU –the Commission maintains. The regions “must devote more efforts to unlocking their endogenous potential for growth”, says the Communication, on page 3. In other words: local authorities must remove administrative barriers and give more freedom to private initiative.
The conference of local leaders in the Canary Islands on 24 and 25 November 2018 will evaluate the road map of the Commission for the Rup. President Jean-Claude Juncker and the Regional Policy Commissioner, Corina Cretu, will be at the meeting, which will be presided over by King Felipe VI.
The checklist of the outermost regions, the Member States and the Commission may look a lot like this:
A platform for the OR
The Commission wants more information, and of better quality, on the outermost regions, in order to be able to modulate European policies in these territories. The new strategy for the Rup plans to refine Eurostat’s data flows on the outermost territories, and encourages France, Spain and Portugal to do the same with their statistical institutes.
One of the stellar measures announced in the Communication of October 2017 is the creation of a specific platform for the OR to have a direct link with Brussels.
Regions are also encouraged to participate in consultations that the Commission opens to assess the impact of trade agreements –while they are being negotiated– and other measures –while their adoption is being considered.
The updated strategy also foresees the creation of working groups to study specific problems of each outermost region.
The objective of these measures is that the territories –through their local authorities and the Member States– “express their specific interests and concerns”.
How much progress has been made? It does not seem that much. There is no news of the new ad hoc platform for the communication of the regions and the States with the Commission.
Specific initiative of the EIB
The Commission’s strategy also aims to facilitate the access of the outermost territories to the loans of the European Investment Bank and the funds of the so-called Juncker Plan –a line of investments declared as strategic.
The Communication of October 2017 announced the creation of a Specific Initiative of the European Investment Bank for the outermost regions, as can be read on page 6.
In addition, the outermost regions would benefit from special attention from the European Investment Advisory Center.
It is known –because local media have published it– that the technicians of the European Investment Bank have been visiting the outermost regions to know their specific needs before creating a specific line of financing for these territories. For example, in February 2018, the EIB experts visited the Canary Islands.
Apart from this movement, the access of the outermost territories to the financing lines of the European Investment Bank for public infrastructure projects remains scarce. The last large loan with European guarantee was signed in February 2017 with the City of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, worth 50 million euros, for the development of “Metro Guagua”, a new, more efficient collective public transport network.
Ensure the continuity of the Posei
The common agricultural policy has allocated 6,100 million euros to the Rup regions in 2014-2020. The primary sector of these regions and the overseas territories have a specific program of funds to compensate for the remoteness and insularity, the Posei. Its basis is the significant contribution of agriculture and fisheries to the GDP of these regions, by 3.8% –compared to 1.6% on average across the European Union.
Half of 13,300 million euros in European funds received by the Rup regions are for agriculture, fisheries and their derived industries.
In its Communication of October 2017, page 8, the Commission says that it will do everything possible to ensure that the Posei continues to be applied in the budgetary framework from 2021 to 2027. In other words, Brussels still can not guarantee it. A good question, to ask the local and national authorities of the Rup regions, as well as the Commission.
Research and Innovation
The Commission notes in its Communication –page 13– that “the participation of the majority of the outermost regions in the research programs of the European Union is still insufficient and could increase significantly”.
The outermost regions are subject to specific financial support, worth four million euros, within the Horizon 2020 program, between 2018 and 2020. Beyond this initiative, almost everything remains to be done in this objective.
Leaders in renewable energies
The outermost regions –says the Commission, page 12 of its October 2017 Communication– “must play a leading role in the transition to clean energy”. They are territories “ideal for testing sustainable energy systems” –page 11.
The Commission highlights the creation, in 2014, of an “energy network” of the outermost regions, a platform for cooperation in clean energy R & D.
Response to climate change
The ravages of Irma hurricane in Saint Martin, in 2017, show that the OR regions are especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change on the planet.
The European Union Solidarity Fund already includes specific provisions to help the Rup regions in situations of reconstruction after a natural disaster. For example, the damage threshold for receiving aid from the Solidarity Fund is lower in the most remote regions.
As part of the new strategy for the OR, the Commission announced in October 2017 a specific project on the adaptation of these regions to climate change. It programmed its elaboration for the year 2019.
A study on transport
Brussels points out in its strategy for the outermost regions –page 17– that “air and maritime transport is fundamental for these regions”. It also sees in these territories the opportunity to be “maritime platforms in its accounts and serve, for example, as power refueling stations along maritime lines, including liquefied natural gas”.
The Commission plans to produce a study on “the specific connectivity needs of the outermost regions, including the needs for financial support from the Union and technical assistance”.
In its revised strategy, the European Commission proposes “a new preventive approach” to European policies in the outermost regions. In general, it offers to submit the specific interests of the OR to “a thorough examination” and to channel the listening of their points of view through a new ad hoc platform in which the regions, the Member States, the Commission and others are represented. stakeholders – parties with a legitimate interest, such as associations of employers and unions. The Conference of local authorities of the nine outermost regions, in the Canary Islands, will allow to check the status of the OR agenda.