Over the two-day meeting, there were four major themes under debate: reinforcement of competitiveness and employment in ORs under the circular, green and blue economy and energy; prospects for a better integration of ORs in regional and international markets; improvement of digital and physical accessibility; support of European programmes and fund to these regions.
European Commissioner for Regional Policy, Corina Cretu, started the Forum talking about the new challenges that the EU is facing and the new forces that are emerging. In this critical context, the ORs have a key role in supporting the EU and in strengthening the EU project. They provide the European Union with a set of strategic maritime territories, a wide range of biodiversity and an even more diversified economy, for example by supplying agricultural and fisheries products for European consumers. In addition, the outermost regions are a valuable asset for EU relations with neighbouring non-EU countries. The strategic importance of the ORs was also highlighted by the President of the EU Parliament Antonio Tajani, who called for stronger cooperation with these regions and full implementation of EU policies. It is also the time to boost their economic growth and investments, to intensify the work with local and regional authorities, to strengthen their assets and dynamism while moving closer to the citizens. ORs are "ultra-peripheral but also ultra-important" for the EU.
However, not adequate answers are given from the EU to the needs of the ORs, as pointed out by Vasco Cordeiro, President of the Regional Government of the Azores. "We are here because we want answers", he stated, especially on the future of Cohesion Policy which is essential to ensure cohesion in Europe. He expressed concerns about the full efficiency of the POSEI (Programme of Options Specifically Relating to Remoteness and Insularity) in the agriculture sector, at the same time showing confidence in "The joint Memorandum of the Outermost regions" to build up a new strategy for the ORs. Taking into account their structural social and economic situation and their special characteristics and constraints, the EU should adopt specific measures to these regions in particular areas such as customs and trade policies, fiscal policy, agriculture and fisheries policies, State aid and conditions of access to structural funds.
Although an adaptation of EU policies and legislation to the ORs current situation is still needed, the benefits of the EU's action are tangible, as confirmed by Didier Robert, President of the Regional Council of La Reunion. There is an ongoing dynamic process in favour of digitalisation, sustainable tourism, agriculture and fisheries and to boost a feeling of belonging to Europe. But other issues have to be solved: illegal immigration, security problems, high rate of unemployment, lack of accessibility, lack of appropriate infrastructures. The establishment of a win-win economic relation with the EU is essential to support growth and jobs, to preserve natural heritage and biodiversity, to modernise fishing fleets as well as access the opportunities of the digital market, stated Soibahadine Ibrahim Ramadani, President of the Departmental Council of Mayotte.
The European Commission will adopt “a Communication” by the end of 2017 to provide concrete solutions and review the European strategy for the Outermost Regions.
Written by FEDRA's Team