Article 349 of the TFEU lists nine Outermost Regions (OR) and presents the main determinants of this specific EU status. As a political category, accessing the status of OR (or abandoning it) requires validation at the EU level. Following recent decisions, there are now only eight OR:
The Treaties establish a clear-cut difference between ORs and Overseas Countries and Territories (OCTs). While OCTs are part of their mainland but not of the EU (and EU law consequently does not apply there), the OR are an integral part of the European Union, although isolated in the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea and the Indian Ocean as well as on the South American continent. Given their situations, it is officially acknowledged that these regions have to cope with specific constraints - remoteness, insularity, small (usable) area, difficult topography and climate, economic dependence on a few products - the permanence and combination of which severely restrain development capacities. The OR therefore profit from derogations under some EU policies, and from particular compensation programmes under others.
The project found that Outermost Regions make up 1,7% of the ESPON space and account for 0,7% of population.
The dynamics of demography are generally positive in the ORs. With the exception of the Canary Islands, OR birth rates are higher than birth rates in their respective homelands. Demography is generally more dynamic in the French ORs than the Spanish and Portuguese ones, and particularly strong in French Guyana, with a birth rate of 27.7 ‰ in 2008 (France: 12.9 ‰). The proportion of the population of French Guyana below 15 years old is very high: 35-49% in most Communes, mainly along the borders with Brazil and Suriname. The Canary Islands have the oldest population of the ORs, especially in rural, isolated areas and on the smallest, Western islands of La Palma, La Gomera and El Hierro. The fact that many retired or near-retired Europeans have immigrated to the Canary Islands in recent decades has contributed to lowering the average age (notably on the two main islands of Tenerife and Gran Canaria).
The economies of the ORs are characterised by the strong (if not predominant) role of services. However ORs do not compose one homogenous group in terms of economic structuring, but rather three: the French, the Spanish and the Portuguese ORs. Employment in the French DOM is very strongly reliant on public services: public administration, education and health. Manufacturing and financial activities follow. As opposed to what one could assume, tourism does not appear as a key employment sector. In the Canary Islands, jobs are concentrated in the hotels and restaurants sector on the two islands of Lanzarote and Fuerteventura, whose main activity is linked with tourism, while activity is more diversified in the two capital islands of Tenerife and Gran Canaria, being oriented towards the private sector, with tourism as a major contributor, but also including transportation, trade, construction, and real estate. The Portuguese ORs, and especially the Azores, seem to follow a more rural pattern, being more dependent on agricultural and fishing activities than any other OR.
Profile of employment in the Canary Islands
Most Outermost Regions share two major characteristics in terms of land use. First, a very high proportion of their territories is designated as protected areas (over 40%, except for the Azores, and up to almost 80% in La Réunion). The second characteristic is that urban areas are very concentrated (and thus densely populated). This is due to several factors, including the high proportion of protected areas but also, in most cases, topographic characteristics that limit the development of densely populated areas to small parts of the territory. Most ORs are mountainous islands (some as archipelagos), which limits urban areas to sometimes very narrow coastal zones. The result of these land use patterns is that strong pressure is exerted on a small proportion of the total are of the ORs, in some cases exacerbated by major seasonal peaks (e.g., the high tourist period in the Canary Islands).
These findings are just some samples from the extensive quantitative analysis that was undertaken for GEOSPECS. The entire analysis can be found in the Draft Final Scientific Report, downloadable on the ESPON website.