Azores, The Canaries, Guadeloupe, French Guiana, Madeira, Mayotte, Martinique, Reunion island and Saint-Martin: eight insular regions and one isolated region in the north-west of the South American continent, located thousands of kilometers away from continental Europe. Some are bathed by the Caribbean Sea, others by the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. Portuguese, French and Spanish are the three official languages and nationalities of a group of regions fully integrating the European Union and forming a particular and well-defined group within it: the outermost regions of the European Union (ORs).
Geographically remote and isolated from the European market, but fully European through the membership of their respective States, ORs are in a natural context marked by insularity, volcanism, a tropical climate, a proximity to less developed third countries and historical and cultural ties with other countries with whom they have special relations.
These regions face the same difficulties:
All these combined and cumulative factors affect their economic and social development.
Despite their small economic and demographic impact at the European level, ORs offer a great deal of assets to the European Union. Their geographical location and natural environment truly adds a global dimension to the EU: a valuable maritime zone and a key geostrategic position; privileged areas for implementing scientific and high-tech research activities, a great potential for developing renewable energies and an exceptional natural environment for a safe and environmentally friendly tourism.
Their common situation has led these regions to strengthen their partnership. This united front will initially aim at gaining a greater recognition of their reality, their assets in terms of sustainable development and their strategic location in different geo-economic areas, before tackling the Treaty itself to change its content. This decisive step was taken in October 1997 by the Treaty of Amsterdam, with the new Article 299§2.