In the comments to a recent post, the question arose of the “natural boundaries” of the EU. Apropos of that, let us briefly consider those parts of the EU that are outside of Europe. Sometimes very far outside.
The EU has a formal name for these territories: they are “the Outermost Regions of Europe”. Officially, there are six of them: Guadeloupe, French Guiana, Martinique, Réunion, the Azores, the Canaries and Madeira. Four French overseas possessions, two Spanish and one Portuguese archipelago.
I say “officially”, because there are a number of territories that aren’t covered under this. The Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla in Africa aren’t, presumably because they’re considered part of metropolitan Spain. The Falkland Islands aren’t, because that would be very upsetting to Argentina. And French Polynesia isn’t, because French Polynesia is very confusing. (This is a territory where everyone has double citizenship — French and French Polynesian — and that’s the least complicated thing about it.)
Then there’s Greenland, which is part of Denmark, except not exactly; the Turks and Caicos Islands, whose citizens are British citizens, and so EU citizens, but who can’t vote in EU elections; the Netherlands Antilles… oh, the list goes on.
But let’s keep it simple, and just look at the bits that are absolutely, positively part of the EU: the seven official “outermost regions”, plus Ceuta and Melilla.
Ceuta/Melilla — 4,400 sq. km. 145,000 people
These two small cities are on the north coast of Africa. Geographically part of Morocco, they’ve been Spanish for centuries.
French Guiana — 86,500 sq. km. 185,000 people
French Guiana is by far the largest of the “outermost regions”. Just about the size of Portugal, it’s on the north coast of South America, between Brazil and Suriname. Despite its size, it has a smaller population than Malta; most of it is rainforest.
It’s not widely recognized, but yes, the EU has a common land boundary with Brazil.
The Azores — 2,330 sq. km 241,000 people
The Azores are in the middle of the Atlantic, about 1500 km due east of Lisbon. They’ve been Portuguese since the 1400s.
Madeira — 800 sq. km. 250,000 people
Also Portuguese, Madeira is in the Atlantic about 600 km west of Morocco.
Martinique — 1,100 sq. km 430,000 people
Martinique, a French possession in the Caribbean, is famous for its active volcano, several famous writers, and its zouk music. The population is almost entirely of African descent. It has about as many people as Malta, but is much bigger.
Guadeloupe — 1,700 sq. km 443,000 people
Another French island in the Caribbean. Again, the population is mostly of African or mixed African-European descent. At longitude 62 West, Guadeloupe marks the EU’s westernmost point.
Réunion — 2,500 sq. km. 770,000 people.
The outermost of the outermost, Réunion is in the Indian Ocean near Madagascar. It has been French since the 17th century. The population is of mixed European, African, Chinese, Indian and Malay descent.
If it were independent, Réunion would be a respectable small country. It is about the size of Luxembourg and has the population of Cyprus.
Reunion is both the southernmost and the easternmost point of the EU.
The Canaries — 7,500 1,830,000
The Canaries are geographically part of Africa; 1000 km south of Spain, they’re about 200 km out in the Atlantic, just off the southern tip of Morocco. Like Cubans and Puerto Ricans, Canarians are of mixed African and Spanish descent. The islands are a major tourist destination — they get over 10 million visitors a year, mostly from Europe.
The Canaries have about as many people as Estonia or Slovenia, which means they’re quite densely populated. In terms of per capita income, they’re by far the richest of the Outermost, with the average Canarian not much poorer than the average Spaniard.
Altogether, the Outermost include about 4.5 million people — just under 1% of the EU’s 457 million. If they were an EU country, they’d be 10th out of 25 in area (between Greece and Hungary) and 16th out of 25 in population (between Ireland and Finland). So, while they’re small, they’re not that small.
Moreover, they are a bit hard to reconcile with either the idea of “natural” European boundaries, or with any but the broadest notion of what “Europeans” look like. The Outermost stretch Europe across eleven time zones, not three. Black Afro-Caribbeans in Guadeloupe, Malay and Chinese in Reunion, Oyampi Indians in the Guiana rainforest… they’re all EU citizens. Their currency is the euro, they can vote for the EU Parliament, and they’re fully subject to regulation from Brussels. They even have their own piece of the Lisbon Agenda.
The Outermost are net payees; they draw on a lot more EU funds than they contribute. In some cases, particularly in the Canaries and Madeira, these funds seem to have been used quite effectively. In others (Guadeloupe) they don’t seem to have done much. Still, that’s no different from Europe proper — compare the effect of EU funds spent in Ireland and in Sicily. Still, this may be one reason that the Outermost don’t usually push for a higher profile in Brussels.
One thing the Outermost don’t do, oddly enough, is send a lot of people to the rich parts of Europe. Reunion, Guiana, and the French Caribbean islands send a few emigrants to France, but fewer than the British Caribbean islands send to Britain — even though the Guadeloupeans and Martiniquois are already French citizens. A certain number of Canarians have gone to Spain, but they tend to integrate well, and (like Puerto Ricans in America) also tend to bounce back to the Canaries. Few of them emigrate to Europe outside Spain.
This is a little odd, given that the populations of the Outermost are poorer and younger than the EU average — sometimes much so. You’d expect a lot more people from Reunion or Guadeloupe to be heading for the bright lights. But it just doesn’t seem to be happening much.
One last thing: the Outermost are all politically stable in their current configuration. They’re all pretty content with their current relationship, and it’s very unlikely that this will change any time soon. (There is a small independence movement on Guadeloupe, but it’s support is in single digits.) So the Outermost are not going to leave the EU. In fact, it’s more likely that some other overseas possessions (French Polynesia, the Turks and Caicos) who are currently not quite Outermost may alter their relationship to become more fully part of the EU.
In other words, the Outermost — like the EU itself — are a club that will probably keep growing.