The Outermost Regions

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.

22 thoughts on “The Outermost Regions

  1. 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.

    Partly because that’s the economic differentials between the DOM-TOM and metropolitan France tend not to be that grand. Mainly, I think, it’s because the inhabitants of Outermost Europe already have full EU citizenship: they can’t pass through the exploited-immigrant phase that most migrant groups go through.

  2. Greenland is officially outside the EU, fishingright especially

    The income on the canaries may be lower but a lot of people retire to those island so they may in fact be richer than the average Spaniard.

    You forgot Cyprus which i doubt belongs to the European continent.

  3. A lot of interesting points here Doug. Just a couple of things come to mind.

    “or with any but the broadest notion of what “Europeans” look like.”

    But isn’t this in itself an interesting question. What do ‘Europeans’ look like these days?

    If we take the UK, maybe I can make myself clearer. If you close your eyes and think of ‘English’ maybe you can come up with *some* physical characteristics. But close you eyes and think of ‘British’: now what do you see?

    As I’ve been mentioning, I visited Sweden last weekend, and it is now much harder to give defining characteristics of what a modern ‘Swede’looks like.

    Obviously our concept of ‘European’ is changing. It is moving from being an ethnic description to being a cultural one. And the culture itself is evolving, partly as a result of the constant redefinition of our outer borders.

    “One last thing: the Outermost are all politically stable in their current configuration. ”

    I’m not sure this is really true of Ceuta and Melilla. This is a ‘hot’ area of contention between Spain and Morocco. Demographics in the broadest sense are also playing a part here as more and more of the working population enter and leave every day from Morocco, while the number of ‘illegals’ inside the two enclaves continues to grow as a proportion of the total population there. – indeed the daily queues of people waiting to enter for work seem very reminiscent of the queues of Palestinian workers on their way to work in Israel.

    What I am getting at here is that image people outside Europe are receiving is very different from that of French workers going to Switzerland, or Slovenes going to Austria, and in a world where ‘image’ is so important I don’t think this is a situation we can be very happy about.

    During the recent amnesty for undocumented migrants in Spain very few applications were processed in C&M. There was obviously a very strong institutional resistance to accepting more legal residents of Moroccan origin.

    The boundaries of the two cities also now resemble more and more the US/Mexico frontier, with constant nightime cat-and-mouse games between local police and migrants, most of whom interestingly enough come from Sub-Saharan Africa (presumeably local Moroccans can find other ways to enter).

    So I would say we need to be looking for a more lasting and stable solution here. This is a case – Morocco – where I think Merkel’s idea of a ‘priviledged partnership’ might be very applicable.

  4. For anyone interested in the topic of Spain and C&M, googling around I found a huge Amnesty International report on the situation:

    What I would say is that while I am sure the situations amnesty describes are real enough, perhaps they are being unfair to the Spanish authorities.

    What Spain is doing is attempting to keep a very tight rein on the category of political refugees by being very lenient indeed with ‘economic migrants’. Spain seems to have a model which is nearer to the US one here. Some 600,000 irregular migrants are arriving in Spain each year (that’s 1.5% of the population) and very few are actually expelled. Under the constitution they are entitled to free medical care, and children are guaranteed schooling. They are indeed all registered with their local town hall (since this registration is the document you need when there is an amnesty. That is also why there are very accurate numbers).

    Otoh African migrants who try to claim refugee status have a very hard time of it indeed, as amnesty suggest. I think maybe the African migrants simply don’t have the network strucure to enter and join the underground labour market yet, this is the only explanation I can think of. In other words what we are talking about are ‘information imperfections’ in a determinate labour market.

    Here is some of the info on the Bel Younes wood area (which is what I was referring to in the previous comment):

    When they reach the Moroccan border to try crossing into Ceuta under cover, they tend to gather in the area known as the Bel Younes wood, on Moroccan territory(26), where it is estimated that 500-800 foreign nationals gather habitually. According to the CIMADE report, the majority are young men, 42% of whom are between 26 and 30. They come from the Democratic Republic of Congo (36.8%), Cameroon (12.6%), Côte d’Ivoire (12.6%), Mali (8.4%) and Senegal (8.4%). 57.8% of those interviewed by CIMADE stated spontaneously that they had abandoned their country because of political persecution or war and the remainder cited economic reasons.

    Few NGOs have access to this wooded area, but those who do condemn the inadequate living conditions and violent incidents that occur. Of particular concern are the complaints about the situation of women. Some women suffer sexual violence and others have been obliged to prostitute themselves to pay the cost of the journey and clandestine entry. Some are victims of the trafficking networks that bring them to Europe where they will be exploited sexually.(28) There have also been complaints of ill-treatment and human rights violations on the part of members of the Moroccan security forces against foreign nationals living in Bel Younes. Specifically, CIMADE condemns the pressure being brought to bear on Morocco from the European Union to control immigration. This pressure may have aggravated the situation of the foreign nationals in the woodland “provoking a policy of refoulement on the part of the Moroccan authorities to the detriment of the international protection of refugees”.(29) There have also been reports of the illegal expulsion by the Moroccan authorities of foreign nationals to Algeria.

  5. Partly because that’s the economic differentials between the DOM-TOM and metropolitan France tend not to be that grand.

    Not really true in the case of the Outermost. (I suspect you’re thinking of French Polynesia here.)

    Martinique is relatively prosperous; its PPP adjusted per capita income is about $14,400. That’s roughly equal to Hungary or Estonia, or about 50% of France’s. But Guadeloupe is just $7,900, and Reunion is only $6,000 — much lower than any current EU member; Guadeloupe is towards the low end of the Second World, somewhere between Algeria and Gabon.

    Reunion ought to be sending significant numbers of emigrants to the EU. But they’re just not.

    But close you eyes and think of ‘British’: now what do you see?

    When I think of ‘European’, I may think of a wide variety of sorts of people. But (my point was) that variety probably does not extend to a barefoot Malay peasant chopping sugar cane on Reunion, nor either to a Neolithic hunter-gatherer tribe of South American Indians deep in the rain forest of French Guaiana.

    Doug M.

  6. Reunion ought to be sending significant numbers of emigrants to the EU.

    They get French levels of welfare in a place where the Euro’s purchasing power is comparatively high. Plus, it is a very beautiful island.

  7. I’d just like to indicate that I’ve posted a lot more info on the Ceuta/Melilla situation on Mrs Ts ‘Unwanted’ thread.

    The really interesting read is this:

    Where among other things you can learn how ‘fortress Ceuta/Melilla’ was built in part with EU funding to stop the drift north, at the same time as the gateway from Latin America was thrown wide open in Barajas airport Madrid.

    So to take all this back to the topic of where Europe’s natural borders extend to, obviously de facto they reach a lot further into Latin America then they do into Africa. Gives a whole new meaning to the concept ‘neighbourliness’.

  8. What about St Pierre and Miliqon? They share a border with Canada.
    I presume the inhabitants are also European?

  9. Not really true in the case of the Outermost. (I suspect you’re thinking of French Polynesia here.)

    I’m not. Some of the economies of the Outermost–most, in fact–have levels of GDP per capita, PPP adjusted, which fit nicely within the range of incomes exhibited by the EU-25. The two which are notably divergent, as you note, receive massive subsidies from France which boost local standards of living artificially.

  10. A comment about the Canary Islands:

    Describing their population as “Canarians are of mixed African and Spanish descent” is somewhat misleading. When people read African, they usually think of Black (i.e.Sub-Saharan) Africans. Doug himself fell into this trap in saying they are “Like Cubans and Puerto Ricans”. Actually, the natives of the Canaries were of North African Berber stock. Moreover, the islands have belonged to Spain for five centuries now, and they are thoroughly acculturated. Except for minor differences in dialect, Canary Islanders are indistiguishable from Mainland Spaniards.

    In recent years, there has been some immigration from Sub-Saharan Africa, but this is still marginal in terms of numbers. During various times in the 20th century, Germans, English, Hindu Indians and other groups have arrived.

  11. “Actually, the natives of the Canaries were of North African Berber stock.”

    Thanks for this Karl Heinz, this is more or less the state-of-the-art wisdom.

    At the risk of diving off into esoterica though – well we are in the ‘outermost regions – the inhabitants who were there when the Spanish arrived (basically what does ‘native’ mean here or anywhere else for that matter) seem to have spoken a language called Guanche. Now this was, as you suggested, thought to have been related to Berber, but there has been some controversy in Spain of late since historians have found in the historical record that the original Spanish who arrived needed Basques from their midst to act as interpreters, which has lead to the speculation that there is some connection between the two languages (and possibly indirectly between Basque and Berber, although I’m less sure about this).

    Wikipedia has this:

    “Guanche is an extinct language of the Canary Islands. Its SIL code is GNC. It has been out of use since the 16th century. Most linguists consider Guanche to be related to the Berber languages, but this is not certain.”

  12. Chasing round with Google for any discussion of Basque and Guanche I found a quote from someone who is looking for the inhabitants of Atlantis (this would be veeeery esoteric). But he does make one interesting point:

    “Professional anthropologists have already postulated, in a classic work on European ethnology, that the modern day Basque people of the Pyrenees Mountains (northern Spain/southern France) speak a language inherited directly from Cro-Magnon Man (Ripley, 1899). To give a couple of illustrative examples of the reasons for the above postulation, the Basque word for knife means literally “stone that cuts,” and their word for ceiling means “top of the cavern” (Blanc, 1854).”

    Curiously, I don’t know how many realise this, the ‘scientific’ discovery of the Basques in the modern context (remember Spain was buried deep under Franco for a long time) dates to a post-motem carried out in a London hospital on a Spanish refugee from the Basque country during WWII where the forensic surgeon noted certain anatomical differences. This lead to a whole line of enquiry which culminates in Cavalli Sforza’s DNA work.

  13. “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.”

    To nitpick, Azores and Madeira are portuguese, and of that partial list, only Canaries are Spanish. And the “six of them” are seven…


  14. Article 299 of the Nice Treaty specifically names the French overseas territories, the Azores, Madeira and the Canaries as being subject to the EU Treaties. Hence there is a clear Treaty basis for their unusual status.

    GDP data for these regions can be found in the third Cohesion report, published in Feb 2004, which gives the following index for GDP per head as compared to the EU average (EU 15 in 2001 = 100, Spain = 84.2, Portugal = 70.7, France = 104.8)

    Madeira 78.4
    Azores 55.8
    Guadeloupe 60.8
    Martinique 67.8
    Guyana 48.2
    Réunion 53.5
    Canaries 79.1

    All are below the EU 15 average, but Madeira is well above the Portuguese average, and the canaries do OK. The real duds are the French DOM TOMS and the Azores.

    It’s worth knowing that the special Treaty status of these territories led the Regional policy commissioner in 2004 to propose that for the next EU Financial Perspective (ie next 7 years) these regions should get an extra Billion Euros, over and above normal structural fund monies, to compensate them for being “a long way from the rest of Europe” (I kid you not).

    I guess it’s just a coincidence that he was French.

  15. Also worth noting that the unemployment rate for the DOMS is very high – around 25%. Compared to around 10 for France itself.

  16. Wow, great info. Thanks, rjw.

    One additional point: Guyana and, especially, Reunion have high Gini indexes, meaning they have a lot of income and wealth inequality. Reunion in particular is notorious for having a large underclass of very poor people, a tiny group of rich people, and hardly any middle class to speak of. I don’t know what role (if any) French transfer payments play in this.

    Doug M.

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