The Outermost regions and Covid-19: an opportunity for a sustainable modernity
The outermost regions (ORs) are remote territories located at a significant distance from mainland Europe, among which most of them are islands. However, all these nine regions are fully part of the European Union (EU). And, as everywhere else, from Mayotte, to Réunion, Martinique, Guadeloupe, French Guyana to Saint-Martin, Madeira, Azores or Canaries Islands, the ORs have been hit by the COVID-19.
At first glance, the health situation appears to be generally better compared to that of mainland Europe. With only 1% of cases recorded in France, the French oversea territories -Mayotte excluded- are relatively spared. These figures are similar to those of the Spanish and Portuguese ORs. But behind the statistics lies a very different reality: the inability of these remote territories to cope with a large influx of patients. The intensive care services, despite being well prepared cannot rely on the regional solidarity that has been so crucial in mainland Europe.)
Fortunately, the ORs can take advantage of their specific characteristics to push back the wave and reduce the number of contaminations. In fact, thanks to their insularity, they can easily close their borders. This can serve to implement measures like, for example, the obligatory fourteen days quarantine period for all entry into a French overseas department. Moreover, the ORs have, like all the EU Member States’, closed their external borders to third countries.
However, this situation, necessary from a public health point of view, is highly damaging from an economic one. Although their local production is booming, the ORs are highly dependent on tourism. Almost a quarter of the jobs in these territories are linked to tourist activities. Expecting a blank year in 2020, the tourism industry is rightly asking for its losses to be compensated.
That is why, at the end of April, Thierry Breton, the European Commissioner for the Internal Market, responded to the sector's many concerns. As expected, the emergency measures, both the Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative (CRII) and the European Marshall Plan, which he and Ursula von der Leyen are calling for, are thus particularly aimed at supporting the tourism sector.
It is important, however, that these exceptional measures are implemented quickly, particularly in the ORs. These regions, already geographically remote from the continent, must not be forgotten by their Member States and the European Union. Many businesses will not have the cash flow to cope with a sudden halt in tourism.
More than that, the development of local production, one of the European Union's priorities, particularly through the Programme of Options Specifically relating to Remoteness and Insularity (POSEI), must not suffer from the COVID-19 pandemic. In times of crisis and supply disruptions, local production has been the only solution for ensuring a regular supply for the ORs. The resilience of local actors must serve as an inspiration far beyond these regions.
This is why the recently released financial packages must remain in line with this perspective, because more than elsewhere, self-sufficiency in food and energy is a necessity. Here again, the specific characteristics of the ORs can be very favorable. The small size of these territories makes these investments accessible as part of a recovery plan.
Supporting agriculture and fisheries in the ORs towards a green and sustainable transition must be a priority, not only to ensure that the EU maintains its commitments under the European Green Pact, but also to preserve these territories, which are home to almost a half of Europe's biodiversity.
The possibility of energetic transition in these territories is further straightforward given the many initiatives that are already in place. In fact, geothermal projects, other renewable energies ones (solar, wind or tidal) or interconnection projects are already financed by the EU in these regions. It is now necessary to go further and prepare a common roadmap together with EU institutions to achieve carbon neutrality in the ORs as soon as possible, and well before 2050.
So far, the nine outermost regions of the EU are little affected by the health emergency. They will be much more affected than the rest of the continent by the economic and social crises. For them, there is no need to think about the future; the solutions are already there: achieving food and energy independence. The Member States and the European Union must now mobilize all the tools at their disposal in order to make these remote territories ambassadors of what Europe knows the best, leading the way towards a new modernity.
As Max Orville, local councillor from Martinique and candidate in the last European elections, pointed out: "The Day after Tomorrow will therefore come with more Europe, a Europe that accepts its diversity to collectively consider an economic recovery commensurate with the crisis we are going through."