03 December 2011

New European Decision on the association of the Overseas Countries and Territories (OCTs); expected adoption in March 2012

Special to Overseas Territories Review

This indicative roadmap is provided for information purposes only and is subject to change. It does not prejudge the final decision of the (European) Commission on whether this initiative will be pursued or on its final content and structure.

The Overseas Countries and Territories (OCTs) are associated with the European Union (EU) through a regime based on the provisions of Part IV of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (TFEU) and the detailed rules and procedures laid down at present in the Overseas Association Decision of 27 November 2001

This current Overseas Association Decision will expire on 31 December 2013. Thus, the European Council in its 22 December 2009 conclusions stressed the importance of updating the unique relationship between the EU and the OCTs to reflect new developments in the EU, in the OCTs and in the wider world. It also encouraged the Commssion, through appropriate dialogue with the OCTs and the Member States, to revise the Overseas Association Decision and to present it to the Council before July 2012.

Historically, the list of OCTs mainly included countries and territories that have in the meantime become independent sovereign countries, most of them ACP countries. This explains why the logic (of the 2001 Overseas Association decision) applied to cooperation between the EU and the OCTs is to a large extent identical to that applied to cooperation between the EU and the ACP states, despite the fact that the OCTs are covered by a separate legal base in the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (TFEU).

However, such parallelism does not correspond to the reality in the field, the specific social, economic and environmental challenges faced by the OCTs today, and the close historical, institutional and political ties between the OCTs and the EU. Furthermore, it does not take into account the potential of OCTs as strategically important outposts, spread all over the world, as proponents of the EU’s values. In addition, the wider international context has evolved, in particular as a consequence of globalisation, the ongoing liberalisation of international trade and also the increased regional integration of the ACP countries.

Who will be affected by it?

All OCTs: Aruba, British Virgin Islands, Bonaire, Curaçao, Saba, Sint-Eustatius, Sint Maarten, Anguilla, Cayman islands, Turks & Caicos islands, Montserrat, New Caledonia, French Polynesia, Wallis & Futuna, Pitcairn, British Indian Ocean Territory, Mayotte, St Pierre & Miquelon, Greenland, British Antarctic Territory, Falkland islands, South Georgian and South Sandwich Islands, St Helena, French Southern and Antarctic Territories.

The special relationship between the EU and the OCTs should move away from a classic development cooperation approach to a reciprocal partnership to support the OCTs’ sustainable development and promote the EU’s values and standards in the wider world. According to Commission Communication COM(2009)623 the focus of the renewed OCT/EU partnership should be on three central objectives tailored to the OCTs’ specificity:

i) Enhancing competitiveness

ii) strengthening resilience and

iii) promoting cooperation

These objectives are to be pursued via five inter-linked principles and axes of cooperation, which are: 

(a) to support the development of OCTs as centres of excellence

(b) to support the voluntary adoption by OCTs of EU rules and standards

(c) to cooperate with OCTs on environmental issues and disaster risk reduction

(d) promote OCT accessibility, and (e) to ensure trade and economic cooperation.

The future association will no longer require a relationship between donor and aid partner as is the case today, but will call for a new framework of cooperation. In this regard, the EUs internal policies offer interesting examples. 

This does not mean that these policies or parts of them should be applied as such to the OCTs, or that the OCTs should be brought within the scope of these policies. Instead, the detailed rules and procedures for the association of the OCTs with the EU after 2013 should continue to be based on Article 203 of the TFEU, but should draw inspiration from successful formulae followed in implementing the EU's internal policies. 

Following the outcome of the public consultation that was organised in 2008, the statements and declarations of the four relevant EU Member States and the OCTs themselves during the last OCT Fora as well as the Council Conclusions of December 2009, the next step would be to submit to the Council a proposal to revise the Overseas Association Decision. This would go beyond routine up-date of existing legislation and would concern the OCT-EU association in all of its aspects. 

Article 203 of the TFEU requires an act adopted by the Council, at the latest when the current Overseas Association Decision expires. As regards the future Financial Instrument a detailed analysis is carried out in the context of the Multi-Annual Financial Framework (MFF) post 2013. 

Nevertheless, it has to be recalled, that the 2009 Communication indicated that the aim of the new Association should be not to revise the current financial framework with a view to broadening assistance to the OCTs, but rather to limit cooperation to more concentrated areas. The new Association could provide a better access of OCTs to various European Programmes to which they are eligible but also to define rules that would take into consideration the administrative capacity and size of the OCTs.

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