Thirteen Overseas Countries and Territories (OCTs) are associated with the European Union.
The OCTs are located in the Atlantic, Antarctic, Arctic, Caribbean and Pacific regions. All are islands, and one of them has no permanent population. They are not sovereign countries but depend to varying degrees on the three Member States with which they maintain special links, namely Denmark, France and the Netherlands. The OCTs have wide-ranging autonomy, covering areas such as economic affairs, employment market, public health, home affairs and customs, while defence and foreign affairs usually remain within the remit of the Member States.
Relations between the OCTs and the EU date back to the signature of the Treaty of Rome in 1957. OCTs are neither part of the EU territory nor of the EU single market. Nevertheless, they are of high political importance to the EU as a whole: despite being small in either size or population (or both), they play a vital role as strategic outposts of the Union in the geographical areas where they are located. It is important to distinguish the OCTs from the Outermost Regions (OR) of the EU, which are an integral part of the EU and its single market.
As a result of Brexit, the number of Overseas Countries and Territories associated with the EU has been reduced from 25 to 13. As of 1 February 2020, they are: Aruba (NL), Bonaire (NL), Curação (NL), French Polynesia (FR), French Southern and Antarctic Territories (FR)*, Greenland (DK), New Caledonia (FR), Saba (NL), Saint Barthélemy (FR), Sint Eustatius (NL), Sint Maarten (NL), St. Pierre and Miquelon (FR), Wallis and Futuna Islands (FR).
(*) No permanent local population.
The OCT-EU Association
The OCT-EU Association is based on the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU): "The purpose of association shall be to promote the economic and social development of the countries and territories and to establish close economic relations between them and the Union as a whole. In accordance with the principles set out in the preamble to this Treaty, association shall serve primarily to further the interests and prosperity of the inhabitants of these countries and territories in order to lead them to the economic, social and cultural development to which they aspire."
At the beginning of each programming period the Council adopts by unanimity a specific 'Overseas Association Decision' (OAD) defining the rules and procedures that apply to the Association.
The Decision on the Overseas Association including Greenland (DOAG) was adopted on 5 October 2021 and sets out the political/institutional, trade and financial cooperation framework. It constitutes a partnership to support the OCTs’ sustainable development as well as to promote the values and standards of the Union in the wider world. The partners are the Union, the OCTs and the Member States to which they are linked, i.e. Denmark, France and the Netherlands. Following the merger of previously two legal frameworks, it unifies the rules for the partnership with all OCTs and includes specific provisions guiding the partnership with Greenland
The Overseas Association Decision of 2013 lays down a set of rules and procedures governing the political, commercial and financial relations between the EU and the OCTs and has no date. It reflects a shift away from the focus on poverty reduction to a reciprocal relation focused on cooperation on mutual interests, and places special emphasis on priorities which are relevant for the OCTs, such as: the enhancement of their competitiveness; the strengthening of their resilience and reduction of their vulnerability; and promotion of the cooperation between OCTs and their regional, European and international partners.
Furthermore, there is a specific Council Decision governing EU relations with Greenland in areas other than fisheries. The 'Greenland Decision' does not substitute but is complementary to the Overseas Association Decision.
The 2013 OCT-EU Association Decision provides the OCTs with the possibility to benefit from EU financial support in the framework of the European Development Fund (EDF) and/or of the EU general budget.
Therefore, sources of funding for the OCTs are the following:
- Resources allocated for the OCTs under the EDF
- Resources allocated for Greenland under the EU's general budget
- In principle and under certain conditions, thematic EU programmes and instruments provided for in the EU's general budget
- Funds managed by the European Investment Bank (EIB) under the EDF resources allocated to the OCT Investment Facility, as well as its own resources.
The DOAG establishes the funding programme for OCTs for the period from 1 January 2021 to 31 December 2027. The total allocation for EU-OCT cooperation for this period is €500 million.
Priorities areas for cooperation are jointly established with the OCTs based on the overarching Commission policy priorities, notably Green Deal, Digital and Sustainable Growth and jobs and the OCTs’ own priorities. Such financial cooperation will be mobilised through long term plans, the Multiannual Indicative Programmes (MIPs). These MIPs focus, in principle, on one priority area for cooperation.
- Regional MIP for Pacific Overseas Countries and Territories (FR)
- French Polynesia (FR)
- French Southern and Antarctic Territories (FR)
- New Caledonia (FR)
- Saint Barthélemy (FR)
- Sint Eustatius
- Sint Maarten
- St Pierre and Miquelon (FR)
Subsequently, concrete implementing actions will be operationalised through Annual Action Plans.
Regular policy and political dialogue between the EU and the OCTs is one of the core elements of the Association. The dialogue takes place in different forms – the annual OCT-EU Forum, the trilateral meetings, the tripartite meetings and the partnership working parties.
The OCT-EU Forum is the high-level instance of political dialogue that brings together authorities from the OCTs, representatives of the Member States to which they are linked, the European Commission, Members of the European Parliament, representatives of the EIB, and representatives of the Outermost Regions. It takes place annually and is chaired by the European Commission. The latest OCT-EU Forum took place on 10 December 2020 as a virtual high-level conference.
The tripartite meetings, which take place on annual basis prior to the OCT-EU Forum, bring together individual OCTs, the Member States to which they are linked and the European Commission. The Commission also chairs these tripartite meetings, which focus on the programming and the implementation of the regional and the territorial allocations financed under the EDF. As per the Overseas Association Decision, these meetings take place at least four times a year and this regularity ensures continuous, year-round dialogue on issues of mutual interest. The latest Tripartite took place on 27 November 2020 as a virtual meeting.
Partnership working parties
Finally, the Commission also chairs the partnership working parties dedicated to specific topics (such as financial services, climate/environment, trade or regional integration), which act in an advisory capacity and meet on a needs basis.