Key points

  • Emmanuel Macron’s action overseas will follow the guiding principle of “shared responsibility” so as to achieve the “real emancipation of overseas territories within the French Republic”. This approach differs from that of “true equality” and privileges solutions that are specific to each territory. It is a reminder of the “endogenic development” promoted during Nicolas Sarkozy’s term, before the 2009 Antilles crisis imposed a change of method.
  • However, the 2018 Finance bill does not present any major shift, but rather draws on previous public policies, all marked by the need for convergence and multiplied tax relief mechanisms.
  • Beyond the crises that struck French Guiana in 2017 and Mayotte in 2018, and the near destruction of Northern Islands by the Irma hurricane, all of which required to take measures of urgency, the government is trying to implement structural actions and a new form of governance within the framework of an inter-ministerial delegation.
  • Nevertheless, since the government chose to launch a broad consultation in the context of the “Overseas Conferences” (Assises des Outre-mer), conclusive decisions have not yet been taken, and many uncertainties remain regarding new fiscal, economic and social mechanisms, as well as regarding the scale of upcoming regulatory changes.

Key dates

4 october 2017

Launch of the overseas conferences (Assises des Outre-mer)

october 2017

26 october 2017

22nd Conference of the Presidents of the Outermost Regions (OR)

26 october 2017 - 28 october 2017

Emmanuel Macron visits Guyana

1 december 2017 - 5 december 2017

Inter-ministerial visit to New Caledonia

december 2017

20 march 2018

Adoption of the bill on the electoral body

march 2018

27 march 2018

17th Committee of the Nouméa Agreement Signatories

1 may 2018

Presentation of an overseas blue book

may 2018

3 may 2018 - 5 may 2018

Emmanuel Macron visits New-Caledonia

Campaign promises

Emmanuel Macron described his project for the overseas as aiming to be both be realistic, thus refusing to make any hyperbolic promise on the financial front, and to bring about effective transformation, the goal being the “real emancipation of overseas territories within the French Republic”. These ambitions translate into 6 goals:

  • Rebuilding a policy of territorial continuity (200,000 subsidized plane tickets per year)
  • Boosting economies by creating policies adapted to the specificities of overseas territories, by investing in public facilities and training, by reevaluating the structures supporting employment, and by structuring pathways towards excellence and “blue growth” (maritime sector, biodiversity…)
  • Reinforcing tools that encourage young people’s success: developing access to employment and training, implementing a Caribbean ERASMUS for a higher education pole of excellence
  • Fully ensuring the State’s sovereign mission in the field of security: overseas police training schools, investment in security jobs, hosting facilities for juvenile offenders
  • Fighting the high cost of living by appealing to the Autorité de la Concurrence (Competition Authority) and fighting against undue margins on the basis of comprehensive statistics
  • Empowering territorial authorities (reinforcement of these authorities’ clearances, international competences) and completing the consultative process in New Caledonia


One year in, the outline of the “real emancipation of overseas territories within the French Republic” remains fragmented and blurry.

The heart of Emmanuel Macron’s project for overseas territories lies in their economic strengthening. Such a goal can be achieved by adapting current norms and devices to their specificities, by restructuring educational pathways and by nudging part of the €1 billion that the 2018-2022 Great Investment Plan dedicates to this matter towards collective amenities.

The 2018 Finance Bill translates into a slightly higher credit of €17 billion for the overseas, for a global public spending of €21.5 billion – tax exemption included (charges, VAT, taxes). It does not change much to the current situation.

This postponement is due to the government’s choice to launch the “Overseas Conferences” in order to encourage territories to make proposals. The President’s aim here is to embody the principle of “shared responsibility”, before detailing his project within the framework of the “Overseas Blue Book”.

Regarding youth, training is particularly emphasized, notably through the Chamber of Trades and Crafts (Chambre des métiers et de l’artisanat), yet no new measure has been put forward yet.

From an institutional point of view, the government remains faithful to its roadmap on New Caledonia and encourages local communities to take up new powers.


Regarding overseas territories, their vulnerability often sparks crises, be they social, economic or environmental. The GDP per inhabitant is 40% lower than that of the rest of the country, the share of minimum social benefits’ beneficiaries is three times bigger, the unemployment rate is twice as high, especially among youth, while most of the economic fabric is based on very small businesses. Moreover, these territories are far more vulnerable to the impact of climate change.

Responding to emergencies is the government’s first rule when dealing with overseas territories. Indeed, the Irma hurricane that destroyed the French Caribbean Northern Islands (Saint Martin and Saint Barthelemy), the uproar in French Guiana and even more in Mayotte, captured all the attention of public authorities. Nevertheless, even in crisis management, the government intends to build new structuring orientations: alleviating administrative procedures and adapting norms. Thus, after Irma, procedures for short-time work were simplified to help with the recovery of businesses in St Martin and St Barthelemy. The government also wants to review the inter-ministerial delegation plan for reconstruction and to make it sustainable.

To reaffirm the State’s role and authority, the executive branch, tested by recent crises, seems to be generalizing an innovative method, i.e. the creation of an inter-ministerial delegation dedicated to the mobilization and coordination of public services. This is what was done for example during the reconstruction of French Caribbean Northern Islands and in reaction to the Mayotte crisis. The Overseas Conferences in the end follow the same line of reasoning, as their goal is to gather an ad hoc team under the authority of a delegate or a rapporteur, thus betting on the participation of civil society.

The government’s bet relies on the virtuous circle of State interventionism, notably on the economic field, on the reinforcement of powers of regional authorities, and on stimulating the participation of civil society, thus involving new players.

And now?

As shown by the decision to set up “conferences” in order to involve overseas civil societies in the design of public policies, the government seems to be looking for a method, if not a doctrine, to escape from the permanent crisis management and from the dependency on outdated disposals and practices.

However, to this day, the government’s action in the overseas territories is in line with its general policy. This is notably the case regarding the scheduled end of the tax credit for competitiveness and employment (CICE), implemented during President François Hollande’s term, and which will be one of the main challenges overseas territories will have to face in 2019.

The last major law concerning overseas territories, i.e. the 28 February 2017 programming act on real equality for the overseas, also called “loi EROM”, was adopted at the end of President Hollande’s term and featured many social and economic measures. Its goal was to articulate two diverging ambitions: the “right to real equality”, articulated on convergence programs, and the “right to adopt a specific development model”. What will come out of this?

Emmanuel Macron’s challenge is to instill some concrete measures into his vision of “shared responsibility”, in order to pave the way towards an adequate development, without tearing down fragile equilibriums. An important meeting seems to be planned with the legislative transcription of the Overseas Conferences, which is expected to carry out all the necessary adaptations for new delegations and regulatory specificities.

The general revision of support devices for businesses, in order to go from global tax cuts to more specific mechanisms, is as necessary as it is tricky. Meanwhile, the ambition to create economic paths of excellence overseas is confronted with the reality of social challenges and of constrained public funding. Where can funding for innovative projects be found? How can the future of overseas territories become a common cause, beyond their specificities and distance?

Beyond the activation of individual mobility, innovative public action remains to be invented in favor of overseas youth, in terms of education and training, access to economic life and culture, commitments for the renewal of territories…

The challenge with overseas public policies lies more in their implementation than in the government’s intentions. The time will therefore come for the government, in the second part of the presidential term, to evaluate its own impulsions and make them sustainable in the long run.