Some territories follow special treaties and are not required to comply with all community laws
The EU is a union of 28 member states, but not all territories are governed by the same rules: several regions maintain a special relationship with the EU and operate through treaties especially designed for each case.
There are many exceptions: regions of member countries that are not part of the Union, small states that are not members but comply with part of the regulations and contribute economically, and even cities that are not obliged to comply with all laws.
Overseas countries and territories (OCT)
France and the Netherlands are two of the founding countries of the EU. However, part of its territory is excluded from the EU.
The Netherlands Antilles are a group of islands in the Caribbean that belong to the Kingdom of the Netherlands (meaning that the King of Holland is their head of state) but are not part of the EU.
The same happens with the Faroe Islands and Greenland, of Denmark; New Caledonia, France; and a dozen of British territories scattered spread across the Pacific, America and Africa.
These regions are called “overseas territories”. They are usually very far geographically and are usually territories that were colonized centuries ago and have not become completely independent.
The political relations of these territories can vary a lot, but have in common that none are part of the EU. Most of them are practically independent from their old metropolis, which is why they do not apply the same customs norms or taxes as the member countries.
The states which these territories belong to are usually only responsible for foreign relations and defense.
A different case is that of the “outermost regions”, territories that are also far from the continent but that are part of the EU. In these regions, some specific rules are applied to reduce the effects of distance, as in the Canary Islands.
European states at the halfway point
Other territories that have a special relationship with the EU are those that are within the borders of Europe but are not part of the organization.
Countries such as Norway or Switzerland have signed dozens of treaties with the European institutions and, although they are not members of the EU, they do fulfill some of their main laws, such as free circulation.
In addition, these countries also contribute economically to the EU. In return, they can trade with member countries without having to pay tariffs (taxes to export products to member countries).
This could be the case of Great Britain when it leaves the European Union. Although it will no longer be a member country, it will probably maintain its special status through specific treaties.
Other examples are Monaco and San Marino. These microstates have such good relations with France and Italy respectively that these countries are who manage their customs.
On the other hand, other countries such as Andorra and the Vatican continue to be much more isolated.
Mount Athos, a territory banned for Womankind
A very special case is Mount Athos, in Greece. This peninsula has a population of about 2,200 inhabitants: all male Orthodox monks. Despite being part of the Greek territory, this region is not obliged to apply all Greek or European laws.
For example, it does not follow the Schengen Treaty that allows the free movement of people. Therefore, only 120 people can visit Mount Athos every day and women are banned from entering.
This territory is part of a group of “special autonomous regions” that, in spite of being part of the EU, are not obliged to comply with all its laws. The Spanish cities of Ceuta and Melilla, located on the African continent, are also part of this group.