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Dr. Joe BORG

Member of the European Commission Responsible for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs

Designing a European vision for the Oceans and Seas

Inauguration of the 10th Annual EC Maritime Law Course of the IMO International Maritime Law Institute (IMLI)
Malta, 4 April 2005

Professor Attard


Ladies and Gentlemen

Thank you for your invitation. I am delighted to be here today to inaugurate this, the 10th Annual EC Maritime Law Course of the IMO. I am also pleased to be talking of the process that is currently underway to develop an integrated maritime policy for the European Union’s oceans and seas.

However before doing that, I would like to pay tribute to Dr. Joseph Fenech, a former Justice Minister and founding father of IMLI, who passed away ten days ago. Dr. Fenech was an individual of great foresight, initiative and determination. He was directly involved in establishing this institute when, in 1988, he spearheaded the efforts of the Government to host it in Malta. He also contributed directly to its success over the years as a member of its Governing Board. IMLI, and its continued relevance today, stand as testament to the commitment and dedication of Dr. Fenech to the field of maritime law.

Another Maltese blessed with great foresight and commitment, Ambassador Arvid Pardo’, is also someone who made a significant contribution to the field of maritime affairs. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, launched by Pardo’ in the seventies, is considered today to be a universal instrument of international law. It is the main framework for the management of ocean affairs around the globe, built on the principle that: “all the problems of ocean space are closely inter-related and need to be considered as a whole”.

This principle, expounded over several years, has become the source of a number of new, national, maritime policies in countries such as the United States, Australia and Canada. These policies embrace all aspects of maritime affairs and set clear, predetermined goals for the oceans and seas. They recognise the vast contribution of sea-based activities to their economy and focus on a broad range of sectors such as maritime transport, fisheries, offshore oil and gas extraction and renewable energies, such as wind and wave energy. They also all come to the conclusion that the increasing development of these activities offers great potential, yet is a challenge to the sustainable exploitation of sea resources.

This realisation has led to the need for a comprehensive and co-ordinated approach to the oceans and seas that can ensure their sustainable development. Such an approach - intersectoral, inter-disciplinary and cross-cutting – is, I believe, the way we too need to go at a European level.

The President of the European Commission, Mr. Barroso, asked me at the beginning of my mandate to steer a new Maritime Affairs Task Force with the aim to launch a wide consultation process on a future European policy for the oceans and seas.

However, to do this we need to know the answers to the following questions:

What exactly do we mean by a European policy for the oceans and seas?

And what is the case for acting at a European level?

These are questions that I will address before looking briefly at the tasks that lie ahead.

Our thinking on a European policy for the oceans and seas is still embryonic in some ways. I am looking forward to hearing from interested parties in this process as to what the proposed maritime policy should encompass. Yet, at this early stage, it is already clear that it should imply an overall, comprehensive strategy for maritime affairs. It will determine areas whereby efforts could be integrated and those areas where reinforced co-ordination might be called for. Above all, it will ensure close cooperation between the different decision-making levels: european, national and regional.

Fundamentally therefore, it will mean a new approach.

An approach that no longer looks at what humans can extract from the oceans and seas; nor one that looks at the oceans and seas on a purely sectoral basis; nor one that looks at the oceans and seas through a myopic, short term lens.

What we are proposing therefore is to look at what the oceans and seas can make available to us, over the long term, and in a manner that does not prejudice competing uses now or in the future. It is this integrated, sustainable ecosystem approach that is at the heart of any future maritime policy.

The current fragmentation of decision-making makes it difficult to reconcile competing uses of the oceans and seas and to define priorities. This often results in the adoption of conflicting measures. Moreover, fragmentation among different maritime policy sectors makes it difficult to comprehend the potential impact of one set of activities upon another. It also prevents us from profiting from untapped synergies.

If we look at coastal areas we see increasing competition, and sometimes even conflict, for space along the shore. For example, the building of port infrastructure often competes with the development of recreational marinas, or the development of coastal mariculture, or the creation of off-shore windmill parks. These activities may in turn have an impact on fishing activities which may be displaced, the marine environment which may be damaged or the surrounding water which may be polluted. All of this carries an economic and social cost to the coastal regions concerned.

The definition of Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs), as consecrated in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, has also been leading to a progressive occupation of the ocean space far beyond coastal areas in what is called by some “the colonisation of the EEZ’s”. This trend serves to again underline the importance of marine spatial planning and zoning.

Given this context, principles of good governance would suggest therefore that a European maritime policy that encompasses all aspects of the oceans and seas should be in place if we are to define the optimal pathway for economic maritime development that serves present needs while safeguarding the welfare of future generations.

The case for an integrated maritime policy is therefore a strong one. I believe that the case for acting at a European level is also strong.

The European Union is surrounded by four seas: the Mediterranean, the North Sea, the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea; and by two oceans: the Atlantic and the Artic.

It is a long peninsula with thousands of kilometres of coast - seven times longer than that of the USA and four times longer than that of Russia. Mainland Europe is also surrounded by many islands, including island nation states such as Malta, Cyprus, Ireland and the UK.

Over two thirds of the Union borders are coastal areas, the maritime spaces under the jurisdiction of its Member States are far larger than their terrestrial territory – and all of this looks set to increase in the future as the Union expands further to the East.

Geography, therefore, has always been one of the primary reasons for Europe’s special relationship with the oceans, seas and waterways. From the earliest times, oceans and seas have served to connect European people with each other and with the outside world. This past heritage, as well as a promising future paved with many opportunities and challenges, are strong reasons for Europe to design its own political vision for the sea.

Indeed today, as Europe seeks to revitalise and reinvigorate her economy, it is even more important for Europe to recognise and assume the significance of her maritime dimension. The maritime sector has a major impact on jobs and growth in Europe:

  • European maritime regions account for over 40% of the GNP of the former EU15. This percentage is expected to be larger when one takes into account today’s EU of 25 member states.
  • Between 3 and 5% of Europe’s GNP is estimated to be generated directly from marine based industries and services. This figure does not include the value of raw materials as for example, oil, gas or fish, nor does it factor in indirect economic benefits arising from other services such as tourism and real estate.
  • The oceans and seas are of considerable economic importance in sustaining more than 2.5 millions jobs in Europe. This figure applies only to the traditional maritime industries such as ports, transport and fishing and does not include tourism, scientific research and energy.
  • Almost 90% of the trade which goes to and from the EU market is transported by sea. European port facilities and shipping play therefore a very important role in our economy. Today we face the challenge for Europe to maintain a competitive commercial fleet and ship building industry and this requires proactive policies which need to be accommodated within a sustainable maritime policy framework;
  • 40% of the oil and 60% of the gas we consume in the EU is drilled off-shore from the European mainland.
  • The EU is the third largest fishery producer in the world. More than half a million people work in the fishery sector in Europe and the EU average consumption of fish stands at 24.5 kg per head per annum – considerably higher that the world average of 16 kg/head/year.

In addition to the contribution that maritime affairs may make to the European economy there are other factors that should spur us on in our plans to put oceans and seas higher on the European agenda. These are namely:

  • The near collapse of a number of marine ecosystems and fisheries resources in European waters, with the inevitable attendant economic and social damage, which cannot be tackled by Member States individually, or in isolation from other factors that may have an impact on the ecosystems;
  • The need for considerable resources to develop marine science and research, as well as to develop new technologies for improved sustainable uses of the seas and their resources. We need an integration of efforts at EU level in order not only to create synergies but also to reach the necessary critical mass for the success of these activities;
  • The growing awareness of the environmental costs of road transport throughout Europe has raised the importance of maritime transport in relation to other means.
  • The need for integrated coastal management and development. Signs that this is being taken into account in European regional policy can already be seen. This trend should be encouraged.
  • The growing awareness of domestic and international public opinion and increased concern for the marine environment. The recent disasters of the Erika and the Prestige push the issue of governance of oceans and seas higher up the agenda of political decision-makers. The recent catastrophe caused by the tsunami in south east Asia also attracted the world’s attention to ocean sciences, their monitoring and the interface of coastal areas with the seas;
  • Oceans and seas considerably influence our climate and thus our agricultural productivity;
  • And finally, and no less relevant, the social, recreational, scenic and cultural uses we make of our ocean and seas and their contribution to our health and well being.

A future EU Maritime Policy, establishing the guiding principles and the planning and management approaches necessary to ensure the sustainable use of our oceans and seas will respond to the need for European cooperation, coordination, integration and consistency of ocean and sea-related policies. More specifically, an integrated maritime policy framework will facilitate the development of diverse and sometimes conflicting sea-based activities and will thus contribute to economic development without compromising the welfare of future generations.

Such an all embracing Maritime Policy can also combine, in a way that few other policies can, the concrete steps needed for the realisation of the key objectives of the Lisbon, Gothenburg and the Hague processes. It should also mobilise support for a common European vision, demonstrating that the Commission can bring forward credible strategies for prosperity, solidarity and sustainability.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Now that I have outlined the need for an EU maritime policy, allow me to turn to the immediate tasks that lie ahead.

It is planned to issue a Green Paper on a future EU Maritime Policy in the first half of 2006. This will constitute the first step towards an all embracing EU Maritime Policy.

A Maritime Affairs Task Force has already been established by the Commission to produce this Green Paper, and in the process, to launch a wide public debate on the subject. The Task Force will build upon existing EU policies and initiatives without delaying their planned implementation. It will also seek to identify beneficial interfaces and synergies between the sectoral policies relating to the oceans and seas. It will aim to strike the right balance between the economic, social, safety and environmental dimensions of a maritime policy whilst ensuring the preservation of the resource-base. This is a key element for improving the EU’s competitiveness, long-term growth and employment in the maritime sector.

During the course of developing the Green Paper, I hope to stimulate broad debate at all levels of governance and particularly amongst outside stakeholders who have already demonstrated their keen interest in this subject.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

A maritime policy for the European Union will upgrade the strategic importance of the oceans and seas for the EU. It will also serve to develop new thinking for the management of the maritime areas under the jurisdiction of the EU Member States.

This is a challenge that will need a clear strategy that can eloquently articulate the benefits to Europe of the sustainable use of the oceans and seas. With such a strategy, the EU will have a set of comprehensive, long-term guidelines for all issues relating to the seas. It will also have a reference framework for decisions affecting the management of the oceans.

It is my hope that an overall European strategy for the oceans and seas will not only improve the rationale governing decisions in sectors with an impact on the seas but will also be proactive in setting out new goals with a view to giving new impetus to Europe’s links with the oceans and seas. I elucidated this view in Galicia earlier this year at the Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions. Allow me to repeat it here:

“Our vision is that of a Europe with a dynamic maritime economy in harmony with the marine environment, supported by sound marine scientific research and technology, which allows human beings to continue to reap the rich harvest from the ocean in a sustainable manner.”

I augur that this will be so.

In bringing this intervention to a close, I would like to say that it gives me great pleasure to have given the first in-depth view of the work that lies ahead of the Task Force on Maritime Affairs since the adoption of the Communication that established it, in Malta, and no less at the International Maritime Law Institute.

Thank you.

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