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Member of the European Commission Responsible for Fisheries and Maritime
Bedford Institute of Oceanography in Halifax
Minister, Directors, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to warmly thank you for welcoming me to Halifax and for offering me this opportunity to hold a wide-ranging discussion with you on Canada’s Oceans policy.
I am particularly happy to be here, in the capital of Nova Scotia, where the importance of the Canadian maritime tradition can be felt everywhere. Ever since the 17th century, when Frenchmen first settled here, followed by British and many other citizens from Europe, the sea has remained a vital link between Nova Scotia and Europe.
I have been very impressed by the efforts the Canadian authorities have put into organising the numerous meetings that I will have today and tomorrow. Canada’s commitment to the oceans is already quite obvious.
Let me first say a few words on the reasons why I asked the Canadian authorities if we could have a session on ocean policy during my visit here. When I took up my office as Commissioner for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs in the European Commission, last November, I was entrusted with the task of launching a wide-ranging debate on the shape and content a future European Maritime Policy could or should take.
As you are probably aware, this was a seminal point as till now, European policies devoted to the sea have been carried out by and large on a purely sectoral basis. The aim for me is therefore to foster dialogue with stakeholders and public authorities both within and outside Europe on the need to have an integrated maritime policy in Europe that will encompass all aspects related to the sea.
This is an ambitious and challenging project given the diversity of the European marine geography and history, the range of activities and policies to be considered and the specificity of the division of competences within the European Union.
Yet I have already found that the more involved I get into this subject, the more I find myself being drawn to its challenges. Furthermore, I am convinced that the elaboration of a common vision for the seas can be one of Europe’s flagship policies for the coming years.
The results of the discussions with stakeholders and our preliminary findings as a result, will be gathered into one document, a Green Paper, which we hope to publish during the first semester of next year. A team of Commissioners will meet regularly in order to steer the process leading to this Green Paper. Our first meeting has already taken place, last week in fact, and it included the Commissioners responsible for transport, industry, the environment, energy, regional policy and research. In addition to that, a small team of officials will work full time on the project.
When we started working on this exercise, we bore in mind the fact that some
countries had gone through similar processes and had devised comprehensive
oceans strategies or policies. Many people with whom we met during these last
months hailed Canada as an example where an ambitious ocean policy had been
designed and implemented. Canada is clearly one step ahead in the definition of
an integrated ocean policy. And therefore, it is quite natural that I have come
here to listen to you and gain insights from your own experience in developing
an ocean strategy.
I am aware that Canada’s Oceans Act, which entered into force in 1997, called for the development and implementation of a national strategy, and that this strategy came into being in 2002, under the title of Canada’s Oceans Strategy. We are interested in hearing from you of all the steps you took along the way: why you launched the process, your design process and, possibly more importantly, what have you experienced in implementing it.
I note from the programme that there are many topics which you intend to address that are of great interest to us.
First, I would like to refer to oceans and habitat.
As you know, Europe is a large peninsula surrounded by many islands, counting thousands of kilometres of coast line. The growth of populations living on the coast, together with the increase in economic activities linked to the sea, such as tourism, has been considerable. This has entailed significant changes in the immediate environment, and it has also contributed, to the degradation of the marine ecosystems.
The question is then how to reconcile those different elements?
I am aware that the Canadian Strategy resulted notably in the definition of an integrated management policy based on spatial planning, establishing different tools for that purpose, and in particular Large Ocean Management Areas and Coastal Management Areas.
I am also aware of the importance given by the Strategy to the setting up of Marine Protected Areas.
I am looking forward to learning more about the policy adopted by Canada on this issue and to see to what extent the approach could be useful for the management of European seas.
Science is my next point.
Here again, Europe has an interest in developing marine science.
To a large extent, the oceans and seas remain a mystery. 84% of the ocean beds are as yet uncharted and the global economic value of the EU seas and oceans has not fully been assessed either. With potentially millions of species yet to be discovered in the deep oceans, these provide the most important source of biodiversity and thus raw material for biotechnologies.
Marine science and research, in particular through data collection, as well as the development of new technologies for improved sustainable uses of sea resources (ship monitoring, off-shore exploration, biodiversity, biotechnology, new vessels e.g. underwater robotic platforms and so on) have a pivotal role to play in that respect.
We have in Europe, marine science and research centres which are among the best in the world, such as the Southampton Oceanography Centre or IFREMER. Research & Development has been identified by European Heads of Government as a key element for boosting the competitiveness of the European economy. The priorities and budget for the future European research policy are currently under discussion in the Council of European Ministers. We believe that marine science should fully benefit from this policy and we have staunch support from many European States on this point.
Improving and developing marine research is essential to us, and we would be interested to know what you have to tell us about Canadian experience in that area.
Let me now turn to oil and gas.
I can tell you that one of the first people to contact me to discuss maritime policy, following my appointment to the Commission, was the representative of one of the major oil firms in the world. When we met, he expressed the interest of his company in our project and offered his assistance if we were to need it. This is not surprising when we know that offshore oil production accounts for approximately 30% of the world production, with an even higher proportion for gas.
There are in Europe approximately 400 offshore platforms, mainly in the North Sea where Norway and the UK are the key players. For a continent like Europe which is very dependent on imports for its energy supply, this is very valuable. The sea also represents considerable potential sources of future energies, notably renewable energies like wind or wave power.
It is also clear that the management of these installations cannot be properly ensured in an isolated manner. Different uses of the sea often have conflicting interests, as is sometimes the case between fishermen and oil companies or when the installation of offshore wind farms is envisaged. The dismantling of oil rigs must be carried out in compliance with the requirements of sustainable development.
On this again, I would be very interested in hearing about your experience.
On the question of the Coast Guard, I would like to already point out that although the seas represent huge opportunities for economic growth, they are also sources of risks. These risks can result from nature, as we have been reminded by the tragedy caused by the tsunami in Asia. Yet they can also result from human activities as well, be it oil spills, terrorism or forms of illegal trafficking.
In Europe, important human and financial resources are devoted to the control and inspection of sea based activities by coastal States. The bodies responsible for those missions are obviously different from one Member State to another, and are even scattered within the Member States themselves. As you can imagine, the protection of borders is a sensitive issue which affects national sovereignty, and no overall strategy for the European Union on this issue has been created so far.
We nevertheless intend to reflect on the need for a more coherent and coordinated policy for the management of our coasts, to identify what national States would gain from a European approach against those threats which cross borders indiscriminately.
Reports from the European Parliament have called for the setting up of a European Coast Guard. I shall therefore be particularly interested in hearing all about the organisation and mission of the Canadian Coast Guard.
I have attempted to give you an overview of the numerous issues in which my delegation and I are interested. I look forward to hearing about the Canadian case, and in advance, would like to thank you for your time and willingness to share your experiences with us.