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Dr. Joe BORG

Member of the European Commission Responsible for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs

Statement at the Working Dinner at the Senate Guesthouse

Working Dinner at the Senate Guesthouse
Hamburg, 2 September 2005

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for your invitation to be here this evening. As you are no doubt aware, my portfolio as a Member of the European Commission includes both fisheries and maritime affairs. Yet given the setting for our meeting here tonight I find it appropriate to focus on the issue of maritime affairs – a matter that is occupying more of our energies as we seek to draw up an all-embracing maritime policy at the Eropean level.

The main goal behind this exercise is to help maintain and build upon an already thriving maritime economy, and in so doing, to realise the full potential of Europe’s sea-based activities in a sustainable way. To this end, we are preparing a Green Paper, the Brussels term for a consultation document, whereby we hope to gather comments from various stakeholders on new policy grounds and initiatives. I would be delighted if this evening we could achieve a similar exchange of views through an open and frank discussion.

Maritime activities are of vital importance to the European economy. It is estimated that 90% of the European Union’s external trade and over 40% of its internal trade is transported by sea. About 2 billion tonnes of freight a year are loaded and unloaded in the 1,200 odd ports of the European Union. Moreover, nearly 40% of the world’s merchant fleet belong to maritime companies under the control of EU nationals.

It is also the case that the leaders in managing the logistic chain, underlying the transportation of goods by sea, are also by and large, European. Approximately 3 million EU citizens are employed in the maritime cluster - a cluster which includes activities such as shipping, shipbuilding, ports, fisheries and related services. And an estimated 3 to 5% of Europe’s GNP is generated from these maritime sectors.

Hamburg is one of the most tangible manifestations of what these figures mean in practice. I have been deeply impressed by your port, with its quay length of 41 kilometres, its 320 berths for ocean-going vessels and its capability to receive some 11,500 vessels and handle more than 100 million tonnes of cargo each year.

I also understand that this activity gives rise to approximately 12% of Hamburg’s GDP when considering solely port-dependent activities, and generates a further 145,000 jobs either directly or indirectly linked to port business in the metropolitan region. Hamburg is without a doubt, one of the best examples of Europe’s thriving maritime economy.

I have been equally impressed by the strength of Hamburg’s position and its forward-looking approach. Your port development strategy, ever-growing container-handling business and the existence of a new development plan with projects such as the HafenCity, to create even more growth and jobs, are highly laudable.

While this is all commendable, sadly, such initiative and growth are not always being seen elsewhere. Europe’s economic performance is down, with low growth rates and a high structural unemployment visible in various parts. Competitive threats coming from Asia, particularly China and India, are also hard to challenge when there are certain Asian economies that are growing three to four times faster than those of the EU.

The changing demographic composition of the European population also poses further constraints on European growth capacity. By 2050, the average ratio of persons in retirement compared with those of working age, will in Europe, double from 24% today to almost 50%.

It is precisely in response to these challenges that the Union has re-launched the programme to stimulate competitiveness and growth: the Lisbon Strategy. Clearly, we have need to stop, rethink and re-focus.

The revitalised Lisbon programme directs its efforts at two fundamental aspects: growth and jobs. To achieve progress, it prioritises action in key areas, which include for example ensuring free and fair trade; improving the business environment through better and less regulation; enhancing infrastructure; harnessing our capacity for research, development and innovation; fostering a strong industrial base and investing in an adaptable, skilled and continuously educated workforce.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Commission’s initiative to develop a future maritime policy for the EU, has to been seen in the light of these goals. Its contribution to sustainable economic growth and job creation in the maritime sector will be one of the measures for its success.

Canada, Australia, and more recently the US, have preceded the EU in drawing up, what they call an Integrated Oceans’ Policy. To learn from their experience, my services have examined these strategies and talked to both some of their architects as well as to people affected by them. Gaining insight into their experiences can give us a head-start in our own deliberations.

The realities we face are of course different.

Europe is a peninsula with outreach to different oceans and seas. It also has a much larger and denser population than either Canada or Australia for example. There is, therefore, much more economic activity in and around the seas ranging from maritime transport to fisheries, cargo-forwarding to tourism and energy generation to property development. In addition, actors in these fields are increasingly subjected to measures in response to public concerns such as: environmental protection or ship safety.

The European fleet is also the backbone for Europe’s international trade. We are conscious of the strategic value of our maritime industry and are very aware of the need to maintain sight of its global competitiveness and its ability to create jobs.

I interpret these challenges to mean that Europe has to carefully plan the way forward.

In the first place, attention is needed for issues related to potentially competing uses of the sea. Secondly, when taking action, we should paint a complete picture on the basis of all economic, social and environmental interests. We also need to look at the sustainability of our actions in the maritime sector as we are reminded all too often of the finite nature of resources and the need to be more proactive in looking at the way in which we do things. A balanced approach must also be taken towards the maritime sector, creating certainty for economic operators while maintaining sustainability at the same time.

In view of the above, I would already point to some themes, in relation to the maritime sectors, that could be raised by the future Green Paper:

Firstly, I believe that a future maritime policy should identify those activities which have further growth potential and the drivers that can make such growth happen. In this context, I wish to refer to the EU Industrial Policy, which advocates:

  • better regulation,
  • more synergy among different policies, and
  • developing tailor-made strategies for industrial sectors.

Secondly, I believe the Green Paper needs to closely examine the future of Europe’s ports, particularly in relation to fair, and unfair, competition.

Port operations are not spared the effects of global competition, as can be seen in the concessions awarded to a 100% owned subsidiary of the Port of Singapore Authority to operate a new terminal in the port of Antwerp in Belgium and in the port of Sines in southern Portugal.

There may be competition issues even beyond the port. Let me refer to the Court case brought by business representatives active in the port of Hamburg against the decision by the Dutch government to invest in rail transport from the port of Rotterdam towards central Europe. Even though, the European Court of Justice ruled that the competitive position of businesses in the port of Hamburg was not affected, issues of this, or of a similar nature, may arise again. With the development of short sea shipping, competition among land and sea transport may need to be seen in a different light. The Commission certainly has its role to play in ensuring fair competition in the internal market.

The draft own-initiative report of the Committee of the Regions on a European Maritime Policy proposed a spread of port capacity instead of concentration in fewer but larger ports. Others argue that big ports not only concentrate economic activity and jobs, but they also help to build up the necessary capacity to deal with environmental or security challenges.

The issue remains: do we need a more strategic approach to port capacity and port usage in Europe?

To ensure a level playing field, I would argue that a balance certainly needs to be sought. This is also relevant insofar as the division of funds within the context of regional policy applies. Hamburg currently benefits from EU structural funds by means of three INTERREG Community initiatives, one of which concerns the sharing of experiences between ports in relation to compliance with environmental obligations under European law.

A third matter for the Green Paper is a question related to the attractiveness of the maritime profession. In certain sectors of the maritime economy, the demand for qualified personnel just cannot be satisfied. We need to have a sufficient turnover of personnel to ensure the transfer of knowledge and thus the continuation of our skills base. Maritime expertise is also needed to deal with questions of insurance, classification and inspection, legal disputes, finance or brokerage.

Finally, the Green Paper will have to address how to coordinate measures that will stimulate economic development and job creation, with other measures that seek to enhance environmental protection or maritime safety.

In this context, we need to explore our approach to sound spatial planning, both in relation to the seas themselves and in relation to the management of coastal zones. Unlike some other regions, sea-related interests in the Northern German States represent the full spectrum of uses to be made of the seas: from ports to tourism to offshore wind parks. It is, once again, a balance that will need to be found between these often competing demands on the seas.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Allow me to conclude with two final remarks.

The Commission intends to publish its Green Paper for a future Maritime Policy in the first semester of 2006. This means that the time for us to decide whether to pursue this idea of a Europe-wide Maritime Policy is drawing near. Several stakeholders are already providing input to help the Commission draw up its proposals. I would strongly encourage you to do the same.

I would also like to add that I have great hopes that discussions on the Green Paper will serve to not only strengthen Europe’s consciousness of its maritime potential, but will also yield concrete added value in terms of jobs and growth in the sector. I entreat you to contribute to making this a reality sooner rather than later. We have much work to do ahead of us, but I have every confidence that we will do this in the interest of a profitable and sustainable European maritime economy.

Thank you.

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