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Dr Joe Borg

Member of the European Commission
Responsible for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs

A Maritime Policy : National and Regional Experiences, Prospects and Emerging Practices

International Conference on Integrated Ocean Policy
Lisbon, Portugal, 11 October 2005

Minister of State and Foreign Affairs, Professor Amaral

Fellow Speakers,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am grateful for the opportunity provided by this Conference on ocean policies to share some of my thoughts with you, as European Commissioner for Fisheries and Maritime Policy, on a matter that is of such great import. I am also grateful to Minister Amaral for his kind invitation to be here today, and to the Conference organizers, and in particular the Global Forum on Oceans, Coasts and Islands, for asking me to deliver this opening statement.

I would like to start my intervention by praising the commitment of the Global Forum to keep ocean affairs high on the international agenda. Your relentless efforts in bringing together national ocean officials and agencies, regional organisations, UN agencies, scholars, donors, non-governmental organisations and industry, clearly contribute to a growing tide that is sweeping coastal states. This is a tide which is making them, and all of us by extension, increasingly aware of the need to engage in concerted efforts towards achieving an integrated vision for the governance of oceans and seas.

In this regard, a word of appreciation is especially due to the work done by the Nippon Foundation Research Task Force on National Ocean Policies, without which this Conference could not have taken place.

The choice of Lisbon for this Conference is also particularly appropriate. As a great maritime nation, Portugal has a strong interest in both maritime issues in general and in the maritime policy that we are currently working on for the European Union. Portugal has pioneered much of the reflection on this and is already giving most welcome input to the development of such a maritime policy. There could not be, thus, a more inspiring scenario for our deliberations as we discuss our national and regional experiences, and the prospects for bringing these into an all-encompassing European ocean policy. Our location here next to the Tagus River, itself a path to the discovery of new cultures, resources and routes in maritime history, augurs well for our discussions on the future of oceans and seas.

For the first time in the history of the European Union, the sea as a whole, has become the subject of specific focus, and as such, Europe’s maritime dimension has become a very real and tangible political priority for the Barroso Commission. In our strategic objectives for the period 2005-2009, the Commission affirms this in its call “for an all-embracing maritime policy aimed at developing a thriving maritime economy and the full potential of sea-based activity in an environmentally sustainable manner.” The Commission furthermore underlines that “such a policy should be supported by excellence in marine scientific research, technology and innovation.”

This should not be too surprising. As you are aware a number of countries have already been hard at work building new policy frameworks for the sustainable use and development of oceans and seas that embrace all aspects of maritime affairs, using the so-called inter-sectoral, inter-disciplinary and cross-cutting approach. The EU has seen the benefits of this and has realised the importance of a similar approach. It is, nevertheless, new to the EU - a fact which makes it all the more significant.

To date, we have established a Task Force on maritime affairs which is working under the guidance of a Steering Group made up of Commissioners whose portfolios are connected in one way or another with the oceans and seas. We have also extended our reach to several other players in the sector, such as those in maritime regions, NGOs, academic institutions and others. As we do this, we are recognising, more and more, the extensive contribution made by sea-based activities to the European economy, covering a broad range of sectors such as coastal tourism, fisheries, aquaculture, offshore oil and gas drilling, wind, tidal and wave energy, biotechnology, shipbuilding and maritime transport.

All of this has proved to have particular relevance in the context of the efforts we are also undertaking within the Commission and in the Member States in pursuit of the goals of growth and employment as enshrined in the Lisbon Strategy.

Today, as Europe seeks to reinvigorate her economy, it is even more important for Europe to recognise and assume the significance of her maritime dimension. In its renewed focus on growth and more and better jobs, Europe is working hard to narrow the gap between itself and some of its economic partners, whilst simultaneously renewing its competitiveness, productivity and social cohesion.

To achieve these objectives the Union must mobilise all national and Community resources, and those of the oceans and seas are clearly resources that we cannot underestimate. In the present international climate which is ever more being shaped by globalisation and where demands on the oceans and seas are perpetually on the increase, maritime activities are becoming, more than ever, of critical importance to the European Union.

Yet while the economy is extremely important, it is, nevertheless, only one side of the coin.

In Europe, as elsewhere, we have come to the conclusion that the intense development of maritime activities is a challenge to the sustainable development and exploitation of sea resources and activities. The poor state of certain fish stocks is, for example, a clear illustration of what I mean. The need to balance development and progress with the preservation of our marine resources and sustainability, has led us again to a clear recognition of the necessity for a comprehensive and co-ordinated approach to oceans and seas.

I believe this should be pursued along three main lines:

  • We need to develop a better scientific knowledge of the state of the oceans, supported by increased marine research and technological developments, as well as by an effort to share scientific knowledge among stakeholders;
  • We need to promote the sustainable development of sea-based economic activities, based on respect for our often-fragile ecosystem; and
  • We need to establish a new mode of governance for a policy that cuts across so many different interests and that involves such a wide range of different stakeholders.

Over and above this, I believe that we also need to recognise the importance of the international dimension of ocean management and in so doing, pursue leadership on this front within international fora with both global institutions and third countries.

It is clear that due to sustained and rapid improvements in technology and to ever-increasing levels of coastal population, threats to the marine environment have multiplied in diversity and intensity. Today we are witnessing a considerable loss of marine biodiversity and contamination of the seas by dangerous substances and excess nutrients.

The inexorable growth of coastal areas has created new pressures on available resources, with a marked intensification of activities relating to fishing, transport, recreational navigation, and exploitation of oil and gas. Pollution has also become quite widespread as we conduct these activities. The over-exploitation of resources and consequent ecological degradation, has left coastal areas and islands in particular, to bear the brunt of these actions. To complicate matters further, there are other growing threats such as piracy, illegal migration, terrorism and a host of other activities which threaten the long-term livelihood of coastal areas.

All the above makes it quite difficult not only to reconcile competing uses, but also to define priorities for oceans, coastal areas and islands, resulting often in the adoption of duplicating or conflicting measures. The fragmentation of decision-making also makes it difficult to comprehend the potential impact of one set of activities upon another. It prevents us from profiting from untapped synergies that could otherwise be explored between different sectors of the maritime cluster.

Moreover, the fact that almost 90% of ocean pollution results from land-based human activities, for example agriculture, means that ocean problems can no longer continue to be viewed in isolation from those that take place on land and in the atmosphere.

Furthermore, the international endorsement of Exclusive Economic Zones of coastal States has led to the progressive occupation of the ocean space up to 200 miles offshore. Sooner than we may think, it will be not only in coastal areas that conflict arises, but also in marine areas further from the coast. An example that comes to mind is that of the development of offshore mariculture – an activity that will clearly pose challenges to maritime transport and navigational routes. Similarly, energy-generating wind farms sited off coasts and the formation of marine reserves are a further two uses of the sea that will need to be accommodated with other different activities.

These examples underline the importance of anticipating the future and of developing appropriate responses. Some of the answers, I am convinced, will most likely have to include looking at the oceans and seas in a similar way as we currently look at territorial spaces: and that is in terms of ownership, rights of use and marine spatial planning and zoning.

Having said this, a European maritime policy should bring together and not only be a collection of vertical sectoral policies. It should look at the oceans and seas based on a sound knowledge of how they work and how the sustainability of their environment and ecosystems may be preserved. It should aim to provide answers as to how decision-making and the conciliation of competing interests in marine and coastal areas can result in a climate more conducive to financial investments and to the development of sustainable economic activities.

At the end of the day, I like to say that what is at stake is to reinforce the concept of the so-called “one stop shop”, in relation to our policies and our decision-making on ocean affairs. To achieve this amounts to an improvement in decision making and the promotion of more effective coordination.

For such reasons a new European oceans and seas policy framework is needed. Co-operation, co-ordination and integration of ocean and sea related policies at all levels is essential. The development of diverse sea-based activities must also be facilitated. And we must be able to contribute to economic development without compromising the welfare of those that follow us.

More importantly, such a framework is needed without much delay, in order to limit any adverse effects that could in the meantime irreparably damage the marine environment and its biodiversity.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We do not have an easy task ahead.

There is clear potential for growth in marine products where the demand is greater than the supply. Examples of this include coastal tourism, fish farming, sea ranching, the extraction of minerals from the seabed, off-shore oil, gas, and the development of new sources of energy, including renewable sources. There is a demand for sustained growth in the shipping, transport and port industries, as well as in all the sectors associated with them. There is also a potential for biotechnology, exploring marine biodiversity and genetic resources; and for exploiting new potential uses of the sea.

There is also a real need to address environmental degradation. We have clear international commitments that need to be fulfilled such as that undertaken by the European Union in 2002 at the World Summit on Sustainable Development. It is pertinent to remember the words of the Secretary General of the United Nations in his recent Report on the Millennium Goals where he says that humankind has caused and assisted to a bigger loss of biodiversity and ecosystems in the last 50 years than at any other time. We also have a more discerning and informed public opinion who from time to time demand more safety in navigation or a reduction in marine pollution. The Erika and Prestige incidents are still very much alive in the memory of many Europeans.

It is for all these reasons, that I insist and often repeat, that the sustainability of the marine environment is a prerequisite for the potential of oceans and seas as a source of wealth to be fully realised.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I firmly believe that our Green Paper on a future EU Maritime Policy, to be adopted by the Commission in the first half of 2006, will constitute a first step towards answering these concerns. It will also launch a Europe-wide public debate on issues relating to the oceans and seas. More importantly, I am confident that it will point us in the right direction of where to apply our energies.

It is an undertaking that must take inspiration from current best practice in operation.

And it is here that your contribution will be invaluable. Your ideas are most welcome, your experience extremely important, and in particular, your clarity of vision for an integrated policy is necessary.

My people will be here to listen to your comments, suggestions and experience as I unfortunately need to depart later on today.

Allow me to thank you in advance for the frank discussions to which I am confident this conference will give rise. And thank you also for your attention this morning. I wish you every success in your deliberations.

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