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Dr Joe Borg

Member of the European Commission Responsible for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs

Extracting Value from the Oceans

Commonwealth Business Forum, Malta
Malta, 24 November 2004

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I think it is fair to say that one of the many features that link members of the Commonwealth is the oceans. This is true in the historic sense in that the Commonwealth was born as a result of the acquisition of an Empire by a great seapower. It was this maritime power’s dominance over the oceans that brought us together in this voluntary association of democratic countries. And it is these same oceans that link us together also today. A simple count reveals that all but two of the members of the Commonwealth are coastal or island states. The maritime identity that has been part of these nation states for so long, has now become an inherent part of the Commonwealth too.

Commonwealth countries have been at the forefront of rethinking the way mankind manages its relations with the oceans. I would argue that they have a key role to play in this continuing awareness not least given the increasing interdependence of our globalised world. From my own particular perspective, this is also important given my responsibility within the European Commission to create a holistic and integrated Maritime Policy for the European Union.

At the beginning of my mandate, President Barroso asked me to steer a new Maritime Affairs Task Force with the aim of launching a wide consultation process on a future European policy for the 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 Europe’s maritime dimension has become a very real and tangible political priority for the European 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.” In that same text we also underline that “such a policy should be supported by excellence in marine scientific research, technology and innovation.”

I am tempted to say that it is in these words that commercial opportunities lie. But I would like to take this one step further by illustrating that the necessity for innovation rests also with us the policy-makers. President Barroso put this very aptly at a maritime conference held a few days ago in Brussels. He said: ‘we often speak of the importance of innovation in the private sector, but I believe that innovation in government has become equally important if we are to deliver on our goals. Maritime policy is a perfect example of where this is starting to happen.’

Our plans are to create a framework that is as innovative as it is enabling, in order to facilitate things for those within the business community to seize, and fully exploit, the prospects that arise.

With a view to establishing where some of the potential for this exploitation lies, allow me to explain what steps have been taken to develop a maritime policy for the EU thus far. I will then outline briefly the vision that we have for this project, ending finally with some of the technological advances that I have been presented with recently which re-affirm my conviction that business has a leading role to play in extracting value from the oceans.

Within the European Commission, I currently chair a Steering Group of seven Commissioners whose portfolios are related in one way or another to the seas. This group provides guidance to an inter-disciplinary Task Force that has been drawn from representatives of the various services of the Commission.

For six months now, the Task Force has been busy collecting ideas, looking at best practice around the world – including in countries like Canada and Australia - and building a basic understanding of how the different facets of maritime policy fit together. A series of Working Groups have been established to sift through the material we have accumulated and to identify the most promising new ideas.

We are very conscious that many elements of a future integrated policy already exist at the EU level or in our Member States and we have no desire to reinvent the wheel. With this in mind, the Task Force and I, have also had numerous contacts, at this early stage, with stakeholders in order to listen to their suggestions and to validate our own ideas.

The next phase of this work will be to draft a Green Paper, or consultative document, on a future Maritime Policy for the Union. This will need to be scrutinized for its technical solidity by the Task Force and then be subjected to the test of political acceptability by my Commissioner colleagues, before its adoption and publication in the first half of 2006.

This will constitute a first step towards a wide, public debate on an all-embracing EU Maritime Policy. Such a debate is necessary for a number of reasons.

Firstly, in the wake of the negative referenda on the new Constitution in France and the Netherlands last Spring, we have made a renewed commitment to enhance dialogue with citizens across the Union. Commonly called Plan D, for Democracy, Dialogue and Debate, this drive aims at bringing the process of policy-making as close as possible to those upon whom the impact of these policies will be felt. This is a clear commitment to the idea that our policies can only be as good as their practical application allows.

Secondly, we are extremely conscious of the complexity of the task at hand. While we need to be creative, our proposals must be grounded in reality. We therefore clearly need the expert input of those who deal with the maritime sector first hand. In this respect, I hope that the business community will play a vigorous role.

Thirdly, the need for a comprehensive and all-inclusive approach is paramount. It will take much time and public discussion to overcome the habit of looking at maritime activities in a narrow, sectoral way. The experience of Canada and Australia suggests that it can take years for the new paradigm of cross-sectoral analysis and integrated action to take root. After all we are struggling to overcome the legacy of several hundred years since the authors of the Encyclopedia Britannica thought that all human knowledge could be written down in a few volumes. From then there has been an explosion of knowledge which we have dealt with by becoming ever more specialized. Only now have we begun to realize that we do so at our own risk.

After the publication of the Green Paper we will pass though a collective learning process out of which I hope to forge proposals for a future Maritime Policy with a solid foundation in reality and based on a broad public consensus.

I would now like to share with you some of our preliminary ideas, and in particular our vision, as to how we can deal with our biggest challenge – securing a balance between economic growth in the maritime sectors and the preservation of the ocean environment.

We do this against a backdrop of slowing economic growth and a less than impressive record by the European economy in recent years. Indeed it is vital for us to re-invigorate Europe’s economy if we are to face up to the dual challenges of growing global competition and demographic pressures.

The maritime sector has been identified as a key area where Europeans do well and within which we should be suitably placed to pursue the Lisbon Strategy goals which relate to stimulating economic growth while simultaneously creating more and better jobs. I too believe that this can be done.

How therefore can the future growth we are looking for in areas such as coastal tourism, fisheries, aquaculture, offshore oil and gas drilling, wind, tidal and wave energy, biotechnology, shipbuilding and maritime transport, be achieved? And how can it be achieved in harmony with nature?

My answer revolves around action on three main fronts:

  • we need to develop better scientific knowledge of the state of the oceans. This must be supported by increased marine research and technological developments, as well as by an effort to share scientific knowledge among stakeholders;
  • 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.
  • and, we 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 global institutions, third countries and organisations such as the Commonwealth.

Allow me to expand a little further on each of these, starting with science and technology. Marine science and research have been identified by the Commission as a key component of a future Maritime Policy. In my capacity as Commissioner for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs, I am already aware of the benefits such a close association to science can bring. In the EU Common Fisheries Policy for example, there is a legal obligation for the decision-making process to be “based on sound scientific advice”. Thus, every year, we turn to scientists, in particular those based at the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, for scientific advice on the state of the stocks and their advice on what the total annual catch in the different fisheries should be. Without scientific advice, our common policy - simply put - would just not work.

In the maritime sphere, I believe the necessity for this is even more pressing. We need more science, more research and more knowledge to better understand the complex interactions at work in marine eco-systems and their resources. We need long-term data, better observation and data collection capabilities, and, cheaper and more robust data sensors from industry to provide the necessary input for science and policy-makers. We also need to maintain Europe’s position as a leader in marine science and technology if we are to achieve the goals we have set for our maritime policy.

I therefore hope to reinforce the interaction between scientists on the one hand and technology developers and industry on the other. The establishment of European technological platforms - such as the waterborne platform within the transport sector - which bring key stakeholders, led by industry, to develop strategic research agendas can play a very significant role in this respect.

On the question of governance, I have already said that we need new thinking, given the competing demands made on the oceans and seas. In our view it is only a comprehensive system of spatial planning, with clearly delineated responsibilities, that can provide the framework within which industry can have the security and predictability to invest in new activities.

This spatial planning, which is eco-system based, will require new management tools such as mapping, new data management systems and comprehensive vessel tracking systems. In all these areas governments will need to invest in new, state-of-the-art equipment from industry. We will also need to introduce new mechanisms in government to ensure that integrated and up-to-date thinking about the oceans permeates our policy-making.

And as we extend our knowledge of the ocean ecosystems and develop new forms of governance to promote sustainable maritime activities, I believe that Europe will have an increasing responsibility to share what it learns with its partners in the world community. This is where the third thrust of our actions will take us. What would it profit us to develop a dynamic maritime economy and preserve our coastal ecosystems, if the oceans around us, which are the common heritage of all humankind, continued to deteriorate?

The major maritime activities of fisheries and sea transport are global industries and can only be regulated successfully on a multilateral basis. We have a collective interest in ensuring that global rules are adopted as quickly as possible in order to increase the knowledge of ocean ecosystems. And we have a collective interest in ensuring that these rules are implemented and monitored by all. It is here that I would welcome Regional Fisheries Management Organisations to take a lead. Flag states also have an important role to play, be it in relation to fishing vessels, cargo ships or cruise liners.

We cannot, for example, allow Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fisheries to continue. When the High Seas Task Force comes out with its report on IUU fisheries early next year, I hope that it will provide us with a practical roadmap in this regard. I can already foresee that any solution will need to include improved surveillance systems for the world’s oceans and improved coastal and flag state control to deal with offenders.

I am very much aware that the wealthier nations, including those in the EU, will need to take the lead in finding the resources and developing the technologies for such surveillance. We will also need to help many of our developing country partners to put in place the infrastructure and governance systems needed to function as effective coastal and port state controllers.

As I stated at the outset, the Commonwealth, like the EU, has a history of relations with the oceans. Yet in looking to the future, I feel that if we are to make best use of the oceans’ potential, we would do well to know more about the new technologies which are opening new ways forward. By giving you a few examples of technologies that I have recently come into contact with, I hope to whet your appetites as to what the future has in store.

Only recently, I was given a presentation about a prototype wave energy generator, undulating on the water surface like some great sea monster. I then learned that moving water carries energy to the order of one thousand times more than that of moving air. And yet offshore wind farms are likely to be the first choice for energy generation due to their economic advantages. Wind farms’ share of electricity production is likely to rise rapidly in Europe in the coming years, without adding a single molecule of carbon dioxide to our atmosphere. The technology is also bound to be exported to a large degree in order to serve energy producers all around the world, both public and private. I have high hopes that wave generated energy will follow soon after.

Next year the first containership with ice-breaking capacity will begin a regular service between Murmansk and the Yenisei river on the Northern Russian Arctic coast. The Northern sea route through the Arctic Ocean is already beginning to open up, revealing new opportunities that are surfacing and providing just one example of the fast development in global, sea based logistics.

In the Barents Sea new technologies for seabed oil and gas extraction are being tested. Some day we may at last be able to master the intricacies of extracting energy from the vast quantities of methane hydrates available within our continental shelf.

If we can secure the necessary safeguards for the vast biodiversity which exists in our ocean deeps and if we encourage further research, we can also open the door to a whole new range of pharmaceutical and other products, about which we can currently only dream.

I believe that such possibilities illustrate how exciting the future of maritime activities can be. I promise you that we will try our level best in the EU to provide a climate in which they can be exploited. And I hope that maritime businesses around the world will demonstrate that they can rise to the challenge of making such possibilities a reality. We look forward to working with partners from all over the globe, not least with those originating within the Commonwealth.

In conclusion I would like to thank the Commonwealth Business Forum for its invitation to be here today at this lunch sponsored by the Malta Maritime Authority. I would also like to thank the latter’s Chairman Dr. Marc Bonello for this initiative and for his words of welcome. And finally I would like to wish all of you a pleasant remainder of your stay here in my home country, which, as you can see for yourself, has its own identity deeply steeped in maritime traditions.

Thank you.

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