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Member of the European Commission Responsible for Fisheries and Maritime
Speech on the occasion of the adoption of the Green Paper on Maritime Policy
to the joint meeting of the Committees on Transport and Tourism; Environment,
Public Health and Food Safety; Regional Development; Industry, Research, Energy
Dear Committee Chairs,
Dear Members of Parliament,
I am pleased to be here with you only 90 minutes or so after the Commission adopted the Green Paper on Maritime Policy – a document which we have been working on for the last twelve months.
It is fitting that our first port of call on the voyage of consultation on which we have now embarked should be with the elected representatives of European citizens. I find it even more fitting that this should be a joint meeting of the Committees for transport and tourism, fisheries, environment, public health and food safety, and industry, research and energy, because one of the critical messages of the Green Paper is the need to bring together all the many facets of our relations with the seas and oceans.
We have now started what I hope will turn into a wide-ranging and open debate on how Europe should be managing its interaction with the seas and oceans that surround it.
We are aiming for a comprehensive debate leading to an overall policy approach, because we can no longer afford to look at Europe’s maritime heritage, Europe’s maritime economy and Europe’s maritime environment in a piecemeal fashion.
Modern policy making is moving from sectoral approaches to the development of comprehensive tools to cover related subjects in a holistic way. This has not yet been the case for maritime affairs, and yet, this is an area where we are all aware of the number, and importance, of the interactions that take place between the various maritime sectors. This is the first reason why we must begin to bring all these threads together and weave an overall vision for a maritime policy.
The second reason is simpler and yet more profound. Our planet consists of a series of islands covering approximately only 30% of its surface within an immense expanse of ocean. That ocean is the natural resource upon which all maritime activities are based. It is the essential element in the quality of life in coastal regions - regions where, at least in Europe, half of our citizens live. It is a part of our history and a part of our identity. And it is coming under increasing pressure as more and more activities compete to exploit its riches.
What we are confronted with here is therefore not a conflict of goals, but the question of how best to manage competing uses of the same maritime space.
The Green Paper on Maritime Policy is built on the need to develop such an integrated approach to our interaction with our seas.
It is a new approach for the European Union, but of course it must build on what is already being done, developing new ideas for added value, rather than trying to create completely new policies and instruments.
Let me give you a few examples of what we are thinking about, and on what we seek advice from you, and from all stakeholders, whom we are consulting.
In the field of Industry: the maritime sector for the European economy makes up, according to some estimates, some 3 to 5% of the EU’s gross domestic product. 40% of Europe’s GDP is produced in maritime regions.
In the spirit of the Lisbon agenda, our economic activities should continue to expand into new areas that combine our technology and research strengths with a sustainable approach to economic development. We need to ensure that our current advantage of leading the world in knowledge about the oceans is maintained.
In Transport: maritime transport is a thriving sector within the European Union. Yet its importance and functions appear to be relatively little known to the public at large, and what is visible is very often only the negative, such as, for example, shipping accidents. Maritime transport is one of those areas where a more coordinated approach to the management of its diverse functions can bring broad benefits reaching far outside the industry itself.
Better integration of different transport modes, such as short sea shipping and inland waterways, and beyond that, rail and road connections, can increase the overall efficiency of the transport system, and be beneficial to the environment by reducing energy consumption.
At the same time, more efficient coordination of the various policies and approaches dealing with maritime safety, security, and the organisation of government functions on the high seas – often referred to as coastguard functions, is crucial if we want the further development of maritime transport to take place in optimal fashion.
Insofar as Tourism is concerned, Europe is one of the world’s foremost tourist destinations. Our beaches, port cities, traditional fisheries, museums, aquariums and maritime activities, increasingly attract visitors from across Europe and further afield. They come by car, by plane and increasingly by cruise ship. Our discussions with stakeholders during the preparations for the Green Paper have taught us that there is much room for further exploitation of the potential of tourism in our coastal regions.
This sector, which is rarely mentioned in a maritime context, is nonetheless one of our major growth areas for incomes and jobs. Tourism needs a clean and well maintained environment to thrive – and it must coexist with economic activities around the coast - not all of which may be equally attractive to tourists.
On the Environment: nowhere have I come across a policy area where the environment is so consistently mentioned. We all know today about the risks of pollution, the depletion of marine biodiversity, the destruction of wetlands and the extreme weather events caused by climate change. Maritime activities will only be sustainable if we take seriously our stewardship of this resource. Indeed, jobs and wealth creation will depend on Europe’s ability to combine development of maritime activities with increasing protection of the marine environment.
However, we should strive for healthy oceans and seas, not only as a growth engine for our economy, but also because of their critical role as a life support system for our planet. This is why the rapid adoption of our proposal for a Thematic Strategy for the Marine Environment is an indispensable element of a future maritime policy for the Union.
Many of the things I have mentioned have direct relevance for our regions and their development, and in fact, this discussion would not be complete without mention being made of regional development. I have been struck by the resonance that our work on the Green Paper has produced in the coastal regions all across the European Union. Indeed, if we want to develop a better approach to our relations with the seas, where else should we start but in the regions themselves, both on the European mainland, and in our outermost regions and islands?
As for Research and Technology: Europe is one of the world’s top centres of research and technology. The harnessing of this research is essential for the benefit of the environment, but also for technologies of the future such as blue biotechnology as also to maintain Europe’s lead in areas such as shipbuilding technology.
The linking of data collection and the development of means to ensure that more data are made available to those who need them also falls into this category. The benefits range, for example, from increased understanding of how the oceans really work, to closer international cooperation in the fight against illegal fisheries.
Turning now to fisheries: as with all of the areas I have just mentioned, we do, of course, also have a fisheries policy at the EU level. Equally, however, as is the case for all the other aforementioned areas, I strongly believe that fisheries can benefit from stronger integration with other policies. The planning of activities along our coasts demands the integration of local fisheries activities in the overall planning process. Planning of catch quotas cannot, for example, work without strong scientific underpinning.
The fisheries sector is also strongly affected by other economic developments. The integration of fisheries in the development of other economic activities such as for example tourism can perhaps provide some innovative solutions to the complex problems of this sector.
Fisheries is the sector which possibly best illustrates the broader context of the social environment in which the economic activities related to the seas take place. Fishers face instability as regards their employment, while their workplace is one of the most dangerous workplaces of all.
Seafaring professions also suffer from a lack of attractiveness while at the same time some sectors related to the shipping business are beginning to feel the consequences of falling numbers of experienced European seafarers capable of taking up related jobs onshore.
At a time when the European Union is working hard to deliver more growth and better jobs to Europeans, our impression during the preparation for the Green Paper has been that the maritime sector suffers from lack of visibility, and possibly even neglect, as concerns the working conditions and the integration of its job market with job markets in other areas. Certainly, we can do better.
Bringing all of these elements together at the European level is already quite a task. However, the very nature of our subject matter – the world’s oceans – is intrinsically linked to areas under the responsibility of our international partners too.
In this area of global rule-making, there is no doubt in my mind that the EU will be a lot more effective if it acts internationally in unison. The Green Paper therefore dwells to some extent on governance issues. The approach is the same as for other areas, in other words: better coordination will achieve more.
I have mentioned examples that make up a large number of the subjects covered by your committees as well as by the Green Paper. But just like today’s meeting, the challenge of our work really lies in the added benefit of bringing these areas together. We believe that the EU can play a key role in helping our Member States to do this, by developing common tools to strengthen their ability to do so.
We have set out at some length in the Green Paper what these might be, including a comprehensive data collection and sharing system, or a European Atlas of the Seas, the possibility of a single, integrated vessel tracking system that would greatly improve maritime security, and the development of spatial planning tools.
Managing such planning processes is a challenging task in which it is difficult to satisfy the interests of all parties. And this is precisely where an integrated approach fits in: by bringing together the various interests, our job is to ensure better coverage of all relevant stakeholders, and better results in taking into account their various interests.
I believe very strongly in these ideas. I have learned over the past year how many different elements we need to consider and how complex a task we are embarking upon. We will not succeed without bringing together the best ideas and the best minds from throughout the Union. And it is precisely because of this that we have decided on an unusually long consultation process of over a year.
The aim of this consultation is not only to formally consult our stakeholders but also to raise awareness. We all have a stake in this common European heritage that is the sea. The execution of integrated approaches to our maritime environment will to a large extent depend on national, regional and local players, acting in an integrated and coordinated manner.
If there is one outcome of this process that will make me extremely satisfied, then this will be to witness how our citizens, businesses, scientists, environmental organisations and fishers become part of a movement to take a new fresh look at what is happening to these seas and oceans around us and act together in the best interest of our sustainable economic development.
I look forward to hearing from you, and to discussing the issues raised in the Green Paper with the European Parliament, hopefully in various formations and at various times. For today, I thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak to you