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Dr Joe Borg

Member of the European Commission
Responsible for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs

The Green Paper on an EU Maritime Policy and the role of Port Cities

A conference on ‘Renewing the Economic Prosperity of Port Cities’ organised by European Parliament and the Asturias Regional Office
Brussels, 7 June 2006

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today the Commission has adopted an important Green Paper. This paper captioned: Towards a future Maritime Policy for the Union: A European vision for the oceans and seas, marks the start of a one-year consultation period designed to gather information from the wide variety of interest groups and individuals who have a direct stake in maritime affairs within the European Union.

By this first step, we have set into motion what I hope will be a wide-ranging and open debate on how Europe should be managing its interaction with the seas and oceans that surround it. The reason for this is simple: Europe’s maritime heritage, Europe’s maritime economy and Europe’s maritime environment can no longer be treated piecemeal. They must be looked at in an integrated manner if we are to achieve the two fundamental goals of building Europe’s competitiveness in the maritime sphere while sustainably developing the marine resource base upon which we so clearly depend.

In some ways, this consultation phase is a process of discovery. And as is the case for all voyages of discovery, it is important to look at the detailed plans for the trip. This is what I intend to do with you today while whetting your appetite to look at the Green paper in more detail.

I also hope to address more specifically some issues of direct concern to you as representatives of port cities.

The Green Paper addresses maritime issues across a range of sectors. It does this in the belief that a maritime policy for the Union should be anchored within the Lisbon strategy whilst reflecting the principles of ecosystem-based management. It emphasises that EU action is required only where it can add value to national and local action.

Against this backdrop, it first explores the economic importance of the maritime economy, its growth prospects and the sources of its competitiveness. It looks at the assets available to it in terms of the marine environment itself, knowledge of the oceans, the creativity of companies and the expertise of those working in the various sectors, and asks how public authorities can help to maximise these assets. It also looks at the interrelationships between economic sectors and at the regulatory framework.

In the Green Paper we welcome the development of the more integrated approach that is now being developed by the private sector in terms of clustering, and suggest ways in which the regulatory environment in the maritime sectors could be developed. There is a call for a discussion on simplification, so that the objectives of one policy do not carry unintended and contradictory impacts on other maritime goals.

We next take a look at the special role of coastal regions. At a time, when the periphery can often feel cut off from the centre, we examine, through the Green Paper, the attractiveness of coastal regions, the threats that they and their inhabitants face, how best to deal with these and how they may be turned into opportunities. We look at the key role of maritime tourism in local economies and the relationships between sea- and land-based activities.

Thirdly, we scrutinize the tools that could improve the management of our relations with the oceans. This includes spatial planning and the co-existence of competing activities along the shore. We look at the types of data that need to be made available, both on the oceans and seas and on related human activities. We also identify the need for a comprehensive EU network for marine data which can further integrate and develop existing networks. We also look at the important role which can be played by EC financial support for coastal regions, mainly through structural and cohesion funds.

Fourthly, we examine the possible implications of a holistic approach for governance, both within the EU and also at an international level. A new understanding of the oceans and seas challenges the traditional sectoral and geographically limited approaches of the past. We feel that this holistic approach also advocates a more integrated form of policy, making the best use of technological developments relating to the monitoring and surveillance of the seas and other information-gathering.

The growth of various activities witnessed along the shoreline often means that this issue also takes on an international dimension as most activities, not to mention climate change, biodiversity protection, illegal migration and other phenomena, are trans-boundary in nature. These are best regulated on the basis of international rules, so the EU has an interest in sharing any new ideas or enforcement measures within the international community.

Finally, we consider the importance of preserving our maritime heritage. The Green Paper looks at how maritime heritage activities can be encouraged, linked to other maritime sectors, and how education can contribute to the growing development of a common vision of the role of the oceans in our lives. It also looks at those areas where more knowledge can help enhance performance and can lead to a more favourable image.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As we develop our vision for the oceans and seas, I am glad that others, such as all of those involved in the NEW EPOC project, are doing the same. I know you are engaged in seeking concrete and workable responses to existing challenges from a local viewpoint. I was impressed by the achievements of your project. Starting from different ends, I believe our projects are complementary. We most certainly share a common interest, that of making the most of the oceans and seas for the people in Europe today and tomorrow.

Allow me to briefly turn to the specific role of port cities in a future maritime policy. Although ports were originally built for the purpose of loading and unloading ships, ports, and the cities that surround them, have today become an essential part of the worldwide logistics chain; crucial nodes in the wider European transport networks; and a location for many business activities, tourism and residential space. Far from being dedicated to one activity, they have now become multifunctional.

As the report on NEW EPOC notes, global economic trends and trans-national policy issues represent a strong driver of change for port cities. Their dependency on the trends prevailing on world markets, has forced them, if you like, to restructure. This has happened elsewhere, for example to shipyards. The decline in European shipbuilding has had far-reaching consequences, and yet, new market opportunities have arisen thanks to innovation, specialisation and the entrepreneurial mindset displayed by many over previous years.

Port cities today are often centres of marine and maritime science, research and development. The combination of academic, technological and entrepreneurial capacity in ports cities, makes them a rich resource. This combination is indispensable for their success. Links between maritime industries and other industries, such as the space or electronics industries, provide important new opportunities for growth and employment. The discussions of the Green Paper will help us to understand whether, in our various policies relevant to these areas, we are taking sufficient account of these new linkages.

Port cities are also traditionally outward looking. They are major centers for exports, not only of goods, but also of services. The Green Paper debate will enlighten us as to what the EU can do better in order to help economic operators who create employment in port cities to gain improved access to third country markets.

Increasing and modernising port capacity, installations and hinterland infrastructures, but also improving the surroundings of ports, is primarily the responsibility of the private sector and national or regional authorities. They are best placed to take the right initiatives on the basis of local conditions. Existing examples show the creativity and determination of port cities to successfully cope with the need to restructure, to reinvent themselves and to continue to thrive.

Important debates which are likely to arise out of the adoption of the Green Paper will be related to economic analysis and the future structure of the EU budget. On the question of economic analysis, we have to increase our efforts to better understand the importance of the coastal economy, what needs to be done to support its sustainable growth and what areas need stronger economical analysis. The debate on the future budget structure for the EU will become more intense in 2008. Coastal regions and Port cities will have to be in a position to identify how their interests can best be reflected in this future scenario.

Modern and efficient ports require a clear and efficient regulatory framework. As you know, the Commission intends to present new and more detailed policy ideas for ports, adding to the present Green Paper, in the mid-term review of the White Paper on Transport later this month.

Realising the economic potential of port cities stretches way beyond a transport policy for ports and policy measures of an economic nature. To achieve growth, ports, and the cities that surround them, need to adapt, and perhaps expand, their capacity. The planning process and the public policy and legal framework will have to facilitate sustainable port expansion, against the backdrop of increasing competition for space in and around ports, not least for environmental reasons.

There is a need to see how sustainability and environmental protection can be ensured while allowing port capacity to develop in line with needs. In the context of the Green Paper work, the Commission has brought together the European Sea Ports Association, the European Dredging Association and Euroocean, to develop a public database of best practices in the application of EU environmental law to Port development projects. We hope that learning from the experience of port development projects elsewhere, things can move more rapidly.

We know that the state of Europe’s coastal seas is not what it ought to be. For too long we have been allowing this immense resource to degenerate. But our dilemma is that we cannot afford simply to bring that economic activity to a stop. Europe currently needs more economic growth, not less.

We welcome your views and experience on which models of regional governance in terms of maritime affairs have worked and what it takes to implement these successfully. Specific questions we have in this context are what data need to be made available, which players need to be involved and how are competences shared between different levels of government.

Finally, what is public perception on the importance of oceans and seas at the level of port cities? There is much to be gained by encouraging a sense of common identity among those who earn their living from maritime activities or whose quality of life is linked to the sea.

The Green Paper has been developed on the basis of stakeholder contributions. In the NEW EPOC report, the port cities identified themselves as laboratories for modern cities in a global knowledge society. The role of laboratories is to test and validate ideas. We are at the start of a new policy and we are searching to test our ideas. It is crucial for us to know whether we have raised the right issues in the Green Paper and whether we have done so to the right degree.

More importantly however: we must move from general ideas towards the more specific.

We want to achieve real change – in perceptions, policy making and implementation. This requires your help.

We count on your support.

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