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Member of the European Commission
30th Virginia Law of the Sea Conference
Ladies and Gentlemen,
On the 7th of June the Commission adopted a Green Paper launching a one-year consultation on Europe’s interaction with the oceans and seas. The idea behind this is to develop an all-embracing maritime policy aimed at enhancing Europe’s maritime economy in an environmentally sustainable manner. The Green Paper, or consultation paper, does not seek to bring us instantaneous answers. Nor does it indicate apropriate actions. It simply asks questions, questions that I believe raise the issues of concern to European citizens – both those who are closely involved with the oceans and seas and otherwise. The intention is to have as wide a debate as possible. We are looking for guidance as to what a maritime policy for Europe should be, from interested parties, stakeholders and experts such as yourselves.
We talk about an all-embracing maritime policy. Yet what exactly do we mean?
While every coastal nation has a variety of sectoral policies in place to manage different uses of the ocean such as shipping or fishing, it has only been in the last decade that some of them have undertaken concerted efforts to articulate and implement a more integrated vision for the governance of ocean areas under their jurisdiction. The Green Paper seeks to make these efforts more widespread. It calls for a collective and collaborative oceans strategy by decision-makers. It also seeks to involve people at all levels and from different maritime sectors and industries.
We are proposing to no longer look at the oceans and seas on a purely sectoral basis, but as a whole, integrating the constraints with the opportunities available. In so doing, we feel able to look at the opportunities for growth and employment arising from recent technologies, scientific knowledge and new uses of the seas, in conjunction with the impact these will have on the resource base.
The execution of such an integrated approach to maritime affairs will to a large extent depend on national, regional and local players, acting in a concerted and co-ordinated way. In addition, an EU maritime policy will give the EU the opportunity to work and co-operate better with third countries and to enrich its external and co-operation policy.
Hence, our intention is not to design a new policy which will exist in isolation. On the contrary, our objective is to create a policy that will be able to co-ordinate and integrate the sectoral approaches that already exist. It will also be built on existing initiatives so as to ensure that the integrated manner in which we hope to treat the oceans and seas is put into practice at all levels of the process.
Better maritime governance also implies stronger co-ordination of governments’ offshore activities. Better and stronger co-ordination between Member States should be promoted not only to maximise potential economies of scale but also to improve the efficiency of maritime control and intervention.
This is not new for Ireland. Both Ireland, and its Marine Institute in particular, have made significant contributions to the development of the Green Paper on a future Maritime Policy for the Union. In fact, the Galway Declaration agreed at the EurOcean 2004 Conference, hosted by the Marine Institute during the Irish EU Presidency, proved to be one of the key factors stimulating our initiative to develop the Green Paper on an EU Maritime Policy.
Furthermore, the Marine Industries Global Market Analysis (2005) published by the Marine Institute as part of the process to develop a new Marine Knowledge, Research & Innovation Strategy for Ireland (2007-2013) provided the most up to date profile of the prospects for global marine business and is duly cited in the Green Paper.
We share Ireland’s vision: a vision of economic growth which depends on the oceans as a resource, while simultaneously preserving and protecting the marine environment.
In a similar manner, we too believe that one of the ways in which we can achieve these goals is through adequate investment in marine research and technology. It is in this way we can aspire to gather considerably more data and information on the functioning of the ocean system, our impact upon it and hence devise a new form of governance based on appropriate coastal and oceans integrated management and on spatial planning.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Allow me to turn now, from the very specific, to the wider, international context.
While the international community strives to adopt a range of legal instruments necessary to complete the international system of governance of the seas, I believe the time has come to concentrate on ensuring the implementation of the duties we have all contracted under international law in an effective manner.
In this regard, I am pleased to note the successful outcome of the Review Conference on the UN Fish Stocks Agreement, held last May in New York. I look forward to working with our international partners to move forward with the recommendations from this Conference in the coming months.
Insofar as UNCLOS is concerned; I had the privilege of visiting and addressing the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea last September. I indicated at that time that the Commission attaches great importance to the role of the Tribunal’s jurisprudence as a key element of the consolidation of the international maritime legal order. However, at this time, only 22 parties to the Convention have chosen the Tribunal as their preferred forum for the settlement of disputes while 111 parties have made no declaration of choice under Article 287 of the Convention.
Under these conditions, as President Wolfrum noted just recently in New York before the 16th Meeting of the States Parties to the Convention, arbitration is currently the general rule for dispute settlement, whereas recourse to the Tribunal or to the International Court of Justice is the exception. I fully share his view that this situation does not appear to reflect the expectations of the drafters of the Convention. It is therefore my hope that a growing number of Parties will recognise the expertise of its judges, the competence of the Tribunal, and the flexibility of the procedures that can be instituted before this body.
Building up coherent jurisprudence on the Law of the Sea will only be possible through legal decisions and over time. Europe wants to strengthen the global governance of the oceans based on the rule of law. This is also one of the key messages of the European Commission's Green Paper on Maritime Policy.
The Commission for the Limits of the Continental Shelf is also seeing its work increasing at a rapid pace. It is worth noting the recent joint submission made by 4 EU Member States – Ireland, the UK, Spain and France – regarding the limits of the Continental Shelf in the Bay of Biscay. I welcome this submission as a very useful example of co-operation among States to facilitate the work of this Commission. I am aware of existing concerns about the fact that the Commission is under severe time and financial constraints to do its work. Yet I hope Parties will find an agreement on the best way forward to ensure that submissions are adequately examined in a cost efficient manner. The 25 EU members can work effectively together to assist in this endeavour.
The International Seabed Authority has just approved an application by Germany for a plan of work for exploration of polymetallic nodules in the Area. This first application is extremely significant as it marks the start of the Authority’s practical work as universal administrator of the mineral resources of the seabed beyond areas of national jurisdiction. I am aware that further applications will soon be considered with regard to the exploration of polymetallic sulfides in deep hydrothermal vents. The Authority and its members are well aware of the immense value, from the point of view of biodiversity, of the living communities which aggregate around these vents. Therefore, I am convinced that careful consideration will be taken of the environmental impact stemming from these activities.
This brings me to the main focus of this year’s United Nations Open-ended Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and the Law of the Sea, UNICPOLOS, which during its 7th session dealt with the topic “ecosystem approaches and oceans”. The Commission is satisfied with the useful and enlightening discussions that are being held therein. From our point of view, the meeting highlighted the worthy efforts that are being taken in different parts of the world to integrate in an effective manner human exploitation activities in science-based management policies, thereby maximising sustainable benefits and ecosystem conservation.
In this framework, the European Union reiterated a proposal, first formulated back in 2004, for an implementation agreement to the Convention regarding the protection of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction. We believe that the principles of UNCLOS must be read in accordance with the prevailing consensus on the benefits of an integrated, cross-sectoral approach to the protection of marine biodiversity. This is necessary in a situation where there seems to be no agreed international legal basis to adopt key international measures such as Marine Protected Areas beyond national jurisdiction. Whereas sector-specific international or regional organisations are able to adopt such measures in their own sphere of competence, only a horizontal instrument would provide a basis for a holistic, integrated approach in line with the commitments assumed at the Wold Summit on Sustainable Development.
The European Union is therefore working hard to convince other UNCLOS Parties that an Implementation Agreement would be a useful development. Let me underline that a process to elaborate such an instrument should never be used as a reason to postpone action on a sectoral basis. Where such action is necessary, sectoral organisations must indeed act in the short term to address detrimental impacts of human exploitation activity, particularly on vulnerable marine habitats. A good example is the role that Regional Fisheries Management Organisations can and must play to regulate fishing practices like bottom trawling, which can have a devastating effect on seamounts and other sensitive ecological zones. The Union is keen to use RFMOs to curb such practices and will always be an active advocate of relevant RFMO regulations.
The follow-up of the UN work on marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction will be at the centre of discussions by the General Assembly at its 61st Session next November. The EU will then renew its efforts in favour of an Implementing Agreement in the knowledge that many States make progress on such a proposal contingent on the negotiation of a benefit-sharing regime for genetic resources. Suffice it to say that the Union has recognised the fact that there are significant expectations regarding this issue and has committed itself to embark in an open and frank dialogue with, in particular, developing States regarding this technically complex and politically sensitive issue.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me also use this opportunity to highlight the importance for the European Community’s legal system of ensuring the respect of the provisions of UNCLOS and other agreements to which the EC is a Member. In a judgment of 30th May of this year concerning the dispute between Ireland and the UK relating to the impact of the MOX plant at Sellafield on the marine environment, the European Court of Justice recalled that following its ratification in 1998, the provisions of the Convention form an integral part of the Community legal order.
The Court concluded that, in ensuring respect for commitments arising from an agreement concluded by the Community institutions, the Member States fulfil, within the Community system, an obligation in relation to the Community, where the Community has assumed responsibility for the due performance of that agreement.
In this context, I would like to recall that the European Court of Justice can impose, at the request of the Commission, substantial fines on Member States which do not comply with Community law. In relation to sea fisheries, for example, the Court by judgment of 12 July 2005 imposed a lump sum of 20 million euros on France for past non-compliance with rules on sustainable management of fisheries. It also ruled that France was obliged to pay almost 58 million euros for every six months after the judgment until it attains full compliance. France has had to pay the first six monthly fine earlier this year since by the end of the first semester it had not yet taken all the necessary steps to comply with the Court ruling. Developments on the ground have shown these kinds of fines to act as a powerful motivator to change.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
To conclude: The Green Paper demonstrates a new resolve of Europe to contribute to a global, holistic and sustainable approach to maritime matters. The Community has the instruments to ensure compliance by 25 countries with international rules relating to the seas and oceans. Europe is willing and able to make a substantial contribution to the effective global governance of the seas and oceans based on the rule of law, and we count on your support in that respect.
I look forward to more in-depth discussions with you over the next few months.