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Joe Borg

Member of the European Commission responsible for
Fisheries and Maritime Affairs

A European vision for the oceans and seas: Giving citizens a stake in the creation of a Maritime Policy for Europe

Conference organised by the Malta Economic Update together with the Maritime Law Advisory Council
Malta, 11 September 2006

Ladies and Gentlemen,

On 7 June 2006, the Commission issued a Green Paper entitled "Towards a future Maritime Policy for the Union: A European vision for the oceans and seas."

Today, I am pleased to present a general overview of the Green Paper. In addition, I would like to give you a few examples of particular areas for consideration. Finally, I would like to emphasise how important it is to the EU that all stakeholders in the maritime sector are fully involved in the debate prompted by the Green Paper.

With the publication of the Green Paper, the Commission launched 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 is a consultation paper. It does not seek to bring us instant answers. Nor does it indicate appropriate actions. It simply asks questions; questions that I believe raise important issues that concern European citizens and all those who are closely involved with the oceans and seas. The intention is to have as wide a debate as possible. We want to involve interested parties, stakeholders and experts such as yourselves in order to shape the right maritime policy for Europe.

The Green Paper represents a new process for developing policies in the EU – policy-making on the basis of extensive consultation and policy-making based on thinking that is both holistic and cross-sectoral.

We feel that modern policy-making needs to move away from the sectoral approaches of the past. We need to move towards the development of comprehensive tools to cover related subjects in a holistic manner. This has not so far been the case for maritime affairs. Yet, this is an area where we are all aware of the number, and significance, of the interactions that take place between the various maritime sectors. This alone, is strong motivation to bring all these threads together and weave an overall vision for a maritime policy.

We also need to recall that enlargement of the EU to 25 members has not only strengthened Europe politically and economically. Enlargement has also increased the length of the EU coastline and the maritime areas under EU jurisdiction. With the imminent accession of Bulgaria and Romania, this will extend even further to the Black Sea.

Why therefore, is there the need for an all-embracing maritime policy?

European growth rates have been lower than those of our main international competitors for a number of years. Europe needs to do better across all sectors if it is to retain its wealth and quality of life in the future.

In this context, our maritime economy is of critical importance, as it is an essential instrument for our growing international trade, it has developed better than the average of all sectors in certain Member States, and it affects either directly or indirectly almost half of the EU's population – those who, like many of us here, live close to the coast.

Europe devotes a lower share of its wealth to research and development than the US and Japan - 1.9% of GDP in the EU in 2003, as compared to 2.59% in the US and 3.15% in Japan. Furthermore, China is on track to match the research intensity of the EU by 2013. Lower research and development expenditure leads to lower productivity.

For the first time in the post-World War II era the average growth rates of real GDP, labour productivity and total factor productivity in the EU have continued to fall further behind those of the US for a period of almost a decade.

The productivity challenge is made all the more urgent by an ageing population in the EU. Europe is caught in a demographic squeeze of declining birth rates and rising life expectancies. By 2050 the working population will decrease by 52 million. There will be a sharply increasing dependency ratio, with the proportion of people over 65 rising from 16.4% in 2004 to 29.9% in 2050.

In the spirit of the Lisbon Agenda, one of stimulating economic growth while creating more and better jobs, our economic activities need 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 lead in knowledge about the oceans is maintained.

With these challenges in mind, allow me briefly to outline the fundamental principles upon which we propose to build an EU maritime policy.

We have suggested in the Green Paper that a future Maritime Policy should rest on two pillars.

Firstly, in accordance with the Lisbon Agenda, we need to unleash the economic potential of sea-based activities and strengthen the competitiveness of our maritime industries in the face of global competition.

Secondly, we also need to recognise that this needs to be done in a sustainable way by maintaining and improving the status of the resource upon which all maritime activities are based, the ocean itself.

I am convinced that these two objectives are not contradictory. However, in order to achieve them fully, we will need better marine and maritime science and a more integrated knowledge of the sea. Concepts like ecosystem-based management must be turned into a reality from which actual policy tools may be developed.

Two further features of maritime affairs need to be kept in mind: the global nature and scope of the oceans and of maritime activities – for which universally applicable rules need to be developed, and the fact that multiple actors are involved. Various sectoral policies, like fisheries, marine environmental protection, tourism or shipping, are implemented at all levels of government from the EU to the national, regional, and local levels. These, at some stage, need to be further integrated so as to ensure that they do not negatively impinge on one another.

Allow me to provide a few examples by way of illustration:

Maritime transport is a thriving sector within the European Union. International shipping is forecast to continue to grow for the foreseeable future. A growth rate of 7% is in fact estimated for the coming five years. This will further increase the demand for port services. Pressure will grow for the expansion of existing ports and the development of new ports.

Yet the importance of shipping appears to be relatively little known to the public at large. 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 co-ordinated approach to the management of its diverse functions can bring broad benefits reaching far beyond the industry itself.

Better integration of different modes of transport, such as short-sea shipping, 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 and potential threats to the environment at large.

If we want the further development of maritime transport to take place in an optimal fashion, then it is crucial to have more efficient co-ordination of the various policies involved. This is particularly the case with maritime safety and security, and the organisation of government functions on the high seas – often referred to as coastguard functions. It is also the case with those matters concerning customs and the other administrative requirements ships need to go through when loading and unloading in different European ports.

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 co-exist with economic activities around the coast - not all of which may be equally attractive to tourists.

Linking into this is of course, the environment. We all know today about intense marine 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 our stewardship of this resource seriously. 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 Europe's regions and their development. In fact, any discussion of this nature 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: on the European mainland, our islands and our outermost regions?

I have also already alluded to the central role, to be played in the creation of a maritime policy for Europe, of research and technology. Europe is one of the world’s top centres of marine research and technology. The harnessing of this research is essential for the benefit of the environment and also for technologies of the future, such as blue biotechnology, and to maintain Europe’s lead in areas such as shipbuilding.

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 co-operation in the fight against illegal fisheries.

I have mentioned examples that cover many of the areas addressed in the Green Paper. The challenge facing us lies in the added benefit of bringing these areas together. We believe that the EU can play a central role in helping the Member States to do this, by developing common frameworks, tools and parameters to strengthen their ability to do so. We have also suggested in the Green Paper what some of these might be: including institutional adjustments for better governance; a comprehensive data-collection and sharing system; the development of spatial planning tools; more attention to integrated coastal zone management; the creation of an European common maritime space; more and better integrated science and research; the promotion of promising marine related industries, including high tech and innovative ones; and furthering coordination on the coast guard functions of our coastal member states.

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.

This one-year consultation period following the publication of the Green Paper is intended to stimulate a wide public debate on an all-embracing EU Maritime Policy. Such a debate is necessary for at least three reasons:

Firstly, after the double ‘no’ to the European Constitution that took place last year, it is more important than ever, to engage in a dialogue with our citizens about what Europe is for, and what it can and should be doing.

Secondly, we are conscious of the complexity of the task we are undertaking. On the one hand we need to be creative. On the other hand our proposals must be grounded in reality. We need to engage in in-depth discussions. We need the expert input of those who spend their lives in the maritime world. In this regard we count on you, the business community and stakeholders in the maritime world, to play a vigorous role in this process. A process involving different types of events and fora and various forms of consultation.

Lastly, it will take time and much public discussion to overcome the habit of looking at maritime activities in a narrow sectoral way. Experience in Canada and Australia suggests that it can take years for the idea of integrated action to take root.

It is our belief that it is precisely the interactions between different maritime activities and the impacts they cause on the ocean system that we must understand if we are to make sense of our relations with the oceans and maximize the benefits we derive from them.

Having said this, I am confident that with such a wide public dialogue and consultation process, that has just started, we will reach the proper conclusions on the way forward.

The aim of this consultation is therefore not only formally to 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 a representative, an integrated, a dynamic approach to a maritime policy for the Union will to a large extent depend on national, regional and local players, themselves acting in an integrated and co-ordinated manner.

If there is one outcome of this process that will make me extremely happy, then this will be to witness how our citizens, businesses, scientists, environmental organisations and fishermen become part of a movement to take a new and fresh look at what is happening to these seas and oceans around us. I am convinced that such a fresh look is the basis for us to act together in our own best interest, with the aim to achieve sustainable, economic development.

After the completion of a vigorous and wide-ranging debate on the Green Paper, the European Commission will be in a much better position to put forward proposals for a future Maritime Policy that are both solidly grounded in reality and based on a broad public consensus.

We are now at the start of this journey; a journey that will lead to a new European vision for the oceans and the seas. This conference therefore comes at an opportune time. It represents an important opportunity for all of us gathered here today to share our ideas and exchange views and experiences.

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. Yet I am confident that we can succeed in this endeavour, if we manage to bring together the best ideas and the best minds from throughout the Union.

Let us all join our strengths, knowledge and willingness to succeed to meet this challenge.

Thank you.

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