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Joe Borg

Member of the European Commission responsible for
Fisheries and Maritime Affairs

Shipping at the heart of a future maritime policy for Europe

Mare Forum Conference
Athens, 25 September 2006

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a pleasure for me to be here at this Conference, which focuses on one of the most thriving sectors of maritime Europe – the shipping industry. I say this because I believe this is an opportune moment to discuss issues of importance to such a vital sector, close on the heels of the adoption of the Green Paper on a future EU Maritime Policy by the European Commission last June.

The Green Paper raises some important questions of direct concern to the shipping sector. I am therefore grateful to the organisers of this Conference for bringing together an impressive number of personalities from the shipping community who have the opportunity here, to express their views.

Notwithstanding the fact that shipping is an issue that lies clearly within the direct responsibility of Vice-President Barrot, and that he is better able to address specific questions relating to the maritime transport industry, I trust that my address, and the presence of representatives from the various Commission services actively involved in the development of the Green Paper, in particular DG TREN, will constitute a worthwhile addition to our discussions.

I am also very pleased to be here in Greece, a maritime nation with a long tradition of all things relating to the seas, not least of which is the transport of goods and passengers. There is no question that Greece today is one of the foremost maritime nations in the world, and particularly so in the field of shipping.  

With a merchant fleet of more than 900 ships, having a capacity of around 7.5 million deadweight tons, the Greek flag ranks first in Europe and fourth in the world. The Greek-owned fleet represents 8.4% of the total number of vessels in service and on order throughout the world. In terms of deadweight tonnage, these vessels represent 16.1% of the global total. But, aside from the numbers per se, Greece has clearly also made a significant contribution to modern shipping.  

The EU fleet has a significant share of the global market. With 8,690 ships under European flags, totalling approximately 225 million deadweight tons, the EU share of world tonnage is 23%. In addition, it provides employment to some 190,000 European seafarers, making the European Union the number one shipping power in the world.

This pole position must not allow us to feel any sense of complacency. Such a forefront role in the world of shipping, carries with it huge responsibilities. This is particularly so for the European shipping industry, which, over and above its own vessels, controls a further 3,500 vessels flying foreign flags.

This leading role is a privilege – one we would do well to protect and nurture. Indeed we need to find the best ways to work with this important sector of our economy for the benefit of all Europeans.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Allow me to turn to the Green Paper now and to highlight three areas contained therein which have a direct relevance to shipping.

It is well known that 90% of EU external trade and over 40% of its internal trade is transported by sea. These numbers correspond to 3.5 billion tonnes of goods and 350 million passengers per year. Europe depends, and will continue to depend, on this mode of transport and thus on the unhampered flow of maritime traffic.

The Green Paper fully acknowledges this and calls firstly, for attention to be paid to enhancing the competitiveness of the sector; secondly, to protecting and preserving the marine environment; and thirdly, to putting maritime governance on a sound footing.

Insofar as the sector’s competitiveness is concerned, I think the Commission's commitment to improving Europe's competitive edge in all spheres is unquestionable. I would recall here that the European Commission sees for the maritime sector, and as part of the parameters of the Lisbon Agenda, the need for Europe to unleash the economic potential of sea-based activities and to strengthen the competitiveness of our maritime industries in the face of ever-increasing global competition.

One of the important elements for a competitive and stable shipping sector, is undoubtedly a stable regulatory framework. We believe that European shipping, along with other maritime sectors, to a large extent, already benefits from this. This can be seen in the billions of euros worth of orders for new ships that is invested, every year, by European ship-owners. Statistics show that Europe is a leader even here, with some 45% of international orders placed by European owners.

We recognise, therefore, that from the industry's point of view, it is vital to have a stable legal and regulatory environment in order to, in turn, have an efficient and effective business environment. With a view to improving on what exists, the EU has already started to work towards a simpler and more consolidated regulatory regime. The EU also fully participates in international initiatives to this end. The recently adopted International Labour Organisation Consolidated Convention on the Employment Conditions of Seafarers serves as best practice, and is clearly the type of initiative that should be further encouraged.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Enhancing the number of European seamen in the shipping industry, in addition to improving the skills they possess, is also crucial. The steady decline in the number of young Europeans choosing to work at sea indicates that we need to redouble our efforts to attract individuals to maritime careers and to thereby maintain a thriving European shipping sector. This involves looking at hours and conditions of work, career prospects and health and safety issues, not to mention remuneration and other, ancillary benefits.

Apart from these pressing issues, Europe has yet another very real challenge to face up to: the registration of EU-owned vessels under foreign flags.

The Green Paper raises a number of questions relating to this. It asks: are the economic incentives given to social partners in this sector sufficient? Should we promote less bureaucracy and administrative barriers through a European maritime space? Could the establishment of an EU register bring added value to European shipping? What else can be done and/or avoided?

I raise these questions here as I believe that this kind of meeting is precisely the forum in which such questions, need be discussed and debated. It is important for me to hear your views and to listen to any proposals you may have which look at the issue from a new perspective, a new angle.

These are issues that affect Europe's competitiveness. And yet for our vision, a vision of a new and integrated EU Maritime Policy, to bear fruit, I believe we must go a step further still and take a long and hard look at the resource itself. The need for a sound and healthy marine environment is therefore yet another piece that must be put in place at in order to complete the puzzle. There is no doubt that it would be of no value for Europe to maintain leadership in any sector if this comes at an unbearable cost for other activities or for the environment overall.

The Green Paper highlights this opportunity cost by calling for the right balance to be struck between economic growth on one hand and respect for the environment on the other. Further deterioration of the marine environment will inevitably affect Europe's ability to provide income and jobs for its citizens.

In this context, I feel that the EU has already made substantial efforts. The Thematic Strategy for the Marine Environment constitutes a major step forward. Through this strategy, Europe has the tools to lead the way towards the designation of marine protected areas, with the aim of securing biodiversity and, by 2021, restoring the ecological health of our seas.

In much the same way, the Third Maritime Safety Package is also viewed as a significant component of our Maritime Policy. It will contribute substantially to minimizing the risk of accidental pollution of European seas in the future.

Yet it is only if all the actors involved, combine their forces to accomplish a shipping industry that consistently observes high standards, that we will succeed in our common fight against sub-standard ships and irresponsible ship-owners.

On this front, in the Green Paper, we acknowledge what is obvious: that this is a global industry which faces global problems and which requires global solutions.

This being said, we should not harbour any illusions. There is only one way forward for Europe and that is to continue leading the rest of the world towards more environmentally friendly industries. The challenge lies in doing this in such a way as not to lose our competitive edge. This, I believe, is possible if we focus on innovation - or more and better research to bring innovative ideas and solutions to the market.

Innovation here must include future clean ship technologies, more environmentally friendly fuels and sophisticated port facilities that, for example, would render the washing of tanks in the open sea or in coastal areas, unacceptable. It is in this manner that we will be able to continue to consolidate our claim that maritime transport is a more energy-efficient and more environmentally-friendly means of transport than other alternatives, such as road or air transport.

And this is exactly the core of all our considerations. Some may call it: 'doing more and better with less', others would simply call it: 'a sensible and sustainable approach without which Europe's leading role will falter'.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

There is one last element that I would like to put to you for your consideration and that is the question of maritime governance.

Some time ago President Barroso said: "We often speak of the importance of innovation in the private sector, but innovation in government has become equally important if we are to deliver on our goals".

Picking up on this, the Green Paper seeks to stimulate discussion on the sensitive and difficult questions that Europe faces in this respect, namely the correct level of implementation and the responsibilities of the various levels of decision-makers – be they national, European or international.

At the national and European level this is rather more straightforward and in many countries it will depend, to a large extent, on practices that have been employed, and have been proven to work. It is at the international level that things may be somewhat more complicated.

Our starting point, as the European Community, rests upon a simple principle: there should be international rules for international activities. Thus, the formulation of a Maritime Policy for the EU will necessitate the co-operation of our partners and of international bodies such as the United Nations, the International Maritime Organisation and the International Labour Organisation.

Such co-operation is necessary. In a rapidly changing world, the principles upon which the maritime sector has been built are evolving and it follows that this reality needs to be reflected in international governance of Maritime Affairs.

The European Community will strive to play fully its role within the relevant fora and to ensure the implementation of instruments adopted and measures agreed within these fora.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Green Paper has marked the beginning of a new way to deal with ocean and sea-related issues. On the one hand, it raises questions that urgently require our attention, and on the other, it brings to the fore many of Europe's maritime realities that have either been forgotten or have concerned too few of our citizens for too long. Our objective is to make sure that maritime policies become more coherent as part of an approach that adds value to the present situation.

Together with the other Commissioners involved in this exercise, I count on your valuable contribution. I have no doubt that the European shipping community is aware of the benefits it has to gain from our emphasis on the maritime dimension of Europe. I am, therefore, confident that now, more than ever, the shipping community is determined to face the challenges ahead of us and for this purpose, to sign up to this initiative for an integrated European Maritime Policy.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I look forward to your continued close involvement in this process.

Thank you.

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