Member of the European Commission responsible for
UK Offshore Operators Association Special Breakfast Meeting
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 this Green Paper to you. In addition, I will dwell on certain areas covered in this Paper that merit further consideration. Finally, I will emphasise how important it is to us 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 last June, 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, in consultation with those who have a stake in it.
The Green Paper is therefore a consultation paper. It does not seek to bring instant answers. Nor does it indicate appropriate actions. It simply asks questions; questions about issues that I believe are important to European citizens in general, and more particularly to those who are closely involved with the oceans and seas. The intention is to have as wide a debate as possible with interested parties providing the necessary input to shape what will become a maritime policy for Europe.
Through the Green Paper, the Commission has embraced the concept that innovative ideas are needed in the decisions we take and not merely in the actions that follow these decisions. Thus until the end of June 2007, we hope to feed our decision-making programme with input from those directly involved in the sector, such as yourselves. In so doing, we hope for an outcome that is relevant, all-embracing and practical – one that will move away from the sectoral approaches of the past and embrace a comprehensive approach instead. Such a comprehensive approach has not been used in maritime affairs thus far.
One reason why this must change is because the oceans and seas, and the ways in which we use them, have changed dramatically in recent years, and are still continuing to do so. Our activities are intensifying daily: seaborne trade, for example, has grown by about 400% in the past 40 years; coastal and marine tourism are booming; we are moving towards deep-sea drilling for oil and gas; and new sectors are emerging such as renewable energy and blue biotechnology. Cutting edge technology offers new possibilities for development all the time and we need to be able to take advantage of this.
A second reason for looking at maritime affairs in an all-encompassing way relates to the health of our oceans and seas. Man's exploitation has left its mark. Our seas are being damaged by activities which are carried out unsustainably, such as the over-exploitation of the seabed or of fish resources, or by the tons of oil, chemicals, nutrients and litter that end up in the seas every year causing all kinds of negative effects. The impact of climate change is also taking its toll. The degradation of the oceans and seas should matter to us as, if nothing else, it threatens the very foundation upon which a substantial part of our economy and well-being depend.
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 line with the Lisbon strategy, 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 must 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.
Europe has been a strong player, on the world stage, in the maritime sector. This is a leading role which we must seek to further develop, particularly in a situation where overall European growth rates have been lower than those of a number of our competitors over recent years. Europe needs to do better across all sectors if it is to retain its wealth and quality of life in the future.
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.
We also need to bear in mind, the fact that multiple actors are involved. Various sectoral policies, such as oil exploration, 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 give you a few examples of our thinking on subjects that I know to be of interest to you.
In coastal waters, there is increasing competition for sea space, as activities expand and technology allows more innovative uses of the marine environment. We therefore need appropriate mechanisms to address potential conflicts of interests. We believe that part of the solution lies in the spatial planning of these activities so as to ensure an optimum level of exploitation is allowed without one activity negatively impinging on others.
We are not intending to reinvent the wheel here, but merely to rationalise the current situation. Some Member States have already begun to explore the potential for marine spatial planning at a national level. I understand that here in the UK, there are examples of various sectors working together in the North Sea.
This is a sign of forward thinking – an attitude that we are trying to explore further in the Green Paper by examining best practices that can be shared among Member States.
Furthermore, we believe that there is much unexploited potential in the sea, which can, and will, contribute to economic growth and employment in the coastal regions if exploited sustainably. We know that life in the seas varies enormously, not just with depth but also with sea bed characteristics. Being able to locate canyons and reefs is crucial, for example, for the designation of marine protected areas which could do much to maintain biodiversity.
Knowing the characteristics of the sea-bed, we can also deduce which areas are favourable for different types of fishing, and can identify routes for cables and pipelines. We believe that the progressive mapping of the sea-bed around European shores can deliver precious data for both planners and economic operators.
We would also have to discuss how far any spatial planning would extend. We do not exclude planning instruments to be used even up to the 200 mile limit; however this is an issue which requires further thinking and debate.
We are also aware that we cannot adopt a mere “one size fits all” approach for the entire European Union. Although the underlying principles are the same, the challenges are clearly different from coast to coast and in different territorial waters. A European policy would need to be developed with sufficient flexibility to find specific regional responses.
Allow me to say a few words on fisheries, in the context of an integrated approach to Maritime Policy. I am aware of the fears of the fisheries sector that its relatively small proportion in the overall economy will make it difficult to defend its position when it comes to competition with other users of coastal and marine areas. I would like to make two observations.
Firstly, it is important to understand that the overall aim of the Common Fisheries Policy is, and remains, to secure sustainable and profitable fisheries. This ambition is by no means altered by the Green Paper on a future Maritime Policy for the EU. Although fisheries might not be a sector with the highest projected growth and is not the most economically important sector insofar as its contribution to overall GDP is concerned, it is still undoubtedly a highly important sector in view of the policy goals of the Green Paper. Fisheries are an important source of employment, particularly in more remote areas, and an important contributor to food security and public health.
Secondly, the Green Paper does not suggest prioritising between different sectors. On the contrary, our main ambition has been to draw together the different marine actors and to stress the importance of all sectors. We are seeking to identify areas for cross-fertilization between the different marine and maritime sectors, and not reasons to exclude one or another sector.
An example of how an integrated approach, which does not serve the interests of one party over another, works can be found in the Norwegian management plan for the Barents Sea. Here three sectors are involved: environmental groups, the oil and gas industry and fisheries. Through a combination of public and private horizontal partnership and planning, they have reached a common agreement on how to manage the Barents Sea that benefits each of the three stakeholder groups.
This serves as an example to us policy-makers, as we shoulder our responsibility to look at things through a broad lens, to bring stakeholders together to find mutually acceptable arrangements. It is an example of how not to avoid issues to the point where they can no longer be resolved and conflict then becomes inevitable. It demonstrates how organized and strategic planning for the future, not to mention a holistic approach, can bring benefit for all.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would now like to turn to shipping in order to also look at it in the context of the proposed Maritime Policy for Europe. In this instance, we are looking at how best to maintain the global competitiveness of our maritime cluster – not only shipping itself, but also shipbuilding, offshore and global logistics, marine insurance, port services, and other services on which shipping depends. One of our primary tasks is to ensure that this cluster, as a whole, can maintain and further develop the leading role it has enjoyed for a number of years.
To do this, there is clearly a need to invest further in knowledge and in the niche markets that the shipping sector has identified to hold great potential. The European Commission's drive towards better and simpler regulation will also facilitate this thrust, making legislation more coherent and easier to implement. The Green Paper also seeks ways to simplify and improve regulation in the maritime areas and explores the potential of self-regulation, incentive mechanisms and Corporate Social Responsibility.
There is no doubt that European ship-owners, ports and yards have a challenging time. They are exposed to global competition, most notably from the Far East. They are subject to State aid restrictions, unlike their competitors in Asia. And ship-owners complying with high environmental and safety standards also face competition from “sub-standard” ships, which save costs by flying flags with lenient standards and enforcement practices.
In order to counter this, we feel we can make better use of external relations instruments in order to level out the international playing field. We are certainly not proposing to challenge the successful records of Member States in a number of international contexts, like the IMO or ILO. We are simply raising the question as to whether the Community as a whole can gain from a more concerted policy in this field.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It would not be proper for me to conclude my intervention without dedicating a few words to the importance of science. Better science, knowledge and data are the missing ingredients in our recipe for an integrated maritime economy. Without the benefits of science, our ability to achieve a holistic approach will be compromised.
Science is increasingly taking up an important role in the development of all sectors. In the maritime world too, we need more science, more research and more knowledge to better understand the complex interactions at work. We need long-term data and better observation and data collection capabilities, to provide the necessary input for science and policy-makers. We need more technology and more innovation to exploit the huge wealth that can be derived from the ocean and seas in a sustainable manner.
Placing Europe at the forefront of developments in marine science and technology is essential if we are to achieve the goals we have set for ourselves. The 7th Research Framework Programme is naturally a key element in this process, however we need to take into account that the Framework Programme represents but a small fraction of the total research funds spent by Member States for marine research.
The central nature of science and research in the decision-making process is uncontested. Taking the EU Common Fisheries Policy as an example, we can see that science is at the very core of the decision-making process. There is a legal obligation for decisions taken within the CFP to be “based on sound scientific advice”. Each year, we turn to scientists, in particular those based at the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, for their advice on the state of the stocks and on fisheries management measures.
Although their advice is instrumental in our work, there are of course a number of uncertainties in the scientific advice on which we build the Common Fisheries Policy, which is why a precautionary approach has been applied in the past when taking conservation measures. From the fisheries sector, I often have calls for more and better science to limit the application of the precautionary approach, since such an approach is seen as an additional restriction on our decisions on fishing quotas, technical measures and the like.
This is something that we are continuously working on. Firstly, the Commission is making efforts to improve the scientific underpinning of the Common Fisheries Policy. The new system for data collection and the new Memorandum of Understanding drawn up with ICES are two examples of such efforts that I sincerely hope will reduce the need for precautionary margins.
The increasing involvement of stakeholders in discussions with scientists, through the recently established Regional Advisory Councils, is also beginning to bear fruit.
Secondly, although the use of the precautionary approach is indispensable in today's situation where many fisheries and fish stocks are in an extremely difficult situation, the Commission has been working to rebuild fish stocks and therefore also the fisheries sector to a sustainable level through the gradual implementation of a long term approach to management. The Commission has now proposed to apply the MSY approach. This approach calls for fishing to occur at the maximum sustainable yield of a particular stock - that is to say at a level whereby what is taken out, through fishing and natural mortality, is put back in, through the reproduction of the species, in equal amounts. Despite the various difficulties that may arise in implementing MSY as a management tool, the use of the precautionary approach could become more limited over time, and decisions will become more and more science based.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Allow me to conclude with a few words on the one-year consultation process which has been underway since the publication of the Green Paper.
The reasons why we would like to see the widest participation possible in this consultation phase are essentially three:
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 can and should be doing.
Secondly, we are extremely conscious of the complexity of the task we are undertaking. On the one hand we need to be creative. Yet on the other hand, any proposals we come up with must be workable and firmly grounded in reality.
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.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is obvious that the best way in which we can ensure that realistic and relevant proposals are put forward is by seeking out the expert advice of those who spend their lives in the maritime world. In this regard we count on you, the stakeholders, to have your say and make your contribution to what will be a wide-ranging and multi-faceted policy.
The Green Paper itself has already been inspired by hundreds of contributions from a wide range of parties in its preparatory phase. Contributions made in this current phase, will serve equally to fuel the work we are undertaking now.
What we are looking for is both your reactions to the ideas contained in the Green Paper and, at least as importantly, whether you find that there are other elements which should be discussed or that are missing from the Green Paper. I would encourage you to make your observations as imaginative as possible so that we can bring some new thinking to the task at hand, yet also as concrete as possible so that they can be readily implemented.
Do take up this opportunity.
Do have your say.
I look forward to hearing from you all.