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Joe Borg

Member of the European Commission responsible for
Fisheries and Maritime Affairs

The Green Paper on Maritime Affairs

3rd European Parliamentary Symposium on Maritime Europe
Brussels, 9 November 2006

Distinguished Members of the European Parliament,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a pleasure for me to be here at this event which has assembled so many Members of Parliament and key stakeholders to discuss maritime affairs.

I am also glad to see that maritime affairs are firmly on the agenda of the European Parliament. At a time when a comprehensive Green Paper on a future maritime policy for the Union is under consultation, it is particularly important that the Parliament remains seized of this issue.

When we speak of maritime affairs we are talking of the health of our oceans and seas, their economic importance for the future of Europe and just how much is to be gained from looking at them in a cross-cutting light so that each nuance, inter-relationship and link between them may be emphasised and catered for.

When we think of our oceans and seas we may often think of globalisation and the benefits that expanding maritime activities, to cope with international trade, can bring. We think of climate change, and how this phenomenon has become a concrete threat, one which has at its centre the seas and oceans. We think about energy, and how the sea as a source of energy, particularly renewable energy, can contribute to Europe's energy mix and to the security of our supply. We think of maritime transport and the opportunities there are to open up more routes for transport while alleviating road congestion in Europe.

The interplay between so-called 'different' subject matters is clear. It is also one of the very real challenges facing us policy-makers as we seek to determine ways in which these different aspects can reinforce, rather than compete with or exclude, one another.

It is for this reason that we have decided to publish a Green Paper to look into the options for having a maritime policy for the Union. I believe that the year-long period of consultation that is currently underway, is a necessary part of the process in order to enable us to find the best responses to the challenge ahead.

We are almost half way through the consultation period and, if this has already shown one thing, it is that the range of maritime issues at stake is as vast as the ocean itself. And yet, like the ocean, these multiple issues are all part of one and the same system.

And it is this that convinces me, more and more, that we should no longer treat maritime affairs as random pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. We must assemble them to form a holistic picture - the picture that we seek of a clear vision for our oceans and seas.

This brings me to the question at the heart of our debate, that is: how can we best manage our maritime affairs?

I do not suggest that the answer lies in anything too radical.

Many within our institutions have already invested long and hard in developing policies for shipping, ports or shipbuilding, or to protect the marine environment and its rich resources. These policies have sought to enhance maritime safety, to protect our fish stocks, to build cleaner and safer ships or to reduce the release of toxic substances into our waters. They have looked at gaining a better understanding of our oceans and seas.

Yet one might well ask: did they do this by looking at all the pieces or just some of them? To what extent has a coherent vision of the oceans and seas been possible to date?

The manner in which EU integration has been conducted, leaves some with the impression that Europe has looked at the pieces rather than at the big picture. Others will add that Europe to date has also been more intent on looking inwards - focusing rather more on its land based activities than those carried out in its waters.

Put simply, this has meant that Europe has concentrated to a large extent on removing its internal borders, but not its sea borders and that, therefore, sea voyages from one EU port to another are still considered external. Notwithstanding the successes of European integration on land, a “common EU maritime space” governed by the same standards on safety, security or environmental protection does not yet exist

Ladies and Gentlemen,

A number of Europeans regard their countries as maritime powers with a long and glorious maritime tradition. Yet, it was Canada and Australia that first responded to the call of the Rio Summit on Environment and Development, which spearheaded the idea of an integrated oceans policy. The US was quick to follow suit in 2004.

Of the European Union, the first country to develop a strategy for an integrated oceans policy was Portugal. This fuelled the idea, at the end of 2004 as the Barroso Commission took office, that there should be a Europe-wide approach to maritime affairs – a fact which is now firmly reflected in the Commission’s strategic objectives for 2005-2009. These objectives declare that there is: 'the particular need for an all-embracing maritime policy aimed at developing a thriving maritime economy in an environmentally sustainable manner. Such a policy should be supported by excellence in marine scientific research, technology and innovation'.

A holistic, all-inclusive, vision of maritime affairs is the best guarantee we have to maximise the benefits we derive from our oceans and seas whilst protecting the marine environment that makes it all possible.

We will never be able to eliminate accidents. But marine spatial planning will allow us to map the activities of all users at sea. By overseeing all these individual activities and their potential impact, we can take a firm step in the direction of controlling the risks that menace our seas and shores. More cooperation, among Europe’s coastguard services, perhaps in the form of an EU articulated coastguard system, thereby improving the efficiency in monitoring ship movements, could be another step in the right direction.

We cannot prevent storms, but we can predict them. Thus, a number of observation and monitoring systems are being developed. But today data are stored in heterogeneous formats; different users have different access rights; and monitoring is fragmented. These could be pooled together, for example in a European Marine Observation and Data Network.

We know that no boat or human device is free from accident. This is precisely why we need to redouble our efforts to continue to reduce the number of ships lost. It is worthy of note that this has been more than halved over the past decade. The introduction of the double-hulled tanker is also the norm today, meaning that the amount of accidents involving oil spills is also on the decline.

In this context, we owe a great deal of credit to the work carried out under the EU's auspices, particularly under its maritime transport policy, as Vice-President Barrot eloquently stated this morning. This is why the Third Maritime Safety Package is viewed in the Green Paper as a significant component of a comprehensive Maritime Policy. It will contribute substantially to enhance maritime safety and, therefore, minimize the risk of accidental pollution of European seas in the future.

Yet, in each of the areas I have highlighted, we can also see that other policy areas such as the environment, research, industry or regional development, come into the picture.

This is also true of port policy today. Ports are essential nodes in the supply chains of goods, but they are also increasingly diversifying parts of their operations into logistics centres and industrial zones. They are employment motors for the surrounding regions and in many cases may even become attractive locations for private housing. Their competitiveness in today's global economy is critical for Europe's growth and employment and this will be ever more so in the future.

Ship dismantling is an equally broad and pressing subject relating not only to environmental protection and the competitiveness of our fleet, but also touching on interests of shipbuilding and repair yards. It also has a wider international dimension in terms of our relations with developing countries, and an economic dimension due to rising steel prices.

We would like to contribute actively to the ongoing work within IMO on this important issue. This is why Commissioner Dimas has announced an initiative to find global solutions and to work towards an EU-wide strategy on ship dismantling. The Commission has established an internal working structure headed by DG ENV to pilot just this. It is also the intention to draft a Green Paper on ship dismantling in the coming months.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Unfortunately, my time is limited. I would have liked to bring more examples to the table in order to amply demonstrate the need for an all-embracing maritime policy to be devised to account for the diverse players, and the causes and effects on maritime activities in Europe. Yet I believe that the Green Paper, and a number of the background papers that we have already received from stakeholders, offer ample insight into existing links and the need to bridge existing gaps. I hope that these can serve as food for thought in your own deliberations on the Green Paper.

The European Parliament has already demonstrated its interest to address maritime issues from a broad perspective. This was amply visible on the day the Commission adopted the Green Paper, when I had the honour to present the Green Paper to a joint meeting of several Parliamentary committees just hours after its launch.

The Parliament’s temporary MARE Committee, set up to improve safety at sea, also took an approach which I warmly welcome. In its work, it has focused not only on accidents at sea but also on the environment, health questions, the consequences for fisheries, industry and tourism. It has looked at maritime safety standards, considering fully aspects at a European and international level, and also their application by Member States.

Based on all this, I am confident that we can work with the European Parliament on a future structure for maritime governance.

Insofar as Member States are concerned, the Finnish Presidency has brought together a group of Friends of the Presidency to discuss maritime affairs within the Council. They will pass their findings to the incoming German Presidency.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

A solid approach to maritime governance is the foundation for building a truly holistic maritime policy.

But we are not there just yet.

Our programme for consultation is still underway and will last until the end of June 2007. This consultation is necessary for a number of reasons.

The matters we deal with are highly complex and need to be grounded in reality. We therefore need to have input from those that know about the oceans and seas, from those whose lives are intrinsically linked with that of the oceans and seas. Some of the matters we deal with are also controversial and regarded through different eyes by different quarters. If we are to have a maritime policy that is worthwhile, then we will need to engage in long discussions, discussions that can lead us to identify common ground. Finally, we have many players involved with many strategic interests. Through our consultation, we hope to come into contact with and hear from as many of those with a stake in the maritime sector as possible.

Allow me to conclude by joining Vice-President Barrot in appealing for your reactions to the Green Paper. I augur that you will play your part in this process with your own contributions both now and in the near future.

Thank you.

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