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Dr Joe Borg

Member of the European Commission
Responsible for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs

Future Maritime Policy for the Union: Quality of life and Security in Coastal Areas

Conference on "Quality of life and Security in Coastal Areas"
Rhodes, Greece, 20 April 2007


Ladies and Gentlemen,

Last June the European Commission adopted a Green Paper on a future EU Maritime Policy for the Union. This Green Paper was ground-breaking in that it sought to establish whether there is any scope to bring all activities connected to the sea and maritime industry together in a co-ordinated manner. In asking this question, the Green Paper established that any all-embracing maritime policy would need to rest on two pillars.

Firstly, and as a means of promoting the dual Lisbon goals of growth and employment, a future maritime policy would have to reflect the need to unleash the full economic potential and the competitiveness of Europe's maritime industries. Secondly, it would have to put this within a context of sustainable development, aware that economic growth is of no long-term value if we do not maintain and improve the resource upon which all maritime activities are based - the oceans and seas themselves.

Hence an essential element of a maritime policy for the Union would involve striking a delicate balance: a balance between envisaging how Europe can improve the quality of life in its coastal regions, and doing so without upsetting the very characteristics that make coastal regions so attractive. Achieving this is a difficult, although not impossible, task. It is a task that needs to be approached from various facets, not least amongst which is: security.

Some may question the direct connection that can be made between security and the quality of life in coastal areas. However, the links are easy to see if one simply recalls the fact that coastal areas and islands, more than other European regions, are at the forefront of both the opportunities and the risks that originate from the seas - be these natural or man-made. This inevitably has a bearing on the way coastal communities view their own well-being since, unlike inland communities, the threats they face from the oceans and the seas are very real and very immediate.

The security and the well-being of coastal areas are in fact, very often, two sides of the same coin, and as such, are addressed within the same chapter of the Green Paper.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Since that fateful day in September 2001, better known as 9/11, security – including maritime security – has become a constant preoccupation the world over. In Europe, where coastal borders are more extensive than terrestrial ones, the security of our maritime borders is of particular concern. Clearly, we do not want to be used as a staging ground for terrorist acts; nor do we want to be in a position where different forms of international crime are carried out, unhindered, across our maritime borders.

The Commission has done much already in the fight against terrorism, in close co-ordination with Member States, and national and international organisations. The EU’s course of action was defined in its Counter Terrorism Strategy and Action Plan, which were adopted in December 2005. The strategy's main commitment is "to combat terrorism globally while respecting human rights, and make Europe safer, allowing its citizens to live in freedom, security and justice."

Four strands of work tie in under this strategic commitment: to prevent terrorism; to protect against terrorist attacks; to pursue terrorist offenders; and to ensure an efficient response whenever terrorists succeed in committing terrorist attacks. In addition, the Commission has also taken initiatives to promote European co-operation between victim support organisations, with overall funding of 2 million euros.

Although we have adopted a relatively sophisticated strategy to counter terrorism, the sad fact is that we can never completely prevent terrorist acts from occurring. We need to remain vigilant and strong against this threat, and respond in a manner which remains consistent with Europe's fundamental values. We can also take preventive action insofar as this is possible, and indeed we are already doing much to stem the motivation of terrorism from taking root.

Another area which affects us all is illegal immigration – a phenomenon which has grown dramatically in recent years, particularly from Africa to southern Europe. This trend of migratory flows from south to north carries serious repercussions to the social, demographic and physical infrastructure of Member States and presents challenges which demand balanced and effective responses.

In an attempt to face these challenges head-on, the European Council adopted A Global Approach to Migration in December 2005 – an initiative which underlined the importance of formulating comprehensive and coherent policies to address the whole range of migration-related issues. Later, the Commission took stock of the achievements that had been made at the EU level thus far and identified new priorities that could reinforce the EU's response to illegal immigration. The European Council more recently, also proposed a number of additional concrete measures that would lead to the setting up of a comprehensive European Migration Policy.

One of the greatest challenges for this policy is the migration crossing the expansive maritime borders of southern Europe. Statistics show that in 2005, three Mediterranean countries - Spain, Italy and Malta - faced the arrival of more than 35,000 illegal immigrants. Almost the same amount of illegal immigrants followed in 2006, however this time in just the first eight months. The early good weather that we have been experiencing this year seems to point at even more attempted crossings – with the consequent arrival of even higher numbers of people, people who are often desperately seeking better lives for themselves and their families in Europe.

This is a humanitarian crisis – one that requires urgent and decisive action. Such action is also all the more necessary because of the desperate and often dangerous methods that immigrants and traffickers use to get to our shores. We have all heard, read of, or watched in disbelief, stories involving the tragic loss of lives at sea.

The Commission has come to the fore in support of Member States at the front line. The EU's external borders agency, FRONTEX, is playing a key role, however this needs to be reinforced by additional financial and human resources, given that FRONTEX depends on the pooling of national resources to carry out its work.

In November 2006 the Commission outlined a number of new ideas to improve the capacity of, not only FRONTEX but, the Union as a whole. It suggested, for example, that a Coastal Patrol Network should be established at the southern maritime borders. The creation of a European Surveillance System for these borders has also been raised. In addition, an early adoption of the Commission's proposal for the creation of Rapid Border Intervention Teams, presented last year, would provide an additional effective tool for those cases where there is a mass influx of illegal immigrants.

Needless to say, all these efforts may be in vain if Europe does not seek co-operation with third countries - in particular, its neighbours. This is of the utmost importance for the identification and repatriation of illegal immigrants and also for operational co-operation. It is, however, critical to work closely with our neighbours at an early stage, when efforts to prevent illegal immigration, can bear fruit.

Distinguished participants,

Europe's role in the task of assuring the quality of life in her vast coastal regions depends to a large degree on maritime security however there are many other elements that go into the overall mix.

One of the key factors we address in the Green Paper is the marine environment. This is clearly one of our top priorities however it is also one of our major challenges. We have to ensure the development of the ocean's potential and of our maritime activities while simultaneously avoiding the degradation of the marine environment that often follows. We need, therefore, to decouple the economic development of our maritime regions from their marine environmental degradation.

The Marine Thematic Strategy for the Protection of the Marine Environment, recently tabled by the Commission, intends to assure that European seas are in a healthy condition by 2021. The Green Paper also clearly states that the envisaged maritime policy should provide its own contribution towards the reduction of pollution from both land and sea-based sources and quotes the Marine Thematic Strategy as one of its fundamental underpinnings.

With a healthy marine environment, coastal areas possess huge potential for economic growth and job creation well into the long-term. There are a wide variety of sectors in coastal economies that will be able to flourish and offer new employment and wealth for maritime regions.

Foremost among these is coastal and maritime tourism in Europe which, as distinct from other forms of tourism, depends directly on clean seas with a flourishing biodiversity. Coastal and maritime tourism are also important for developing the quality of life in coastal regions. Rhodes is a clear case in point.

Flourishing maritime and coastal tourism has already proved its potential for creating incomes and jobs. With a growth forecast of 3% per year for the period 2005-2009, coastal and maritime tourism can make a significant contribution to overall GDP, and more particularly, to the economy of coastal areas and islands. For example, the recreational boating industry in Europe has proved successful in recent years with a current growth rate of over 5% per annum, not to mention the cruise ship industry which is growing at two-digit figures on a yearly basis.

Stakeholders, both before and during the current consultation, have told us repeatedly that tourism requires an environment with a clean bill of health to thrive, and that it must be able to co-exist with other economic activities around the coast, such as commercial ports and other heavy industries, which are not necessarily equally attractive to tourists.

Competing, and sometimes conflicting, uses of the seas and coastline, have in fact, fuelled a drive to use maritime spatial planning as a tool for the management of resources in coastal areas. All users of the coast, both on land and at sea, stand to benefit from the integration of coastal activities into an overall planning process that takes other users into consideration. Indeed, in order to have a truly coherent approach to our oceans and seas, we will need to move towards integrated management, paying particular attention to maritime spatial planning and integrated coastal zone management.

Maritime transport is a thriving sector within the European Union. Yet its importance and uses are less well-known to the public at large. The perception of the industry is often negative, disproportionately influenced by the incidence of shipping accidents. Maritime transport could also benefit from a more co-ordinated approach to the management of its various functions, reaching far beyond the industry itself.

We should aim at integrating better and different methods of transport, such as short-sea shipping and inland waterways, and, beyond that, rail and road connections. This would increase the overall efficiency of the transport system and would be beneficial to the environment by reducing energy consumption - which incidentally, is highest in road transport.

But it is equally important to emphasize the role of ports and their importance to the coastal regions. A future EU maritime policy will strive to achieve this, maintaining the level of funding for ports however ensuring this is done in an integrated manner by placing it within an overall framework. It is important, therefore, to consider port development in Europe not only in terms of logistics but also of cultural, social and environmental aspects.

Another important dimension concerns natural disasters and technological accidents which have major human, economic and environmental impacts. In view of this, we need to have efficient and rapid responses to environmental risks for which there must be prior preparation of adequate means and equipment. The Community has a specific role to play in this since it can facilitate effective action beyond the boundaries of individual Member States.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Clearly, we cannot adopt a “one size fits all” approach for the entire European Union when developing the future maritime policy. The challenges are not the same for all coastal areas and all territorial waters.

To cite one example, in the Mediterranean, most States have not yet declared Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs). Conversely, the Baltic Sea is covered almost entirely by the Exclusive Economic Zones of EU Member States, which permits the EU to adopt, autonomously, several measures under the framework of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Where EEZs have not yet been declared, it is harder to take similar action.

The Green Paper emphasises the need to co-operate with third countries and to build bridges across the globe in much the same way that our oceans and seas – by their very nature – link us to one another. The European Neighbourhood Policy is a key tool to this end.

Last but not least, financial support to coastal regions merits some attention. So far, European coastal regions receive support through EU policies and funds, including the Structural Funds and the Cohesion Fund. In the Green Paper, we propose looking at additional EU financial instruments. Funding through the European Investment Bank, for example, could be used for infrastructure investments to facilitate spatial planning or the development of competitiveness poles in coastal regions.


Ladies and Gentlemen,

We are all well aware that there are many aspects to a maritime policy. I have highlighted only some of them today. But let me recall that it is precisely because maritime policy cuts across so many policy areas that we are aiming at such a broad vision to govern our relationship with the oceans and seas.

An integrated approach to the management of our oceans and seas can help us to achieve real synergy between our policies. Above all, it is a vision by which the EU can obtain a balance between its maritime traditions, enhance the attraction of coastal regions and strengthen its competitive edge in the maritime sectors.

Many times in the past, I have underlined that the right approach to our relations with the oceans and seas should start in the maritime regions themselves, whether those of Europe's mainland, or the outermost regions or among Europe's many islands. The fact that maritime regions have been particularly engaging in this process thus far reinforces this belief.

I look forward to your comments on how we can further explore the vast potential of the sea in a way that respects and strengthens the balance between the social, economic and environmental concerns of Europe's maritime dimension.

Thank you.

(Please note that this speech is available in a Greek version as well)

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