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Dr Joe Borg

Member of the European Commission
Responsible for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs

Towards a Future Maritime Policy for the Union

High-level Conference on "Towards a Future Maritime Policy for the Union: A European Vision for Oceans and Seas"
Bremen, 3 May 2007

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Almost one year after the adoption of the Commission's Green Paper on an EU Maritime Policy we have every reason to conclude that launching a discussion on this subject was not only a good idea, but also a very necessary one.

With still two more months for consultation, we have already received a very encouraging number of submissions from stakeholders such as businesses, professional associations and trade unions, NGOs, regions and the marine scientific community. Over 200 events have been organised and others are still in the pipeline. Indeed, the desire of European stakeholders to participate in the debate is so strong that I sense that these contributions will continue well beyond June. This is a remarkable response, and a most welcome one at that.

The work of other European institutions on this matter is also progressing apace. The Committee of the Regions and the Economic and Social Committee both adopted positive opinions on the Green Paper in February and April respectively. And the European Parliament has launched its own process to review the Green Paper, involving five different Committees. We expect their joint opinion in July.

Should this interest surprise us?

Some may wonder how the concept of an all-embracing approach to our maritime activities can grasp the attention of European citizens; how they can make the link between their daily lives and an EU policy related to the sea. Without using clichés, I would compare the seas and oceans to a treasure trove. Technology is the key to using and enjoying this treasure to meet our economic and social needs.

We have two choices: we may just spend, spend, spend with not a care for tomorrow. Or we may get together and decide how best we can enjoy the benefits of this bounty while acting in such a way as to ensure that the returns will also be there for the generations to come.

Along with climate change, globalisation, demographic pressure on Europe's coasts, and energy sustainability and security of supply, the proper management of the seas and oceans is increasingly seen as one of the main challenges facing us today. In this context, the second choice is the only one that can tackle these challenges. And, in Europe, an all-embracing approach to maritime affairs is the instrument to achieve this, with the thematic strategy for the protection of the marine environment as one of its cornerstones.

The case for a cross-cutting approach is increasingly becoming clear and this is why I am pleased, but not surprised, that the process has revealed support and commitment, from across a broad spectrum, to the idea of an integrated maritime policy.

Despite obvious differences in interests, virtually all contributors agree that creating links between actions and policies is paramount if we want to achieve sustainable and competitive development in the maritime sphere.

Furthermore, the consultation has opened up the debate on EU maritime affairs to an unprecedented extent. It has prompted different interest groups to truly reflect on their activities and the way these are linked to others. This includes a number of Member States who are recognising the value of this initiative as it has encouraged them to articulate and coordinate their domestic positions on the different areas relating to the sea - from tourism to fisheries, shipbuilding to maritime financial services, environmental protection to shipping, marine science to aquaculture, and maritime heritage to immigration.

This process has to be maintained. In the coming months we want to keep open communication channels with the 'maritime public', and to ensure that there are appropriate mechanisms for interfaces to develop between stakeholders on the one hand, and regional, national and European authorities on the other.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The consultation has already shed some interesting light on the way stakeholders want us to tackle the challenges facing us. Let me, therefore, first tell you about the broad points that have been raised by stakeholders before sharing my thoughts with you on them.

It is clear, for example, that they are determined to strengthen Europe's position as a successful and competitive actor in an increasingly integrated world economy. We know that the European Union aims to be a model of sustainable development, delivering a high quality of life for its citizens.

Stakeholders also recognise that if Europe's maritime sectors are to prosper, the environmental and social components of sustainable development must be secured. This can only be done by ensuring that our level of knowledge about the oceans is improved through research, science and technology. This is critical if we are to meet our goals of enhancing economic growth and the competitiveness of our maritime activities without prejudicing the preservation of their main resource-base, the marine environment itself.

Stakeholders have also called for more co-ordinated and long-term policy-making. Because of the high concentration of people in many European coastal areas the reconciliation of economic development with the coastal environment and with quality of life is especially urgent. Maritime activities are central to Europe's economy providing millions of jobs and generating billions of euros in goods and services annually. They can however also strain our natural resources. Without long-term planning, unchecked growth and development in coastal areas can permanently harm the coast and the marine environment that give rise to them in the first place.

Stakeholders have also indicated their preference to have decisions that will affect them taken at the most appropriate level of government. They have also signalled their preference for a stable and secure regulatory framework that is not subject to constant changes and upheaval.

These calls have been heard.

It makes sense to act at an EU level only where we can create synergies between different sectoral policies, government agencies and economic actors; or where economies of scale dictate that European-level action would be most efficient. Given the different realities faced in different parts of Europe, the answer is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Indeed, encouraging the exchange of best practice will make the most of different regions' experiences. One way of taking this forward is to promote maritime clusters. Clusters contribute to economic development and overall competitiveness by generating synergies that are beneficial to all participants, including SMEs.

Maritime safety is also an issue high on the agenda of stakeholders. It is not only about making rules; it is also about respecting and enforcing them. As reports have shown, poor enforcement of rules can cause accidents at sea, often with dire consequences.

Concern has been expressed at the need to attract, and retain, the young and skilled, in the maritime sector. Achieving quality in this sector, and thus improving its recruitment prospects, is about improvements in education and training. Would a new certificate of maritime excellence for European Maritime Academies help? My view is that it could equip European graduates with additional skills that would increase job mobility, the prospect of a life-long career; and, for the industry, provide an enhanced ability to attract and retain highly qualified people.

Our safety and other standards continue to rise; thereby adding more costs and causing more pressure to reduce wages and the quality of working conditions. Thankfully, within the parameters of the 2006 ILO Consolidated Maritime Labour Convention, we now have an international mechanism for avoiding a race to the bottom.

In addition, we should exploit a window of opportunity which exists to increase incomes by offering quality shipping with higher safety standards and respect for the environment. Our maritime enterprises need to channel resources to meet these exacting standards in order to be seen as real partners in the long-term protection and conservation of the marine environment.

Strengthened cooperation at international level is essential in these areas of safety, social conditions and environmental protection.

The strong interconnections between energy and maritime policies are also emerging clearly. The seas are the locus for substantial energy production and transportation. They are critical for promoting diversification of energy transport routes through double hulled tankers and LNG vessels, or through submarine pipelines, needed to build the interconnections of a truly energy internal market. We are all aware of the energy generation of offshore oil and gas and of the huge potential for carbon-free offshore renewables, including wind farms and wave energy. These are all opportunities that the Union should exploit as we seek to guarantee secure and stable supplies of energy for Europe.

I am grateful to all stakeholders who have come forward, or who will be coming forward, for bringing issues that matter to them to our attention. They have been instrumental in ensuring that as we go forward we can have a truly integrated approach – one that will bring new and added value to the maritime dimension of Europe

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Just as the aim of a new maritime policy must be to optimise our citizens' welfare from the oceans and seas, so too must the objective of public policy be to provide the optimal governance framework. Just as the success of European companies in a globalising world depends in large measure on their ability to innovate, so too will the success of maritime policy depend on the willingness and capacity of governments to think 'outside the box' and to see to it that decisions are taken in full awareness of the multiple interactions that exist in the maritime world.

This is true for all levels of government. Responsibility for policies and actions related to the seas are spread among EU authorities, national governments and local authorities. If the aims of an integrated Maritime Policy are to be achieved, these different levels of government need to develop mechanisms to take each other into account, and to ensure that they all know how their actions fit into the wider picture.

Other rules of behaviour, related to the oceans and seas, derive from international organisations. As an integrated maritime policy is developed in Europe, Europe's external action in the world community should reflect this. As we develop our tools for managing our relations with the oceans, both the European and the world community will gain from them being more widely adopted.

Allow me to share some of my thoughts with you on three of these tools that need to be further developed, and for which European-level action would be both appropriate and necessary.

First, it has become clear that as economic activity on our coasts and seas intensifies, so does the potential for conflict of interests and uses between the various stakeholders.

There is no easy solution for this, but there appears to be wide consensus amongst those consulted that arbitration, offered by suitable spatial planning tools, could be the way forward. This means that we will have to think about the most suitable way for spatial planning not only to be made available as a tool, but that the necessary steps are taken for it to be applied as widely as possible in the interest of all concerned. In this context, sea mapping in its three dimensions, that is: the surface, the water column and the sea bed, will be an important task to undertake when the data are collated and the necessary preparatory elements are available.

The idea here is not to centralise: decision-making in this area should remain the prerogative of Member States. However at a European level one can ensure a generalised commitment to the objective and the development of common principles and guidelines.

A second tool that we need to develop urgently is the vast data set that we must base our work upon. The Thematic Marine Strategy will require environmental indicators which will need to be monitored and updated, just as spatial planning regimes also require sound socio-economic data.

We all know of the 'data cemeteries'; or of the data that remains unshared or unexploited because of incompatible formats. Worse still, in this context of glaring gaps in our data set, we also often find the costly and inefficient duplication of effort.

A European Marine Observation and Data Network would bring together available data on the oceans from multiple sources. This could be compiled into a comprehensive data base that is made available to all who need it. It would be a considerable undertaking that would need to be developed over a period of time in line with a clear and coherent plan.

Again, I think there is a role for Europe to play in this.

The third tool that is already being developed concerns a number of practical initiatives in the context of maritime surveillance. For a majority of stakeholders, surveillance and monitoring are crucial activities that help guarantee safety, security and appropriate action in the event of maritime accidents. Needless to say, the lack of physical boundaries on the seas makes it imperative that any systems in this area are compatible and interoperable.

Action at a European level could facilitate this enormously.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to now turn to the last part of my intervention this morning; to the steps ahead.

Once the period of consultation comes to an end, we will carefully evaluate the contributions received. The formal feedback on the results of the consultation will be provided in two Communications from the Commission which are scheduled for adoption on 10 October 2007. These will be addressed to both the European Council and Parliament. One Communication will summarise the results of the consultation process and the other will outline our vision for a future maritime policy. It will also lay out the way forward in the form of an action plan, consisting of proposals that cut across different areas, helping us to fulfil one of our prime objectives: that of achieving joined-up policy-making. To this effect, a number of projects which are deliverable in the short term will also be identified.

I shall end with one final thought.

A Maritime Policy should be more than the sum of its individual parts. Beginning the process to bring all these parts together, and seeing the exciting new ideas that are created in the process, has been a fascinating adventure, one that we are all taking forward together.

I look forward to the discussions that will unfold over the course of the Conference and in the weeks to come, trusting that a fruitful debate will add still more ideas to our rich store.

Many thanks.

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