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Member of the European Commission
Seminar of the EPP Group of the Committee of the Regions: "A regional
perspective for the future European maritime policy"
Members of the EPP of the Committee of the Regions,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
After careful consideration, I decided to name my intervention this morning on the new maritime policy as: Redefining Europe's borders, bringing the Sea to the Forefront.
I believe this places the necessary emphasis on the fact that Europe is much more than just the territorial area of its Member States. Europe also includes the oceans and seas which surround it and the activities that take place therein – therefore: the vast coastal areas, the islands, the fisheries, the maritime transport and the ports, the shipbuilding and the marine equipment industries, the exploitation of energy and the tourism industry. It is by dealing with all of these, within a future maritime policy for the Union, that we are somehow redefining Europe's traditional borders and amplifying the scope of action for the Union to factor in the extensive maritime dimension of our continent.
This may seem ambitious at first sight.
However, it is fair to say that the Commission has been quite innovative, and even bold, in some of the main initiatives it has adopted in the last two and a half years. This is clearly the case with the new energy strategy as well as the action plan to combat climate change, adopted by the Member States at the last European Council. Considering that the sustainability of our oceans and seas is increasingly being regarded as a global challenge, second in importance only to climate change, with which it is so closely interconnected in any case, it now becomes easier to understand why we have decided to look so carefully at the waters around us.
As you are aware, the initiative for a maritime policy for Europe was launched over two years ago. With the publication of the Green Paper last June, we set in motion a long and wide debate across Europe on the need to not only look more closely at our oceans and seas, but to look at them differently.
Primarily, we are seeking to look at the ‘big picture’. It is now no longer about looking at each individual sector as a separate piece of the overall puzzle. Traffic corridors and shipping; aquaculture; energy extraction; ports and marinas; coastal tourism and offshore renewable energies are all inextricably linked through their use of the same resource. It makes little sense, therefore, to engage in decision-making through separate, compartmentalised processes. What we are advocating, therefore, is the integration of policies, of actions and of decisions.
This does not in any way mean that there should be centralisation or a concentration of powers. On the contrary, decision-making should remain the prerogative of Member States and the relevant structures that are already in place. Having said this, I do however believe that there is scope, at a European level, for one to ensure an overall commitment to a set of common objectives and thus, to the development of common principles and guidelines.
These principles are principles that underline the need for a holistic approach: better coordination, more openness and increased cooperation between all players whose actions leave an impact on our oceans and seas.
This is indeed a sea change.
Never before has the EU advocated so strongly that current, segmented decision-making should be replaced at all levels of government by cooperative, collective efforts. Just as the success of our 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 innovate. Governments must ensure that their actions in the maritime arena take full account of the multiple interactions between them.
This is true at all levels of government. Responsibility for policies and actions related to the seas are spread among EU authorities, national governments, and regional and local authorities. Many rules of behaviour also derive from international organisations. If the aims of an integrated Maritime Policy are to be attained, all levels of government should move towards a more integrated approach. All levels of government should collectively become responsible for their achievement.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The potential, and the economic and social benefits, of the seas are clear. However, relations between Europe and its seas are not problem-free. Human action can seriously threaten the ocean ecosystem. Although many uses of the oceans and seas are conducted in a sustainable and proper manner, others are not. Certain destructive fishing practices contribute significantly to the deterioration of the marine environment. Ocean transport, can serve illegal purposes such as smuggling and terrorism, and accidents at sea and shipwrecks take their toll, both on lives and on the environment. The location of wind energy farms and gas pipelines can also impact traditional fishing grounds on one hand and sensitive habitats on the other. And in the medium to long term, the effects of climate change with rising sea levels, increasing water temperatures, floods and coastal erosion will have serious impacts on coastal regions.
This quick snapshot of some of what goes on in our waters, provides us with a constant reminder of the need for a comprehensive and integrated approach to our oceans and seas.
Hence, in putting together the Green Paper, we have been faced with the challenge of finding the right balance between legitimate economic growth and the exploitation of our seas on the one hand, and the preservation of the ocean environment on the other. Without a healthy and sustainable marine environment, any economic benefits we can derive from the oceans will be short-lived. It is therefore crucial that we both preserve this resource-base and improve the EU’s long-term ability to compete on the world stage, in a comprehensive and sustainable way. This will not only preserve those European industries that rely on the seas, it will also enable future generations to enjoy the seas to the same extent that we do.
The first steps have been taken.
Already, we have witnessed the fact that there is wide consensus amongst those who we have consulted that co-ordinated action is the way forward. They agree that arbitration, offered by suitable spatial planning tools, could be one way to help activities along coastal waters to co-exist comfortably. This means that we will have to think about the most suitable way for spatial planning to not only be made available as a tool, but also for it to be applied as widely as possible in the interest of those concerned. In this context, sea mapping in its three dimensions, that is: along the surface, the water column and the sea bed, will be an important accompanying step.
Allow me to now turn to the coastal and island regions of Europe more specifically.
Coastal regions play a central role in economic growth and job creation. They are home to many of the economic interests that are connected with a maritime strategy: fisheries, ports, tourism, aquaculture, offshore wind and wave energy, shipbuilding and maritime transport – being just a few that immediately spring to mind. The list, is long and could be made even longer. But what is clear, is that the potential for economic growth and job creation represented by the sea and coastal areas is tremendous.
The adoption of the Green Paper on Maritime Affairs is best regarded as an invitation to all stakeholders, and to the coastal regions in particular, to seek out new ways to increase the economic and social benefits that the seas offer. It is not about maintaining the status quo – that would be too easy. It is about enhancing ever further our gains from the oceans and seas while simultaneously respecting their fragility.
European maritime regions are connected to other regions and continents by world maritime traffic. The strategic importance of Europe’s 1200 ports is constantly increasing: around 90% of the EU’s foreign trade and 40% of its internal trade is carried out by sea. This explains why the European Union is making considerable efforts to develop seaports. For the period 2000-2006, the total amount of aid flowing to seaports from different instruments such as the Cohesion Fund, the European Regional Development Fund, or ERDF, and the Financial Instrument for Fisheries Guidance, the FIFG, amounted to 3.6 billion euros.
A future maritime policy of the Union will make it possible to focus even more on the funding needs and requirements of maritime regions. Indeed, it will even help to rationalise such funding by linking it to an overall framework. It is thus crucial that we hear your views on the future of port development in Europe.
The maritime regions are also home to important marine biotechnology research and creative technological innovations, not least in the area of nautical leisure. Any future EU maritime policy should contribute to develop the quality of life in coastal and island regions. This cannot be done without the preservation of the sea as our resource base. It also cannot be achieved if maritime security is not ensured for European citizens living in coastal regions. It also cannot be done if vital coastal economic interests are ignored.
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 – both natural and man-made. The fact that coastal regions face very real and very immediate realities of the sea inevitably has a bearing on the way coastal communities view their own well-being. I have mentioned on other occasions, the dangers stemming from coastal erosion, the acidification of the sea and violent storms. Each of these have very real, concrete and often negative impacts on an important part of Europe's wealth creation. The services industry is generally the sector worst hit.
Coastal and maritime tourism is a prime example. We all know just how important this kind of tourism is to coastal and island regions. Madeira is a clear case in point. It is also an example of how coastal tourism and development can exist side-by-side. We need to assure that this remains the case, both here and in other regions with a similar profile.
Fully conscious of this, the Commission is again taking into account the need for more and better cooperation. A future Maritime Policy will contribute to this by ensuring that the perspective of coastal regions is taken into account in existing mechanisms. The “regions for economic change” initiative, which was adopted as part of the “Territorial Cooperation” Objective (Objective 3), aims to do just this. By invigorating regional and urban networks and facilitating close co-ordination between regions, the Commission hopes to install the means by which innovative ideas can be tested and rapidly disseminated.
Among the themes selected, two specifically target coastal areas. These are: “Integrated coastal zone management” and "Reaping the benefits of the sea". Moreover, there are 13 new trans-national cooperation programmes which operate on the same model as the Interreg IIIB programme. Among these, there are several concerning Island Regions, namely the Baltic Sea, the North Sea, the Mediterranean, Macronesia, the Indian Ocean and the Caribbean.
We are also aware that we need to think of new ideas for financial support to the coastal regions. 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 maritime spatial planning or the development of competitiveness poles in coastal regions. I know that funding for coastal regions is a matter that is close to your hearts as witnessed by the call made in the Committee of the Region’s Opinion for a fund for coastal regions. Although, it may be somewhat early to address this issue at this stage, before the mid-term review of the financial perspectives, it does, however, most certainly merit closer consideration at the appropriate time.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We are now close to the end of the consultation process. I would like to take this opportunity to express my enormous satisfaction with respect to the conference that was held last week in Bremen, under the auspices of the German Presidency, to discuss the maritime policy Green Paper. This event was described by Chancellor Merkel as one of the highlights of the Germany Presidency, and in turn, it revealed the broad support of Germany for a new maritime policy. President Barroso, who was also present, hailed the newly emerging European maritime policy as a good example of how the European project works and how it can deliver to its citizens. A maritime policy is exactly about that.
It is a concrete policy, involving interested parties at all levels, which will deliver better jobs and more economic growth.
The next semester of 2007 will see the Portuguese at the helm of this process during their Presidency of the Union. I look forward to working very closely with them over the months ahead – months that will indeed be critical for the future of this policy.
Once the period of consultation comes to an end, the Commission will carefully evaluate the numerous contributions received. The results of the consultation will be the subject of a formal Communication from the Commission to the European Council and Parliament which is scheduled for adoption on 10 October 2007. On the same day, a second Communication should also be adopted. This will outline our vision for a future maritime policy. It will set out what we believe to be the way forward in the form of an action plan - a plan consisting of proposals that cut across different areas, helping us to fulfill 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.
Before concluding, allow me to thank you for your continued support which has been instrumental in propelling this process forward. The opinion adopted by the Committee of the Regions last February was significant in that it championed the call for a holistic and integrated view of the oceans and the seas.
Inspired by this beautiful island of Madeira, allow me to add that I hope that a future maritime policy for Europe will contribute to a bright future for all our coastal regions, in particular our islands.