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Dr Joe Borg

Member of the European Commission
Responsible for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs

A Maritime Policy for the Union: An Opportunity for the Mediterranean

5th Med Trade Summit, organised by MIU events in conjunction with the Malta Freeport
Malta, 17 May 2007

Good morning.

Thank you for your invitation to be here. I am looking forward to sharing with you some ideas about what we consider to be a very exciting project, namely that of creating a maritime policy for the Union. To do this in Malta, which is not only my home country but also an island with a strong maritime tradition, is both a pleasure and an honour.

Malta is something of a microcosm of Europe itself. Europe is not, of course, an island but just like an island, it depends to a large extent on the outside world for its prosperity and quality of life. Without ready access across the seas and oceans to other parts of the world, both now and in the past, Europe would be a mere shadow of what it is today.

As many of you already know, around 90% of EU external trade and over 40% of its internal trade is transported by sea. These numbers correspond to 3.5 billion tonnes of goods and 350 million passengers per year. Europe depends on this mode of transport and consequently on the efficient flow of maritime traffic. This is what makes shipping such a strategic sector for Europe, just as it is for Malta. As a vital component of Europe's economy, both in its own right and as a link in the chain of the international trade on which Europe's prosperity depends, shipping merits - and is getting – much attention.

As you are no doubt aware, matters to do with maritime transport fall within the transport portfolio of Vice-President Barrot. However, in my capacity as Commissioner responsible for Maritime Affairs, shipping is also receiving attention as one of the critical elements to be considered in any future maritime policy. Both VP Barrot's services and my own, co-operate closely on this matter.

As part of a future maritime policy, the European Commission is working towards the creation of an all-embracing policy, which will take full account of the needs and interests of each of its components. Instead of looking at each sector and sub-sector in isolation, we are calling for policy-makers and stakeholders to look at the whole picture: the complex inter-relationships and inter-dependencies that exist between maritime players. These efforts are benefiting from a healthy, following wind from the other EU institutions and Member States.

The good news for the European shipping community is that shipping can only gain from such a strong emphasis on Europe's maritime dimension. Our approach is designed to give full attention to the operating realities of the shipping sector, and, a wider recognition of its contribution to Europe's global competitiveness.

The new maritime policy places emphasis on the industry's need to remain competitive in an increasingly tough international marketplace. The EU fleet has a significant share of the global market. With 8,690 ships under European flags, totalling approximately 225 million deadweight tons, the EU share of world tonnage is 23%. In addition, the EU fleet provides employment to some 190,000 seafarers, making the European Union the number one shipping power in the world.

Billions of euros of orders for new ships are placed by European ship-owners every year with some 45% of that making up international orders. And the European shipping industry controls a further 3,500 vessels flying foreign flags.

Europe's shipping depends on Europe's ports, and here too Europe is well-served. Malta offers an example of the wide range of international maritime services and facilities: deep natural harbours and well equipped ports which offer a haven for international shipping; extensive bunkering, ship supplies and towage services; ship-building and ship-repair yards which can take the largest ships afloat; modern facilities for transhipment and distribution, including the Freeport and oil terminal; high-level training for both deck and engineering officers at a very well respected nautical school; a hub for cruise liners; international yacht marinas backed by efficient repair and shore support services; and an international ship register, which is now long established as one of the largest in the world.

Europe's coasts are punctuated by such high-quality facilities. And right around the Mediterranean, which has always been central - as its name reminds us - to Europe's cultural, commercial and maritime traditions; trade and travel continues to flourish thanks to the web of shipping services shuttling between its many ports.

These facilities are Europe's 'flagships', if you like, and are exactly why Europe should not allow itself to be complacent.

Continued success will depend on how well Europe can unleash the economic potential of sea-based activities and in so doing, strengthen the competitiveness of its maritime industries. This is our motivation. This is the reason why we launched an extensive consultation nearly a year ago now, to obtain the widest range of views possible, on how a new, comprehensive and coherent approach to maritime policy can be taken. Its scope is wide, as is appropriate when you are seeking a coherent and comprehensive result.

The Green Paper, which has been the basis for the consultation process, examines the competitiveness of the sector, the broad issues of protecting and preserving the marine environment and questions relating to putting maritime governance on a sound footing. The outcome will be our blueprint for the Union’s future vision of the oceans and seas.

The consultation has underlined the shipping industry's dependence on legal and regulatory stability. So to improve on what exists, work has already started on simplifying and consolidating the EU regulatory regime. At the same time, the EU also plays a full part in international regulatory initiatives - such as the recently adopted International Labour Organisation's Convention on the Employment Conditions of Seafarers.

Enhancing the number of European seamen in the shipping industry and improving the skills they possess, is also crucial to maintaining a thriving European shipping sector. The steady decline in the number of young Europeans choosing to work at sea indicates the need to make maritime careers more attractive. Reflection is underway on the hours and conditions of work, career prospects and health and safety issues, remuneration and ancillary benefits, and on changes to education and training and labour law.

Another challenge is to reduce the registration of EU-owned vessels under foreign flags. Our consultation has also provoked some fresh thinking on how to reduce bureaucracy and administrative barriers to shipping, thus reducing the disadvantages that this mode of transport faces when compared with road transport.

Our reflections are taking place against a background in which the oceans and seas, and the ways in which we derive benefits from them, are changing. Seaborne trade has grown fourfold in the past 40 years; coastal and maritime tourism continue to grow, and new sectors, such as renewable energy and blue biotechnology, are emerging. Europe has to date been a strong player in these sectors, and we must work to ensure this leading edge is not only maintained, but also increased.

Yet, at the same time, the health of our oceans and seas is increasingly under pressure. Exploitation for commercial, leisure and other purposes has left its mark, and the threat of climate change becomes more evident every day. The right balance has to be struck between economic growth and respect for the environment. Further deterioration of the marine environment will inevitably affect Europe's ability to provide income and jobs for its citizens.

Combining cutting-edge technology with political will can render the economy and ecology mutually reinforcing. Our heightened environmental awareness means that cleaner engines, recycling of ballast water and biodegradable material are already being employed on board ships and off-shore platforms. Taking this one step further through eco-innovation, we find that businesses can also actually reap benefits, through reduced costs, from protecting the environment.

So, the Third Maritime Safety Package - which received strong support in the European Parliament just days ago - is also a significant component of our maritime policy, and will contribute substantially to minimizing the risk of accidental pollution of European seas in the future.

Europe's shipping sector can play a pioneering role here in leading the rest of the world towards more environmentally-friendly industrial methods. The challenge lies in doing this in such a way as not to lose our competitive edge. This is possible if we focus on innovation - or more and better research to bring innovative ideas and solutions to the market.

This can include future clean ship technologies, more environmentally friendly fuels and sophisticated port facilities that, for example, would render the washing of tanks in the open sea or in coastal areas unacceptable. This will strengthen maritime transport's claim to be an energy-efficient and environmentally friendly means of transport.

But all actors will have to combine forces to ensure the shipping industry consistently observes high standards if we are to win our common fight against sub-standard ships and irresponsible ship-owners. Our consultation takes, as its starting point, that this is a global industry which faces global problems and which requires global solutions. Developing international rules for international activities in a rapidly changing world will depend on the co-operation of our partners and of international bodies such as the United Nations, the International Maritime Organisation and the International Labour Organisation.

However, possibly more than anything, it is correct implementation that is needed. This places the onus on the different levels where decisions taken are implemented – international, European or indeed, national. We need to reflect on how we can work with the Member States and their regional authorities to manage tasks in a way that brings about better results. Better co-ordination between activities, similar to what we already have on land, can be both beneficial to the competitiveness of our ports and maritime industries, and, ensure that a level playing field is created for operators.

There are also positive new trends and concepts emerging within our maritime policy, offering new opportunities for Europe's shipping industry. The "motorways of the sea", the short-sea shipping programme of the Commission, could meet several major goals simultaneously. It can help generate new business for shippers and ship-builders and new investment for ports and their hinterlands - right around the Mediterranean - together with new jobs. At the same time, the quality of life could be improved as traffic is taken off roads, both reducing congestion and cutting pollution. An important step in this direction was recently taken with the announcement by Commissioner Barrot in Bremen two weeks ago, that he is nominating a coordinator for the motorways of the sea. Other interesting developments in this domain will be announced at the launch of the Maritime Policy Blue Paper in October.

Another emerging concept is the development of maritime clusters. This is a concept that is gaining momentum as we speak. These networks established between different maritime sectors and activities are generating considerable synergies in a number of countries in Europe. Here, the trend is mutually reinforcing – as the maritime economy becomes more integrated, the demand for maritime clusters also increases. Indeed, shipping is not only related to ship-building and ports, but also to other sectors.

One of the fastest growing of these is maritime tourism - both recreational boating and cruise shipping. Many of the vessels built for these leisure activities are built in Europe. Shipyards and their suppliers also provide material to the offshore oil and gas exploration industry. Co-ordination among these related activities can generate new opportunities, new economies of scale and new focuses for investment and employment. It can also attract research and boost centres of knowledge - on which so much of Europe's future, and the future of its shipping industry, depends.

For example, we still need data fully to assess the economic weight of the European maritime economy. Our first attempts at calculating the number of people that work in sectors related to the sea suggest it may be as high as five million, but available national data is often not comparable on a European scale and in some cases is lacking altogether. Similarly, research, management and surveillance of marine resources would all profit if geological, biological and economic marine data were shared, instead of being stored away somewhere or scattered randomly, as is often the case today. The establishment of European Technological Platforms, such as the waterborne platform within the transport sector, are bringing together industry, researchers and policy-makers to develop a shared strategic research agenda in a way not widely seen before.

Our consultation process ends in June, so please let us know your thoughts if you have not already done so. We will be carefully evaluating the contributions received with a view to providing formal feedback on the results of the consultation in October 2007. This will take the shape of a Communication, addressed to both the European Council and Parliament, which will summarise the results of the consultation process.

It will be accompanied by a second Communication which will outline our vision for a future maritime policy and lay out what we consider to be the way forward. This will be in the form of an action 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.

I should like to 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 I augur will continue well into the future, even beyond the cut-off point for the consultation.

I look forward to hearing your ideas and continuing our discussions here over the weeks and months to come.

Thank you.

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