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Joe Borg

Member of the European Commission
Responsible for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs

Towards a Maritime Policy for the European Union

Conference organised by the PSE Group in the European Parliament – "Socialist proposals for an effective EU Maritime Policy"
Brussels, 14 June 2007

Honourable Members of Parliament,

When we began this process, the words ‘Towards a Maritime Policy for the European Union’ – the title of my intervention to you today – made up a phrase full of potential and promise. Today – two years after our work started and one year since the launch of the Green Paper – we are no longer only talking of what is possible. We are talking of what can become a reality.

A clear vision by which we can define a Maritime Policy for the European Union is beginning to unfold. As soon as all contributions are received from stakeholders, including those from the European Parliament, we in the Commission can take this vision and consolidate it into a framework that can be used as the basis for a truly integrated policy for the many-faceted maritime sector in Europe. Through the active involvement of literally thousands of stakeholders, and as a result of the information gathered at over 250 events organised across Europe, the journey towards a maritime policy for the Union has begun.

Stakeholders have recognised, and indeed committed themselves, to find answers to the many and complex challenges that face maritime activities in Europe. Those with a stake in the sector include businesses, NGOs, fishers, trade unions, sailors, professional associations, Europe's regions and the marine scientific community.

It is these people who have expressed their desire to participate in the debate on the future of the maritime sector in Europe, both now and beyond the end of the formal consultation which will be in a few weeks time. I am grateful for the broad support that we have received and welcome the active participation of so many.

I would like to single out for a brief moment the work of the European institutions. We have received positive opinions from both the Committee of the Regions and the Economic and Social Committee. It is now for the European Parliament to share its views with us. I would like to take this opportunity to thank those who have worked so hard on a Maritime Policy, both for the hearing held earlier this year and for the draft reports from four of the Committees involved. I am eagerly awaiting the consolidation of these reports and am confident that Parliament's final report, to be adopted next month, will have a significant impact on our work from that moment on.

From what I understand, your contribution, as well as that of others, will emphasise the importance of embracing the many separate and distinct maritime interests that exist and will encourage the formulation of policy that will be geared towards finding both balance and mutual reinforcement between them.

As I have just said, the support for the development of an integrated maritime policy in Europe is both broad and enthusiastic. Indeed, the development of a holistic approach to our relations with the oceans and seas is perceived as a way to add value to the maritime components of existing sectoral policies. It is a way to create synergies between policies and economic activities while avoiding the unintentional, and often conflicting, interactions that also arise.

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.

This will go a long way to address the fragmentation that still prevails. As we are all too aware, ocean affairs are often looked at sector by sector in order to ease their management: for instance, ports are mostly seen as transport infrastructures without any real connection to the areas around them. On the other hand, the environmental protection of coastal areas often takes place without any real understanding of the key role occupied by the economic activities of coastal areas, including ports. This can lead to conflicts, incoherent decision-making and quite frankly, confusion. Clearly this is not good governance.

One of the main goals for a coherent maritime policy will be to achieve joined-up policy-making: policy-making that embraces the different constraints that exist and seeks solutions based on new and innovative thinking. This might seem somewhat abstract, however, I am confident that this is possible.

Some of the questions we face are:

How are we going to reverse environmental degradation and obtain sustainability of the oceans and seas without diminishing the rich rewards they yield?

How can we preserve the leading edge enjoyed by European maritime industries and thus contribute to achieving the Lisbon goals of increased growth and jobs?

How can we bring together different maritime sectors to truly achieve an integrated maritime policy?

I believe we can provide solid answers to all these questions. I believe we can develop the potential of our oceans and seas, transform it into jobs and economic growth and we can be more effective in protecting the marine environment. It will however require change, change in the way we perceive the oceans and seas:

  • from an endless natural resource to a fragile and threatened life support,
  • from a short-sighted, static vision to a more far-sighted and fuller vision,
  • from perceiving the seas as no-one's and anyone's property to an integral part of our common heritage.

We must look at the oceans and seas in the same way as we look at our terrestrial territory: planning, anticipating and harmonising their growing, often competing, uses. All these changes demand innovation in marine research, science and technology; innovation in decision-making and governance; and innovation in our behaviour and attitude to our oceans and seas.

The consultation process has already highlighted many issues.

It has shown us that there is wide endorsement of the view that sound research and innovation constitute the starting point for any maritime policy. We also find backing for the European Union as a model of sustainable development and we find broad support for the social and environmental components of maritime affairs to be a central component of any future maritime policy. Stability in the regulatory framework and continued measures to facilitate European competitiveness has also been highlighted.

Other issues raised by the Green Paper and for which there is extensive backing, include tools to promote links across sectors. Such tools comprise the sharing of marine data. This data currently exists in different areas and in different formats which have proved difficult to share and has often resulted in inefficiency and unnecessary costs. Bringing these together and compiling the information in a handy and compatible manner will better fuel policy-making.

Another tool we will look at is the idea of spatial planning for Europe's coastal waters. Such a tool would be best developed by Member States but with guidelines and a commitment to common principles developed at the European level. Spatial planning would increase predictability and facilitate the co-existence of activities. Such an outcome will be key to remaining competitive whilst simultaneously protecting the resource base on which competitiveness in this area, depends.

Monitoring and controlling the behaviour of economic operators at sea, in order to ensure respect of the rules is another aspect that will improve the manner in which we conduct maritime affairs. Implementing an integrated network of vessel-tracking systems would increase the efficiency and safety of operations at sea. Maritime safety policy plays a major role in the protection of our marine environment. It is also vital for the protection and well-being of our seafarers. The question of safety at sea becomes increasingly critical as the scarcity of skilled seafarers rises. Without the supply of skilled and motivated staff, Europe will increasingly lack the knowledge and experience required for key maritime activities.

Stakeholders have indicated that a decrease in the availability of human resources can be attributed to several factors. The less than positive image of the maritime sectors has certainly been seen as a contributing factor to the lack of interest of potential recruits. Another factor that has been raised by stakeholders is the lack of a connection to the sea felt by citizens. It appears that this connection is simply not being made. There is little realisation that the majority of goods and of the most basic foods consumed by Europeans are carried by sea and would simply not be available to us without the maritime sectors.

Finally, another factor that is thought to explain the declining interest in the maritime sectors as a workplace is their unattractiveness due to obstacles found in relevant social legislation. We will be looking into exclusions from social legislation, in close co-operation with our social partners, in order to determine whether they should be re-assessed. This was underlined by Mr. Piecyk during his intervention at the conference held in Bremen under the auspices of the German Presidency. It was also raised by the Economic and Social Committee in their opinion adopted in April.

The Green Paper suggests that the sector can also be made more attractive by increasing job mobility. Stakeholders have largely agreed with this. Increasing job mobility from seafaring jobs to jobs ashore should ensure that a greater number of potential recruits will become interested in a career at sea. In turn, onshore sectors will reap the benefit of gaining invaluable seafaring skills and know-how.

Competition from nations offering seafarers at a fraction of the cost of European ones should and can be combated by offering our seafarers upgraded training and skills that provide them with an unparalleled level of excellence. This will not only be advantageous for seafarers themselves but should also raise the image of companies which will consistently deliver products of excellence through the employment of higher quality staff. The maritime clusters that we are also seeking to promote could be instrumental in achieving this by contributing to the creation of training schemes and by providing skills to interested applicants.

Another side to this coin is the promotion of maritime industries as modern, high-technology sectors. This will demonstrate how advances in technology, in planning and in environmental protection go hand in hand, and it should make maritime sectors more attractive places to work.

Highlighting the importance of the maritime sectors and the links that exist between them can be done in a variety of ways. One idea is to hold an annual 'European Maritime Day' where the heritage of a maritime Europe, together with its present-day achievements, can be showcased. Providing opportunities for examples of best practice to come together and introducing awards for those raising the profile of the maritime sectors, are other ideas. We will also look at creating an annual report, which would include information on new maritime developments and show how critical the contribution of various actors is to their success.

I believe it is imperative for us to address these diverse yet related issues as a top priority. I fear that failure to do so could result in a crisis that maritime sectors would find difficult to recover from.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Allow me to outline some of the ways in which we intend to address these issues.

A first step will be the presentation of two Communications later this year to the College of Commissioners which will herald the adoption of our Blue Book. One of these Communications will be a summary of the consultation process spelling out the Green Paper ideas that were supported, those that were rejected and also new ideas that have been proposed. The second Communication will set out how we envisage an integrated Maritime Policy and will reveal specific actions that have been designed to bring it to fruition.

Before the Green Paper was drawn up, I visited Canada and Norway to get ideas on how best to develop an integrated maritime policy for the oceans and seas. I realised that it is taking these countries years to bring about the necessary changes. While our consultation period is almost over and unprecedented discussions on maritime affairs have ensued, I would like to stress that this is just the beginning of a process in which I fully intend to involve you and our thousands of stakeholders.

I would like to conclude by thanking the European Socialist Party for organising this event. It has been a welcome opportunity for me to share with you some of the latest developments in our efforts to design a maritime policy that befits the European Union. It also presents me with an opportunity to set out what I hope will be forthcoming from the European Parliament.

I would very much support a courageous political vision - a vision that shows understanding of the immense task ahead of us. We face a situation where the sustainability of our oceans and seas is a major global challenge, second only to climate change. This is a challenge that cannot be met with an attitude of “business as usual". We need to turn things on their head. We need a vision that realises how our oceans, seas and coastal areas have been very much a forgotten dimension of Europe's political action. We need a vision that accords them their rightful place.

I am counting on you to help us achieve this, to help us change the past.

By developing a comprehensive, innovative and far-reaching maritime policy we will be giving Europe the means to deal with some of the aspects of climate change. We will be giving our coastal areas and its millions of inhabitants, tools to ensure the sustainability of their current lifestyles. And we will, by increasing the competitiveness and the quality of maritime transports and logistics, allow Europe to benefit from globalisation in the years to come.

I therefore entreat you to always keep foremost in your minds the singular opportunity we are faced with today in our efforts to bring a new integrated maritime policy forward for the Union.

Thank you.

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