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Joe Borg

Member of the European Commission
Responsible for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs

The contribution of Outermost Regions to the EU Maritime Policy

Speech at Conference on "Outermost regions and the EU Maritime Policy"
La Réunion, 21 September 2007

President Vergès,

Minister Barnier,

Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to reiterate my thanks to President Vergés for his kind invitation to attend this conference. I am honoured to be here and am grateful for the opportunity to share views with you about the future maritime policy for the European Union.

I am particularly glad to have just heard Minister Barnier’ address for it has made amply clear, once again, his commitment to the unfolding EU maritime policy. In his intervention, Minister Barnier has highlighted just how important it is that sea based activities like fisheries and aquaculture are considered as part and parcel of a broader and more integrated maritime affairs framework. France has in fact been at the forefront of the supporters for our ambitious endeavour to develop a truly integrated and holistic approach to maritime affairs and I count on its coming presidency of the Union to help us consolidate it.

I would also like to thank the Vice-Minister Borges from Mozambique and Secretary General d'Offay from the Seychelles for having accepted to join the conference. Within the European Commission, we are firm believers that the success of the new EU maritime policy also depends on close cooperation with our neighbours. Given that so much of what we are talking about – the world single ocean - is a shared resource, it is crucial to have open channels of communication and concerted action with the close involvement of all concerned.

The contribution of outermost regions, together with the CPMR, to the consultation on the future maritime policy that ran until the end of June has fed well into our preparations for an EU maritime policy. This conference is another important step in that process, particularly as it brings directly to the table the viewpoint of Europe's outermost regions.

I would like to underline that Europe's outermost regions are an essential asset for the European Union, both in general and possibly even more so, in terms of the maritime policy dimension. Our outermost regions bring with them huge Exclusive Economic Zones, rich marine biodiversity and ecosystems, strong potential in marine research and a geo-strategic location which gives the EU a foothold in three important areas of the world.

This is not to understate the very real constraints that remoteness, as well as vulnerability to climate change and extreme natural events, place upon you. However in the interest of capitalising on your strengths, I believe ²maritime policy provides a welcome opportunity to focus on achieving the very best for you.

In order to explain better what I mean by this, I propose to look at how the EU's future maritime policy process has developed and how we hope to move from the design stage to the implementation stage. I will then look at the opportunities and challenges faced by the Outermost Regions and discuss how the EU maritime policy can, together with other community policies, help make the best of these opportunities.

A maritime policy for the Union is a project that the Commission has been working hard at for the past three years. The underlying idea is that an integrated approach to our oceans and seas is needed. There are so many different sectors that have an interest in the sea, development in coastal areas is so much on the increase and the oceans and seas are so central to Europe's development, that we can no longer take compartmentalised decisions where the right hand is not aware of what the left hand is doing. Given the various environmental pressures that our oceans and seas are subject to, we also need to take the necessary steps to put the marine environment at the heart of our policy making process. In summary, it is therefore a new approach that needs to be taken to ensure the long-term health of the oceans and seas and thus Europe's continued development and prosperity.

After a year of consultation with the many actors involved in the maritime sector, we have now reached the point where we can deliver the first concrete steps. This will take the form of two Communications from the Commission to the European Council and Parliament which it is my intention to present on the 10th October.

One Communication will summarise the results of the consultation process highlighting the numerous and extremely valuable contributions that were received from stakeholders. These were received in their hundreds, almost five hundred in fact. It is worth noting that they have influenced the design of our proposals to a very significant degree. A second Communication will outline the objectives, principles and framework of the future maritime policy. This will be accompanied by an action plan which will suggest a number of concrete proposals that will give a tangible angle to the future policy.

With this package, we will be definitively stating what the strategic objectives of the EU maritime policy are. We will also seek to establish the means by which these objectives will be achieved. Such a complex policy, which cuts across so many diverse sectors, can never be put into place by one set of measures. The October package is however the start to what we hope will be an ever-changing and ever-growing policy that will adapt to serve our need to ensure better co-ordination in the maritime sector.

A broad range of areas of direct relevance to the Outermost Regions will be included therein. Allow me to provide a foretaste of some of them, indicating how these will relate to you. I shall deal in turn with:

  • The sustainable use of oceans and seas' resources
  • Developing a knowledge and innovation base for the maritime policy
  • The quality of life and prevention of natural risks
  • Governance – looking at both the framework and the tools available, and
  • The international dimension of the maritime policy.

The sustainable development of sea related activities is the central objective of the EU maritime policy. A healthy marine environment is a sine qua non to realize the full potential of our oceans and seas. Whether it concerns tourism, transport, fisheries, aquaculture, human exploitation of the seas leaves profound marks on the marine environment. Clearly this threatens the very foundations upon which a substantial part of the wealth of Europe - and of its outermost regions - depends.

We have the duty to protect the marine ecosystems and biodiversity which fall under our jurisdiction. However, this should not only be seen as a cost or a burden since undoubtedly it will bring with it many rewards. Through the consultation process, we have found many ideas on how to do this. One idea was to extend the concept of ecosystem services to stakeholders. In the same way as land farmers are rewarded, under the rural development policy, when they help preserve land environment, could we not consider some form of compensation for those, including fishers and fish farmers who would help protect or improve the marine environment? Outermost regions could be pioneers in the development of such concepts.

The other side of the sustainable development coin is about economic growth and development. If the rich biodiversity and marine ecosystems of outermost regions were exploited in a sustainable manner, this could mean a source of considerable wealth for those regions. The sustainable development of traditional marine activities, the undertaking of new activities based on biotechnologies, seeking alternative renewable sources of energies and developing eco-environmental activities are all opportunities which should be explored. El Hierro in the Canaries is a prime example of a region which has reached self-sufficiency in its energy needs through innovative hydro-wind energy investments.

Another concept that could be useful for outermost regions is that of creating marine or maritime clusters. By developing integrated networks of enterprises, training and research institutes that specialise in marine or maritime activities, a particular region can attract business that might otherwise have gone elsewhere. While this of necessity requires careful planning, time and effort, experience has shown that clusters can produce remarkable results.

This brings me to our second area of focus which concerns research, data collection and knowledge.

Marine science and research are crucial for the sustainable development of sea related activities. Indeed only science can give us full understanding of the interactions between human activities, climate change and marine ecosystems. This is why the development of an EU marine and maritime research strategy in 2008 is high on our agenda. Such a strategy will identify the key research challenges and the programmes necessary to address them. It will also help to promote synergies between member states research efforts, and identify needs for critical maritime and marine research and data infrastructure. The strategy will also seek to improve the interface between research, industry and policy making.

Outermost regions host high quality marine biology research centres. They are the location for creative technological innovations, ranging from deep-sea drilling for oil and gas to new sectors such as renewable energy, "blue" biotechnologies or advanced ocean monitoring. Investing in marine and maritime research and innovation capabilities should remain a top priority. Networking these marine research bodies would also create synergies between member states and avoid the duplication of research efforts.

The maritime policy is not only about economic growth. It also touches upon a range of issues which affect the quality of life of citizens living in islands and coastal areas. These include enhancing their maritime cultural heritage, monitoring natural risks that they face and facilitating maritime surveillance.

Outermost regions host a considerable part of the European maritime heritage. Cultural events highlighting the contribution of outermost regions to Europe's maritime heritage could be envisaged. We also need to think of means to properly monitor natural risks, in cooperation with neighbouring third countries. Monitoring and controlling the behavior of users of the sea is also important to ensure respect of applicable rules. The consultation process has confirmed that national government activities are largely fragmented in this area of maritime surveillance and that there is considerable room for creating synergies within and between member states. I believe for example that the gradual achievement of a comprehensive and integrated network of vessel-tracking and e-navigation systems for all coastal waters under the jurisdiction of Member States would provide a powerful tool for public agencies and at the same time provide an incentive for them to work ever more closely to prevent illegal maritime and trafficking activities.

A new EU maritime policy will also need new Governance, both in terms of the overall framework and the tools needed to implement it. In full respect of the subsidiarity principle, appropriate mechanisms will need to be introduced at Community, national and regional levels to ensure that different sea-related activities are managed in a coherent way.

The Commission will make its own administrative arrangements for this purpose. However the EU maritime policy will not be a substitute for different Community policies. Regional policy will continue to provide the central policy and the financial instrument of Community support for the outermost regions. A maritime policy can help in different ways by achieving two primary objectives:

It will provide the means to spur an integrated approach between Community policies and instruments that are most relevant to outermost regions, when it comes to the management of maritime affairs and the marine environment. I am thinking for example of the policies of research, development, transport, energy and migration.

Secondly it will help ensure that the maritime specificities and needs of outermost regions are well taken into account in each of these Community policies.

The new Commission Communication on outermost regions, issued two weeks ago already goes a long way to reflecting the importance of the new maritime policy and the need to better integrate related Community policies.

I need to stress, however, that unless such arrangements are mirrored in member states, it will be difficult to properly develop the EU maritime policy. The Commission agrees in particular with the outermost regions and the CPMR that maritime basins are natural areas around which maritime governance need to be structured. The Commission will seek to stimulate developments in this direction. In the fisheries sector, we have created Regional Advisory Councils to ensure better co-ordination and co-operation between fishermen's representatives, environmental NGOs and other relevant stakeholders. These so-called RACs, based on collaborative management, are already producing good results. We believe that it would be appropriate to develop similar mechanisms of governance to other maritime activities.

Maritime governance also needs tools to coordinate and optimise the different uses of the sea. It needs to create synergies between different government agencies and activities. I will mention two which are of particular importance.

The first is a European Marine Observation and Data Network which can bring together, from multiple sources, all the available data on the oceans and seas. This data, encompassing both marine environment characteristics and human activities, can be made available to all those who can use it as the basis for better governance and decision-making. It will also serve as a genuine driver for the integrated approach to governance of maritime affairs. Gathering and making such data available will be a considerable undertaking which will need to be developed over a period of years along a clear and coherent plan.

The second tool, which derives from the first, is a marine spatial planning system. Such a system needs to be based upon comprehensive data on the marine environment and on human activities. It is clearly necessary to regulate the spatial deployment of economic activities, many of which have proved in the past, to be conflicting. Marine spatial planning could also be instrumental in ensuring the delivery of commitments that derive from the Thematic Strategy on the Protection of the Marine Environment. It would also provide economic operators with much needed predictability. Again, in accordance with the subsidiarity principle, decision-making competences in this area will remain with Member States. It should be however clear that this is an indispensable tool to any country or region, which wants to ensure the sustainable development of its sea-based activities.

Outermost regions could take the lead by implementing pilot projects, with the support of EU funds, to experience how such planning systems work. In the interest of developing best practice, it would also be appropriate for outermost regions to share such experiences between themselves and with other EU coastal regions.

The last area I would like to cover is the international dimension of the EU maritime policy. Strengthening maritime co-operation with EU neighbors is indispensable to the success of the EU maritime policy. Acting alone would be of little use when it comes to the use of shared maritime basins and marine resources. The Green Paper addresses the strategic role of the islands and outermost regions that gives the EU a presence in important maritime areas of the world. We need to better integrate the EU regional and development policies to foster maritime cooperation between the outermost regions and your African or Caribbean neighbours. This cooperation could touch upon a wide range of issues such as marine and maritime research and data gathering, marine environment surveys and protection, fishing, the monitoring of natural risks, maritime surveillance, the management of migration flows and the fight against drug trafficking.

We all know that the solution to many of our shared challenges lies in close co-operation. Returning to the concept of maritime clusters, one can imagine that these could be rendered more effective through a co-ordinated approach with neighbouring countries. Combining the Community’s regional and development policies to address common marine and maritime challenges is crucial.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Commission will soon issue the first package to lay the ground for a new EU maritime policy. This marks the end of a long and unprecedented consultation process and the beginning of a longer and more exciting process – a process which will see the progressive development across the European Union, and our neighbours, of a new integrated approach to maritime affairs. The outermost regions are an essential asset for the European Union in this process.

You have much to contribute and I urge you to play your part in full. For our part, we will seek to help to provide you with the means to do so.

Thank you.

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