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Member of the European Commission
Address to plenary session of the Committee of the Regions at the occasion of
the "OPEN DAYS, European Week of Regions and Cities"
Distinguished Representatives of Europe's Regions,
I am glad to have the opportunity to speak to you today, the day when the Commission has adopted a new and integrated maritime policy for the Union. It gives me an opportunity to thank you for the support that you have consistently shown since we set out on our path towards an integrated Maritime Policy for the European Union more than two years ago.
That path has taken us on an interesting learning process to various corners of Europe, it has led to numerous conferences and workshops and finally, it culminated in hundreds of submissions from stakeholders who endorsed taking an integrated approach to maritime affairs in Europe.
Earlier today, the College of Commissioners backed this integrated approach.
For the first time, in its 50-year lifespan, the Commission has decided to look at our oceans and seas with fresh eyes. Taking this comprehensive look at maritime affairs has been motivated by the need to change the way we think of our relationship with the sea. The oceans and seas are Europe’s lifeblood acting as a channel for trade, a source of food and a preferred location for citizens to take up residence and spend their leisure time. They are also intimately linked to some of the greatest challenges we face today, be it: climate change, globalisation, maximising Europe’s competitiveness, reversing the decline of biodiversity or stimulating the creation of jobs.
One of the key things we can do to face these challenges head-on is to move from fragmented decision and policy-making to a comprehensive style of governance where individual sectors are looked at as part of a whole. As the Maritime Policy Paper adopted today declares: 'the Commission's vision is for an integrated maritime policy that covers all aspects of our relationship with the oceans and seas...(to) provide a coherent policy framework that will allow for the optimal development of all sea-related activities in a sustainable manner.
The Maritime Policy Package has three key components: a Communication on what this new integrated maritime policy is about; another detailing the conclusions of the year-long consultation process which nearly 500 stakeholders contributed to; and finally, an Action Plan proposing concrete steps and timelines along which the maritime policy will be implemented.
I believe you will be able to recognise key elements of this policy as the priorities expressed by the Committee of the Regions in its Opinion delivered during the consultation process. This should come as no surprise. European coastal regions, ably represented in the Committee of the Regions, are amongst the prime constituents of the Maritime Policy.
As regional authorities and leaders of coastal communities, you are central to the unfolding of coastal and maritime activities. The Committee of the Regions and indeed the coastal regions and their networks, have been key partners in the development of the Integrated Maritime Policy.
Through you, we have learned that, coastal regions, outermost regions and islands really are our vanguard when it comes to the oceans and seas. While this does of course sometimes translate into the coastal regions being the first to be affected by negative phenomena such as storms and coastal erosion, it also means that you are the shapers of what happens along Europe's coasts. For this reason, it is important to ensure that policy-making is made with your active involvement. I hope that we will continue to benefit from your experience and your continued commitment.
The integrated maritime policy also stands to bring significant advantages to the European hinterland. The areas surrounding coastal zones gain enormously from the high activity along the coast. Take the huge numbers of coastal tourists that visit coastal regions, the marine equipment industries that are so strong in these areas and the ports that line our coasts. Ports and their related industries are instrumental to Europe, serving as a gateway for imported goods, as bases for the policing of coastal waters and as a link to the outside world.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The new integrated maritime policy is not only about lofty ideals. It also proposes concrete actions. It is a policy that is specifically targeted at addressing Europe's competitiveness and developing our maritime industries in a sustainable and forward-looking manner. It is our intention to encourage and promote maritime clusters and regional centres of maritime excellence, to raise Europe's competitive profile and to maintain close links with the marine environment strategy and the Gothenburg agenda for sustainability. We will work to reduce pollution risks and eliminate destructive fishing practices. We will also seek, through research and innovation for example, to develop offshore renewable energies and to make new emission cuts.
We will develop a European Strategy for Marine Research and a commitment to excellence in research, technology and innovation in order to exploit the business opportunities of sea-bed mineral resources, aquaculture, blue biotech and emerging sub-sea technologies. And we will seek to do all of this through a new form of governance where no one sector will continue to be looked at in isolation, but on the contrary, will form part of a comprehensive whole.
These ideas need tools in order for them to be implemented and our consultations have demonstrated that you stand to benefit enormously from the means, and tools, at the EU's disposal. These include spatial planning and integrated coastal zone management, the exchange of best practice, financial support and structured stakeholder participation.
Spatial planning received significant support during the consultation process due to the realisation that there is increased pressure on space and the environment. The picture of container ships weaving their way through offshore wind energy installations towards the shore where local fishing vessels unload their wares at the central auction house is not an uncommon sight in many of Europe's harbours.
Action at the European level could add value to similar congestion scenes by creating common principles to assist the planning necessary to make, often competing activities, run smoothly. The Commission intends to lead the way on this by examining the options available for making different maritime activities compatible, encouraging the exchange of best practice in the field, allowing authorities to learn from each other and benchmarking innovative approaches. We will also launch a roadmap towards setting up a European Marine Observation and Data Network, which will supply vital information to assist decision-making based on spatial planning.
As the Committee of the Regions, you also specifically requested that a catalogue of existing European financing instruments concerning maritime issues be created. We have taken you up on that suggestion and by the end of 2008 will set up such a database detailing projects, and their funding, that are underway in maritime regions. We hope that this and similar information will contribute towards transparency in the implementation of our maritime policy.
I referred to the exchange of best practice earlier. As this is an important element, I should like to return to it now, emphasizing that if there is one thing we have discovered during this process, it is that we have a long tradition of excellence in our maritime industries, our maritime heritage and our maritime regions. Clearly this excellence can be emulated if it is shared.
The Open Days, which you have organised with the Commission's Directorate General for Regional Policy, is an example of this excellence, involving over 200 regions and cities. It provides a unique platform for discussion and networking between regional authorities and other players in this field. Maritime knowledge, skills and know-how must be shared in order to ensure greater efficiency. There are countless organisations that specialise in one aspect or another of maritime affairs yet, without the exchange of information across these entities, much of this expertise is lost.
I firmly believe that a more efficient maritime sector can be achieved through more co-ordination and information-sharing. To this end, the Commission will encourage and promote the exchange of best practice, not necessarily through regulation, but more often than not, by encouraging stakeholders like the Committee of the Regions, to get involved and actively participate within the framework of this new integrated maritime policy.
A final point that I wanted to raise with you today is the question of increasing public awareness and raising the visibility of the maritime sectors. I am convinced that, by encouraging knowledge of all aspects related to the oceans and seas, we will instil a desire in the public to care for the oceans, to realise the importance of the European maritime economy and to be encouraged to work in the maritime sectors. Events celebrating the seas must be encouraged, and that is why I am so happy to participate in your Blue Planet Forum on November 28th .
For our part, the Commission has announced in the Action Plan accompanying the new Maritime Policy, its intention to organise a European Maritime Day annually which will launch a week of activities including a conference, awards, an annual report, specific awareness campaigns and networking. Another idea is to bring maritime heritage organisations, museums and aquaria together to exchange experiences. The success of these initiatives in raising the profile of maritime activities will be determined in large measure by the extent to which other EU institutions, Member States and stakeholders adopt this annual event as their own. We will be counting on your support for this.
The adoption of today's maritime package will be complemented by a number of other actions. Under the Portuguese Presidency, an informal ministerial conference will be held in Lisbon on October 22nd in which 27 ministers responsible for maritime affairs - namely Ministers of Transport, Fisheries, the Environment and Defence – will participate. We are confident that this will lead to positive conclusions being produced in the December European Council where we hope that this policy will be endorsed.
Today is therefore not the end of the voyage. It is a significant milestone in the process bringing about a decisive shift away from the period of reflection to a period of action. The reflection process was most instructive, involving many stakeholders both from the regions and other areas. It has also been most useful in defining our objectives for a maritime policy.
However, we are now shifting up a gear. To borrow the words of these Open Days, we are now 'Making it Happen.'
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We have ahead of us an Ocean of Opportunity.