Member of the European Commission
Speech to Plenary session of the Committee of the Regions at the occasion of
the Blue Planet Forum
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Allow me to say, on opening, how appropriate it is that this Blue Planet Forum emphasises action. I would, however, like to expand on this theme a little by focusing not only on the concept of "acting" but more importantly of "acting together".
Joined-up and joint action is central to the thinking in the Blue Paper that the Commission adopted last month.
The vision of an integrated approach to maritime affairs is precisely that decisions should no longer be taken separately in distinct areas of policy, but rather that a coherent approach is adopted. This same logic extends across the board, applying to stakeholders so that they too should no longer have to act in isolation – unaware of what other stakeholders are doing or what policy-makers and planners have designed for their future. The very raison d'être of this integrated approach is to enable us all to embrace a new and wider picture of the maritime sector and thus increase our awareness of what the single and combined impacts of our actions may be.
There is, therefore, neat symbolism to be found in the fact that you, as the Committee of the Regions, are hosting a Blue Planet Forum. Our planet, the source of much of our wealth and well-being has been described in a variety of ways. Mother Earth, Gaia or the Blue Marble to name but a few. It is interesting to note that in this latter term, as in your title, the focus, as so well describe by Arthur Clarke, the well-known science-fiction author, is on the fact that our planet should not really be called earth as it "...is quite clearly ocean".
You pick this theme up and run with it – as it were - in your use of the words Blue Planet. While this term embraces the whole of our planet, united as it is by its seas, your call for us to act together also hints at the importance of the local dimension.
We know that the guarantor of the future of our Blue Planet is in fact each and everyone of us, acting responsibly, at a local level. The total impact on our seas has been described as a mosaic composed of hundreds of thousands of individual, local, regional and national actions. This Committee, with its close links to the communities that make up the EU, is ideally placed to help maritime stakeholders see how they can benefit from a policy that focuses on an approach that stresses the togetherness of our actions. The economic, social and environmental challenges we face are not purely individual – they affect us all, albeit to varying degrees.
The strategic importance of Europe's maritime regions cannot be over-stated. Maritime regions - coastal regions, outermost regions and islands - really are our vanguard when it comes to the oceans and seas. You are the ones who stand to gain from a successful maritime policy - not solely in terms of increased jobs and higher growth, but also in terms of an improved environment and quality of life. There is therefore an opportunity here for greater involvement in policy-making in respect of the resource that you quite literally live by. You are the ones to drive this policy.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Since I presented the Integrated Maritime Policy to you on the day it was adopted last month, I am pleased to say that things have already moved forward somewhat.
At the member state level, there has been broad support for the launch of the policy. This was confirmed at the informal gathering of Ministers with responsibility for maritime affairs that was held at the end of October in Lisbon and again last week at the General Affairs and External Relations Council. Both events showed that Member States share many of the sentiments that inspired the Commission during the preparation of this policy. EU coastal states have offered their own individual endorsements of the policy, calling for the different policy strands of maritime affairs to be rendered as complementary as possible. The idea is to achieve the right balance within the inevitably different perspectives of different states.
The Portuguese Presidency, represented by Prime Minister Socrates, has also underlined its full support for the maritime policy. The Presidency not only backed the integrated vision fully, it also invited delegates to commit themselves to carrying out the actions necessary to reach our ambitious targets. Your own President was among the participants at this meeting, and in reaffirming this Committee's support for the policy; he too stressed the role of Member States and their regions in promoting it.
In fine-tuning this innovative approach, there are areas we must refine as we move forward - particularly in ensuring that EU policy in this area scrupulously respects the principle of subsidiarity, avoids any unnecessary duplication of work, and is sensitive to the wide-ranging views that exist on social legislation.
The overall positive reaction from Member States is crucial to our encouraging start of this new policy. We are thus looking forward to European Council conclusions in December that will formally confirm the way ahead.
Already we are preparing ourselves for next year. Following the Parliament's budget decision to allocate 10 million Euros for preparatory actions and pilot projects to the maritime policy; we will launch a number of projects in 2008 on spatial planning, on surveillance and on common access to data with respect to the oceans. Included in our planning is also the intention to host the first European Maritime Day. This will complement nicely the lead you have taken to celebrate maritime activities.
We are hopeful that the upcoming Presidencies, will also add their own particular flavour to the actions that will fall due next year. Slovenia has already indicated an interest in taking scientific matters forward, and the French Presidency may wish to make progress on governance and surveillance issues.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
As promised last month, work is progressing apace on your request for a catalogue of existing European financing instruments concerning maritime issues. We are working to set up such a database by the end of 2008 detailing projects, and their funding, that are underway in maritime regions.
At the same time, there are elements of the DG REGIO programme "Regions of Economic Change" that hold out additional prospects specifically for maritime affairs. This initiative also focuses on partnership in action. Two of the themes relate directly to the maritime sector and we are currently in the process of inviting proposals to be made that bring examples of partnership to light. One theme concerns "managing coastal zones" and intends to promote the sharing, among regions that are developing, of sustainable integrated coastal zone management measures against coastal pollution and coastal erosion. This includes countering the effects of sea-level rise as countries adapt to climate change. The other theme, "reaping the benefits of the sea", reflects the integrated approach of our new maritime policy: it envisages maritime regions exchanging best practice in order to benefit from growth in transport, coastal and maritime tourism, energy production, aquaculture and emerging marine technologies.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I look forward to continuing and intensifying co-operation with Europe's coastal regions, its islands and its outermost regions, in particular through the Committee of the Regions. I hope to do this to promote not just action, but joint action, that will yield results over the coming years.