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Dr Joe Borg

Member of the European Commission
Responsible for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs

EU initiatives on tourism in the Mediterranean region

Euro-Med Ministerial Conference on Tourism
Fez (Morocco), 3 April 2008

First of all I would like to thank the Moroccan authorities for organising this first Euro-Mediterranean Ministerial Meeting on TOURISM.

Thanks also to the current Presidency, Slovenia, and to Portugal for launching the idea and initiating the process that has led us to this important event.

Fez, both because of its strong Mediterranean heritage and as an example of the tourism potential of the region, is a perfect place for this important exchange of views, which, I am sure will create a new stimulus to our cooperation.

In many Southern Partner Economies, tourism represents quite a significant share of GDP (9.5% in Morocco, 8.8% in Turkey, 8.5% in Egypt, 6.3% in Jordan, 5% in Tunisia).

This is of course due to the region’s natural and cultural resources, the hospitality of its people, and the location of many of its destinations close to key markets in Europe. But this is not enough.

Among the reasons for the Mediterranean being a successful destination, there is also a decisive one that has to do with the policy choices of governments. Without proactive policies towards the promotion of tourism; without the willingness to adapt to, and to invest in, tourism infrastructures; and without the dynamism of the private sector, it would not have been possible for tourism to have become a major economic sector in the region. If today tourism is critical for employment and for economic activity in many countries, this is thanks to pro-active policies and pro-active entrepreneurs.

Governments, as well as private sector operators and investors, have long understood that tourism development creates income throughout the region and decisively influences overall economic development.

Although large differences exist between countries and in spite of some setbacks in the aftermath of September 11 the average growth rate of tourism in the region has been 12.2% between 2001 and 2006, with tourist expenditure increasing even faster.

These growth rates are more than double the world average and the growth potential is still large and promising.

The EU too is doing its bit to help create a favourable policy framework.

Following a proposal from the Commission, the EU has launched an Integrated Maritime Policy aimed at developing all sea-related activities, including coastal and maritime tourism, in a sustainable manner. Last October, the Commission also approved an “Agenda for a sustainable and competitive European tourism”, setting out a medium to long term Agenda under which all tourism stakeholders should undertake the necessary steps to strengthen the contribution of sustainable practices to facilitate competitiveness.

This “Agenda for a sustainable and competitive European tourism” provides stakeholders with a vision of what the common principles and objectives for tourism should be. This vision aims for a tourism product that is both competitive and sustainable. Three elements are crucial to achieve this objective: an intelligent management of destinations by policy makers; the full integration of sustainability concerns in the way businesses think and act; and tourists who are well informed about the positive and negative impacts of their behaviour. On the basis of this policy framework the Commission facilitates the exchange of best practice and stands ready to examine ways in which interested EUROMED partners could get involved into on-going or future projects.

The Commission would like to propose to the main public and private stakeholders involved in the Agenda to establish cooperation on issues linked to sustainability in tourism. This could include the sharing of relevant "best practices" with interested EUROMED partners, whose involvement may also be extended to the enhancement of existing and proposed networks as foreseen in the Communication, for example, regions' networks, knowledge networks, etc.

I would also like to refer to concrete cooperation instruments made available by the European Commission.

One of the key issues for the tourism industry is training. Appropriate training is important to develop the necessary services required by markets, tour-operators and customers. The Commission has developed vocational training programmes in many countries of the region. This is a significant instrument to be used by governments and companies alike. Our Education and Training Foundation in Turin is working with the European Commission to develop further cooperation in this area.

The Euro-Med Heritage programme is one of the most successful Euro-Med regional programmes. It funds interesting cooperation activities (including training and technical assistance) in promoting and preserving the cultural and architectural heritage of the region. From the management of archeological sites to the restoration of Medinas, this programme provides support to activities that are vital to develop tourism opportunities and to upgrade the product.

Other programmes such as TAIEX, which is a demand-based technical assistance, and TWINNING being a long-term technical assistance for bodies and institutions, can help develop the legislative and regulatory environment for tourism. Investment promotion which draws on various existing initiatives and programmes in this field can also contribute to increase opportunities for foreign and domestic investors.

The EU’s determination to enhance economic cooperation and business links with Mediterranean partners can also benefit the tourism industry.

I would before ending like to refer specifically to a couple of Euro-Med activities that we support in this domain:

  • To enhance the business environment, Euro-Mediterranean Ministers for Industry endorsed, in 2004, the Euro-Mediterranean Charter for Enterprise. This latter was largely inspired by the European Charter for Small Enterprises that has helped many EU Member States, candidate countries and Western Balkan partners to reform their enterprise policy.
  • The progress achieved so far in Mediterranean partner countries will be discussed at the next Euro-Mediterranean Conference of Ministers for Industry, organized under the French Presidency, on 6 November 2008, in Nice.
  • Another area for economic cooperation is innovation. A new and powerful European support network for enterprises was launched in February 2008. The Enterprise Europe Network includes more than 500 contact points for entrepreneurs in Europe. They provide a full range of support services in close proximity to SMEs, covering the whole EU territory and beyond. Mediterranean partner countries can apply for a connection to this network. Egypt, Israel, Lebanon and Syria have already done so, and I would like to encourage further partner countries to also take advantage of this opportunity.

Dear Ministers,

This is the first EuroMed Ministerial Conference devoted to tourism, but I'm certain it will not be the last one.

Today we are initiating a process which will be extremely valuable for the further development of this key economic sector for the region.

I hereby propose that we already decide to meet again in two years and ask the senior officials on tourism to prepare a Working Programme to be submitted to this next Conference.

I am sure we will succeed in creating a new impetus and to achieve concrete outcomes.

Thank you for your attention.

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