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Member of the European Commission
17th Conference of the Maltese Chamber of Engineers
Ladies and Gentlemen,
First of all I would like to thank you very much for your invitation to be here today. I consider it a great honour particularly as the theme you have chosen for discussion is intrinsically linked to the Integrated Maritime Policy that has recently been put forward by the European Union for the flourishing European maritime sector.
I very much appreciate the work undertaken by people in the field of engineering (given that my son belongs to your profession) and of marine engineering, in particular. In fact, over the past few years of discussion and consultation with a broad spectrum of people working in the maritime sector, I have come to appreciate more fully how crucial your activities are to so many of its aspects. I was impressed, for example, to find out that the marine equipment industry in land-locked Austria employs some 7,000 people. In the coastal regions, you can imagine this number grows much larger.
Before getting into specifics, allow me to start by giving you a very brief outline of the scope and significance of the new maritime policy. This should reveal just how closely the policy's goals overlap with your own professional activities.
The impetus behind our new policy was the awareness that Europe's relationship with the seas and oceans is being rapidly altered by climate change, scientific discoveries, globalisation, technological advances and rapid marine environment degradation. While many of these trends present opportunities as well as challenges, it is clear that a number of the challenges far outweigh any potential benefits. It was precisely to address these challenges that the European Commission proposed a plan whereby policy would be fashioned in an integrated manner for the multi-faceted maritime sector.
This proposal has won wide support within the EU, particularly from the European Parliament last autumn and then from the leaders of the 27 Member States at the December 2007 European Council. Numerous other stakeholders have also expressed their overwhelming support for this endeavour.
The Integrated Maritime Policy essentially brings together the many inter-related maritime sectors and activities as, in for example: shipping, ports, trade, fisheries, the ship-repair and marine equipment industries, research, employment, environment, relations with third countries and so on. It also covers offshore energy, maritime and coastal tourism, aquaculture, submarine telecommunications and blue biotechnology, and brings them together to be treated as an integrated whole.
It looks at the sustainability of our oceans as the basis for all our maritime activities. It looks at the oceans as the world's climate regulator. And it takes account of the need to continue building Europe's competitiveness in a global context. This integrated approach to policy-making recognises that we can no longer continue to manage the seas and oceans along purely sectoral lines. Time and time again, we have seen how activity in one sector has a bearing on another.
A few months after the endorsement of this policy, there are already a number of results to speak of. The European Commission, for example, has adopted a strategic Communication on Ports and another on Sustainable and Competitive European Tourism. With the aim of better regulating maritime transport, we have also opened consultations on a European Maritime Transport Space without barriers.
We are also promoting maritime clusters by bringing together not only different enterprises, but also different sectors and different stakeholders in the European maritime industries, to develop synergies between their activities. Clusters have already demonstrated their ability to improve quality and standards for European maritime products and services, as well as to boost the sustainability and employment opportunities of the maritime economy overall. Training and certification are in fact high on our list of priorities in order to ensure a constant flow of highly competent personnel to the maritime industries.
This is not all, however. We are also looking at celebrating the maritime sector and all that Europe's rich maritime heritage has to offer. This has led to the designation of the 20th of May, as from this year, as the European Maritime Day. Europe's coastal regions and islands are a store of history and culture in their own right, and the Commission is keen to promote their visibility. Europe's maritime identity is an integral part of this policy. It has been felt necessary, therefore, to develop links with ports and port cities, tourism entities, maritime heritage organisations, museums and aquaria.
There are also a number of very sensitive issues where the EU can be more effective in international discussions when it operates with full coherency. The issue of ship dismantling is one such example. The use of EU certification schemes for ship recycling is already under scrutiny by the European Maritime Safety Agency. This is a good example of the benefits of co-ordinating action to involve our partners whilst factoring in different EU policies. The intention is to provide a solution that takes into account the interests of the shipping industry, dismantling operators and host countries whilst simultaneously also benefiting the environment.
By the same logic, linking scientific, research and technological initiatives in an integrated and targeted research strategy that connects with day-to-day business is an essential foundation for a sound approach to maritime policy and sustainable maritime development.
The ever more-sophisticated use of information technology, and of navigation and telecommunication technologies requires adaptation and training, so as to continue offering prospects for productivity and new jobs. The Commission would like to see better co-ordination between coastal EU Member States of their activities in the field of fisheries, customs and border control, pollution response, maritime safety and security, vessel traffic management, accident and disaster response, search and rescue, and law enforcement. This could avoid much of the current duplication of effort.
You are all familiar with Europe's increasing reliance on oceans, seas and ports for its energy - be it through oil and gas tankers, undersea pipelines and electricity inter-connectors, or through the development of offshore energy technology and resources, both in terms of fossil fuels and of renewables. We believe that the integrated approach of our new policy will facilitate investment in marine-based energy infrastructures and resources.
When talking of an Integrated Maritime Policy, it is also vital to take the international dimension into consideration.
The Mediterranean has long been of great importance to Europe. Within the Integrated Maritime Policy, we see a key role for the countries surrounding the Mediterranean – after all they are the ones who know its opportunities and constraints best – to develop an integrated approach for this basin. I have already seen evidence of this beginning to take shape. Earlier this month, for example, I addressed the first-ever Euro-Med Ministerial Conference on Tourism in Fez, where ministers from 39 partner countries came together in a bid to encourage collaboration across the Mediterranean and to maximise synergies with other sectors while ensuring respect for the natural environment.
However, our external priorities are not just restricted to regions bordering the European Union. Our policy also includes the protection of global marine biodiversity, improvement of maritime safety and security, access to international markets for Europe's maritime industries and services, the sustainable scientific and commercial exploitation of the deep seas and reductions in ship-borne pollution.
Having said this, where do Europe's engineers feature in all of this?
Well, you do not need me to tell you that increased environmental awareness will mean nothing unless engineers create cleaner engines and methods of recycling ballast water. It will mean nothing if we do not employ biodegradable material on board ships and on off-shore platforms. Your own commercial expertise will also tell you that not only can businesses reap benefits from adopting eco-innovations, but also that businesses that develop successful eco-innovations will be well placed to derive the benefits that lucrative, new world markets can generate.
The policy's encouragement for short-sea shipping will produce results only if engineers develop suitable high-speed vessels and help open up ports and logistics centres around Europe's coasts and islands. The growth of container transport also presents additional challenges for ports and coastal areas. As a step towards coherent reflection, we have recently produced a communication on creating a framework that will allow a port to attract investment and promote synergies with its own city.
Realising the potential of the fast-growing sector of maritime tourism - both recreational boating and cruise shipping – also depends on the supply of suitable vessels and on the support and maintenance infrastructure in ports and marinas. More than that, it depends, as well, on finding the right balance between existing and new demands on coastal land use. Engineers are needed for all of this particularly if we are to ensure that Europe's ship-yards maintain their international leadership in both cruise ship and in recreational boat building and repair.
Energy is yet another of the areas demanding high-quality undersea technologies and engineering skills, for creating and maintaining undersea connections and for offshore resources. Europe's skills in submarine engineering will also be increasingly needed for developing undersea telecommunications, blue biotech and research into, and protection of, the marine environment. As climate change accentuates the vulnerability of some coastal areas and islands to erosion and flooding, Europe's specialised expertise in coastal defences will also be valuable both at home and abroad.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
This policy has, since its inception, depended heavily on input from stakeholders for its formulation. Likewise, its successful implementation is largely dependent on their participation and involvement. You represent key stakeholders of a key maritime economy in a key strategic location for Europe.
I look forward to working with you on the many aspects of this task.
And I wish you every success for your conference.