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SPEECH/08/3












Joe Borg

Member of the European Commission Responsible for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs




"An Ocean of Opportunity"






















European Policy Centre Breakfast Policy Briefing
Brussels, 10 January 2008

Ladies and gentlemen,

Good morning to you all. It is an honour and a pleasure to be here at one of the EPC's renowned policy breakfasts. In our Brussels world of tireless to-ing and fro-ing, it is a good and necessary thing to take time out, to sit back and reflect beyond the urgencies of the day. This is what we are doing here. So, I would like to invite you to consider a vital and emotional subject this morning: Europe and its oceans and seas.

But before I do so, as well-informed EU insiders, allow me to first ask you a question. To judge from the press, the pundits seem to agree that the December European Council meeting in Brussels was merely a routine event, almost completely overshadowed by the signature of the Reform Treaty the day before in Lisbon. Do you agree?

In many ways, it is difficult not to. But for me, there was at least one very significant outcome. In their conclusions, the EU Heads of State and Government welcomed the Commission's proposals for an Integrated European Maritime Policy and mandated future Presidencies and the Commission to establish this new policy according to the Commission's Action Plan.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

14 December saw the birth of a new integrated maritime policy, and the European Council conclusions are its birth certificate.

Why is that relevant, and why is it good news?

Europe has a longstanding and rich relationship with the seas and oceans that surround it. Its citizens have traversed vast ocean spaces in search of new opportunities, profiting from fair winds to ply their trade, and, when the going was tough, pitting all their ingenuity and resourcefulness against the elements to save their lives and make their fortunes. In the process they have contributed a strong and vibrant maritime dimension to Europe's heritage. Europeans have been pioneers in the use of the potential of the sea, and sadly also, in the unsustainable overexploitation of some of our resources.

Today, there is hardly a European that does not, in some way or another, have a stake in our oceans and seas.

Almost 90% of the EU’s external trade and over 40% of its internal trade is carried by sea, 90% of Europe's oil imports arrive by sea, and the maritime sector alone employs some 5 million people. Nor is this activity limited to Europe's coasts; the marine equipment industry in Austria, for example, employs 7,000 people. We not only derive many of our jobs and our prosperity from the myriad maritime activities that now exist, but most Europeans depend on these activities literally for the food on their table – including, I might add, for this very breakfast.

Yet our maritime environment is not solely the concern of sailors, fishermen, industrialists or seaside hotel-owners. It also plays a vital role in regulating our climate and in mitigating many of the mounting risks from global warming. We know that it can also hold the solution to many of our current energy concerns, with the potential it offers to provide cheap and plentiful renewable sources of energy.

In short, no Lisbon Strategy, no Gothenburg Strategy, no climate change and energy policy, no European Neighbourhood Policy nor even the ESDP can be complete without a distinct maritime dimension.

Over the next few minutes, I hope to outline our new approach to Europe's seas, and to show you how vital it is if we are to tap the full potential of our oceans whilst ensuring their healthy status. I also hope to show you just how far our work has progressed in the past few months and to give you some insight as to the principles that will guide our actions in the future.

Europe is experiencing rapid growth in a number of sectors including maritime transport, where cruise shipping is growing at 11% per annum and container movement is likely to treble by 2020. Tourism already has a sizeable annual turnover which is still growing, while a staggering 90% of world investment in offshore renewable energy is European. Europe's shipbuilding industry is also the largest in the world.

Yet these are all fields that compete for the same resources, meaning that our coastlines risk becoming more congested, with more pressure on the marine environment. While growth and development are to be welcomed, it is urgent that we provide ourselves with the right policy tools to ensure that this development occurs sustainably.

It will also occur in a context of climate change. Coastal areas and islands are particularly vulnerable to erosion, more frequent and fiercer storms and other such phenomena. Finding new, renewable sources of energy through better research and innovation while, at the same time, staving off competition from different corners of the globe is clearly a multi-faceted challenge that cannot be addressed by simply dealing with one issue at a time.

In addressing these challenges, the first step we took was a long and detailed public consultation. We knew that anything we did would be unworkable unless it addressed the real needs of stakeholders. Building on the rich and varied input that we received during that phase, the Commission proposed last October an "Integrated Maritime Policy for the European Union" together with an Action Plan. This is our blueprint, if you like, towards achieving the Union's twin objectives of promoting growth and jobs whilst simultaneously ensuring the health of the marine resource base.

This blueprint does two things. It changes the way we look and take decisions, so that we approach all maritime affairs in a holistic and integrated way; and it sets out a detailed programme of work that needs to be undertaken if we are to meet our objectives.

The call for an integrated approach to decision- and policy-making radically changes the way we make sea-related policy. Together with our partners we are taking steps to ensure that, instead of applying a narrow sectoral approach we begin to understand and factor in all the complex interrelationships that we know exist between different maritime policies and activities.

To give a few examples, you cannot look at ports as links in the logistic chain without thinking of their role as urban centres, fishing hubs, tourism destinations, or their effect on the natural environment.

You can't look at shipping or sea-based energy extraction without looking at their employment contribution, what their environmental impact can be, and what knock-on effects these can have on other sectors. Not fully understanding the way the climate is changing could result in less predictability for investment decisions, leading to more expensive insurance premia or even more damaging and thus costly accidents.

You can't have vibrant coastal tourism if the sea is dirty, if the coasts are thick with oil or if aquaculture is not carefully planned for.

You can't manage fisheries without looking carefully at the social effects of various measures; without understanding what climate change may be doing to species distribution; without having a clear understanding of the impact on ecosystems; without ensuring that fishing grounds are not taken over for other activities.

Once you look at it this way, the need for an integrated approach to maritime affairs seems fairly obvious. It is clearly an idea whose time has come. This was the subject of almost universal consensus among stakeholders during the consultation.

The European Parliament, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions all made their commitment to this approach clear from the very outset and certainly by July. Industry, NGOs, academia and countless other interest groups also gave their blessing both during and after the consultation phase. And as we have seen, Member States gave the Commission a strong mandate to proceed at last December's European Council.

The Action Plan puts together in a coherent framework the main maritime-related work that needs to be done into the medium term; work that will need to be delivered using the integrated approach.

Although it is very early days, the Commission has already begun to deliver on this Action Plan. It has delivered:

  • a Communication on Ports - which suggests a framework for ports to attract investments and promote synergies with port cities; and
  • another on sustainable and competitive European tourism which looks at all the factors that contribute to offering top-quality tourism.
  • We have started a reassessment of the exclusion of the maritime sector from EU labour law;
  • issued a proposal for a European Maritime Day to be celebrated on the 20th of May each year;
  • and adopted a staff working document on Maritime Clusters.
  • We have made far-reaching proposals to ban destructive fishing practices and stamp out illegal fishing, a form of organised crime carried out on a massive scale.
  • We have opened consultations on a European Maritime Transport Space without barriers, and on the Motorways of the Sea, in preparation for a substantial review this year.
  • We have also looked at the scope for synergy between the maritime policy and Europe's energy policy, while work is also in hand to create an enabling legal framework for carbon capture and storage.

All these actions are embraced by the Marine Strategy Framework Directive which provides the environmental pillar of the policy and the means by which the sustainability component shall be guaranteed.

Where do we go from here? Needless to say, any maritime policy for the Union is bound to be a work in progress and as it unfolds, there are four elements that shall underpin our efforts.

The first of these is that the integrated approach will remain at the heart of what we do. As experienced observers of EU policy, you will have seen that the Integrated Maritime Policy includes many policy areas that have never been a perfect fit.

Through our integrated approach we hope to enhance our ability to address these contradictions from the very outset. We will do this through longer-term planning, better understanding of broader implications and interactions, and improved co-operation between actors not so far used to working closely together. Common tools that we will develop such as improved surveillance, spatial planning, and data collection and management will also contribute to integrated maritime policy-making.

We will also need to apply the integrated approach to maritime governance. Naturally this will undoubtedly include measures on the level of the Commission, but in order to make the policy happen, the integrated approach must also be anchored at all levels of governance: local and regional, national and European. Member States will therefore need to draw up their own national integrated maritime policies for which the Commission will, this year, propose a set of guidelines, organise a relevant stakeholder consultation structure and from 2009 on, report annually on EU and Member States' actions.

Secondly, I would like to signal that we are moving towards a regional implementation of the policy. Staff within the Directorate-General for which I am currently responsible shall be re-deployed to focus on the main maritime regions of the Union for all our work. Dealing with individual regions will allow us to translate general principles into detailed programmes that are tailored to the different realities that exist along our shores. Whenever necessary, we will also aim at bringing our main non-EU partners on board through the European Neighbourhood Policy, the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership and other existing fora.

Third, we will continue to ensure extensive stakeholder participation. The policy has, since its inception, depended heavily on input from stakeholders. Likewise, its successful implementation is clearly almost entirely dependant on the participation of stakeholders and their ownership of the project.

This is what I would call active subsidiarity. While on the one hand, the Commission fully intends to play its part in realising the maritime policy, we rely on Member States, regional authorities and others to carry the process forward successfully. We will help this happen through, for instance, establishing networks of best practice, promoting collective learning, or devising guidelines for the development of national integrated maritime policies.

Finally, I wish to highlight the significance of raising public awareness of the maritime sector and of the merits of an integrated approach. Our proposal for an annual maritime day is just one example of this: it is a response to the widespread desire among stakeholders to celebrate Europe's maritime heritage and future and to throw a spotlight on its maritime activities. The aim of the European Maritime Day will be to highlight the entire web of relationships that bind together maritime and marine-related issues and activities in Europe with a view to sharing and generalising best practices.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Union now has two years to make progress before the Commission reports back to the European Council at the end of 2009.

I am excited at the prospect of what lies ahead. Navigating this ocean of opportunity before us, calls for a joint venture and not a solo expedition. Like any endeavour, it will require clear thinking, close co-ordination and effective implementation. But above all, it will require the combined efforts of us all.

I look forward to working with you to achieve all this.


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