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Member of the European Commission
Responsible for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs
"Working together to care for our coasts and seas"
General Assembly of the CPMR North Sea Commission
Haarlem, the Netherlands, 25 June 2009
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is always a pleasure to be invited to address a gathering of the CPMR, and in particular this General Assembly of the North Sea Commission. The CPMR has consistently contributed towards shaping the European Union's Integrated Maritime Policy. More than that, it has already put that policy into practice. The work of the North Sea Commission is a very good example of this.
There is hardly a more fitting setting than the North Holland province in which to discuss coastal and maritime affairs. North Holland is surrounded by bodies of water – including, to its east, the Ijsselmeer freshwater lake, formed in 1932 through an impressive feat of engineering, with the construction of the Afsluitdijk (pr. uff-sleut-dike) dam.
Thus, with their fellow coastal regions, North Holland and its stakeholders share a unique insight and know-how, and are ideally placed to contribute to integrated policy-making at regional and national level alike. This is vital if we are to effectively tackle the challenges facing the North Sea region.
Europe's coastal regions are home to nearly 50% of Europe's population and account for over 40% of its gross domestic product. I need not convince you of their huge importance to European tourism, shipping and trade.
Coastal regions also present enormous biodiversity and contribute much to the wellbeing of coastal communities, for instance in terms of fisheries resources and renewable energies. Their wetlands and dunes provide a natural buffer against the increased risks of flooding and erosion.
This is all the more important as we grapple with the common challenge of climate change. Our Dutch hosts know better than anyone the potential impact of rising sea levels, acidification, coastal erosion and extreme weather events on coastal communities and their economic activities.
It is in coastal areas around Europe, and North Holland in particular, that the need for coherent and integrated governance of our maritime policy is most striking. Such good governance, on land and sea, is the central aim of the EU's Integrated Maritime Policy and the tools used to implement it, such as integrated coastal zone management and maritime spatial planning.
We need to incorporate climate change into investment decisions and planning as of now. To this end, the Commission adopted a Communication on adaptation to climate change in January. And my Services have recently finalised some work on the costs of adaptation to climate change in coastal regions.
But we can do more.
Planning for the future still meets with obstacles in coastal zones where there are multiple claimants for space and resources. Risks, including climate change, cannot be addressed only from a coastal engineering perspective. Stimulating risk awareness and public debate about responsibilities and about risk- and burden-sharing should also be components of the policy mix.
A number of EU-wide instruments which can help with this includes:
Coherent and integrated governance, planning and climate change mitigation are just some issues which integrated coastal zone management shares with maritime spatial planning.
The basic premise here is simple: to promote a rational use of Europe's maritime spaces while balancing the different sectoral interests at play when planning future economic activities.
Fortunately , thanks to the 2002 North Sea Ministers Conference, the North Sea region has understood the need for spatial planning and co-operation for some time now. Member States such as the Netherlands and Germany have hands-on experience with maritime spatial planning, which is also an important feature of the work undertaken by OSPAR.
Maritime spatial planning provides us with a catalyst for improved decision-making, for arbitration between the needs of different sectors and for making the best possible use of seas and coastal areas from economic, environmental and socio-cultural standpoints alike. It is also all but indispensable in providing for the meaningful implementation of some EU policy instruments and legislation.
The Marine Strategy Framework Directive is a case in point. This Directive requires that Member States take measures to achieve or maintain good environmental status in the marine environment by 2020. It also requires cross-border co-operation between Member States sharing the same marine basin. With this in mind, it suggests a number of means of achieving that status, including spatial controls to determine where and when an activity is allowed to occur.
I believe that there is clear added value to be gained here through a commitment by the Commission to encourage and facilitate the development of this essential tool in the Member States. A common European approach is therefore of great value and importance.
As a first step in this direction, the Commission adopted a roadmap on maritime spatial planning in November last year, marking the start of a debate with Member States and stakeholders. The wealth of feedback and the reactions which we have already received reveal a remarkable interest in this issue.
This year the Commission will also launch projects aimed at developing cross-border co-operation aspects. One such project is likely to be in the North Sea.
The outcome of the debate and the projects will feed into a progress report we will produce early next year. That document will sum up the reactions from Member States and stakeholders and present the policy options for the next steps to be taken.
I am happy to see that in most North Sea countries and regions Integrated Maritime Policy instruments reflecting the development of an integrated policy at EU level have been adopted, signalling a clear recognition of the need to make use of marine resources in a sustainable and responsible manner.
And yet, of course, our work also extends beyond coastal areas, to seas and sea basins. With the adoption of an Integrated Maritime Policy for the European Union, and the accompanying Action Plan – in whose follow-up your Aquamarina working groups have played a key role – the Commission has embarked upon a more coherent approach to all sea-related EU policies.
This has resulted in an impressive array of policy initiatives, including the third maritime safety package, a communication on offshore wind energy, and a maritime transport strategy supporting the development of a competitive shipping sector. In addition to this, we are developing new cross-sectoral policy tools or instruments. Besides maritime spatial planning, which I mentioned earlier, we are also making progress towards integrated maritime surveillance to enhance safety, security, environmental monitoring and law enforcement on the seas. And we are working on a longer-term project to improve marine data collection and knowledge. A greater understanding of our oceans will have many positive results, not least in helping combat climate change. Moreover, more sharing and networking among government, research and private bodies holding marine data would give all concerned a stronger basis for research, policy and innovation.
Our focus on specific sea-basin strategies under the IMP is a welcome development.
As Europe's sea basins are very different, they require customised approaches to the overall logic of integrating maritime matters. A first step in that direction was our Communication on the Arctic. We now have a Baltic Sea Strategy, adopted only recently on the 10th of June. And very soon we expect to issue a Communication on the Integrated Maritime Policy in the Mediterranean.
In this context, the future development of a North Sea strategy is surely worth considering.
I firmly believe that the sea basins are where the EU Integrated Maritime Policy can demonstrate its full potential: creating significant growth and jobs whilst simultaneously triggering profound improvements in environmental sustainability. It is in this context that the maritime dimension of any territorial cohesion policy that we may develop for the future becomes clear.
Europe is not solely a terrestrial entity but a maritime one too. I welcome the support from the European Parliament and the Committee of the Regions on this and hope that the maritime dimension will be more prominent in any future initiative on territorial co-operation. The debate I will have with the CPMR in the Azores on 6 July will be very useful in this regard. I urge you, the North Sea Region, also to gather support for it from your regional and local representatives.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I could not conclude my address to such a distinguished audience without referring to our EU-wide debate on reforming the Common Fisheries Policy. You know as well as I do that, despite steady progress towards making fishing activities sustainable in environmental, economic and social terms since the 2002 CFP reform, we still have quite a long way to go before we can truly say that we have achieved sustainable fisheries.
Comprehensive reform is needed not just because the rules say so, but because the situation for European fisheries is serious. So serious that ad hoc solutions simply will not do. Our goal must remain a healthy and sustainable marine environment capable of generating wealth for our fishing industry and nutritious food for our citizens. For this we need to analyse what the obstacles are and do what we must to remedy the situation.
As I have said many times before on various occasions: at this stage, all options are open.
Yet there are several broad reform aims which I believe enjoy widespread consensus. For instance, the CFP should turn away from short-term compromises which tend to jeopardise the ecological sustainability without which we cannot hope to deliver economic and social sustainability. We need a decision-making and management process which is cost-efficient, effective, simple and easy to administer, and much closer to the people most immediately affected. It is after all pivotal in the success of any reform that the industry subscribes to the need for reform and to the objectives of the future policy.
We must tackle overfishing, overcapacity and heavy dependence on subsidies and explore alternatives that create built-in mechanisms to ensure the balance between the fleet and available resources. More market-oriented instruments such as transferable rights may help bring about the needed changes, paving the way for an economically self-reliant fishing fleet which can become less and less dependent on public financial intervention. Alongside such approaches, we should, however, have policies that avoid the excessive concentration of ownership or negative effects on smaller-scale fisheries and coastal communities.
All of these issues remain to be discussed and fine-tuned. However, one thing is certain as of now: we cannot continue dealing with fisheries in isolation. The future CFP needs to recognise that the fisheries sector closely interacts with other maritime activities. In particular, the CFP must play its role in the ecosystem approach to marine management introduced via the Integrated Maritime Policy's environmental pillar, the Marine Strategy Framework Directive.
The Green Paper also explores the role that the CFP, in synergy with the Integrated Maritime Policy, should play in strengthening global fisheries governance. The EU fishing fleets are active throughout the world's oceans. This confers upon the EU both the opportunity and the duty to make a major contribution to the work of the international fora involved in fisheries management on the high seas and to help the developing countries with which it has bilateral fisheries agreements to achieve sustainable fisheries in their waters.
The Green Paper has raised a lot of expectations. It is now up to all of us to maintain the momentum for change.
That is why I would encourage you here and now to take an active part in the debate on the future of the CFP. If your commitment to the Integrated Maritime Policy and its development is anything to go by, then I feel confident that you will also contribute to the CFP reform debate with enthusiasm.