Member of the Commission Responsible for Fisheries and Maritime
Meeting of the Political Bureau of the CPMR Atlantic Arc
Distinguished Bureau Members, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am delighted to be in Lower Normandy today. I am especially pleased to be visiting this beautiful region at a time when Lower Normandy is taking over the presidency of the Atlantic Arc Commission of the Conference of Maritime Peripheral Regions.
Meeting Lower Normandy's major maritime and fisheries stakeholders will be an enriching experience for me. I am much looking forward to the busy programme ahead which will involve exchanging ideas with members of your regional and local institutions, research community, fishermen and industry representatives.
The Atlantic Arc Commission is a crucial partner in the development of Atlantic sea-basin communities. It is also a welcome partner on our voyage towards a fully-fledged European Integrated Maritime Policy. I am particularly encouraged by the efforts deployed by the CPMR and its members to put the Integrated Maritime Policy into practice. We will be counting on your support for the organisation of a seminar on maritime projects by Atlantic partners in the context of INTERREG, which will ideally take place this year. Such an event will enable us to carry out further stock-taking and to fully align the Integrated Maritime Policy with the needs of Atlantic communities and stakeholders.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The Commission is committed to working on the Atlantic as a region, in the belief that each sea basin has features specific to it as well as characteristics which are shared with others.
There is an excellent recent publication entitled "Channel Spaces, a World within Europe" which clearly depicts this dual reality. It describes common, yet also specific, attributes of the British and French neighbouring sea basins in the Channel – attributes which at first sight might have been less than evident. This newly-gained insight affords us a new means by which to map the huge level of interaction taking place in the Channel and which, in turn, can help to stimulate maritime co-operation even further.
This is precisely the type of initiative we would like to foster and support, particularly as we develop the somewhat new concept of territorial cohesion.
In this context, I would like to say that we fully share CPMR's opinion that territorial cohesion has both a terrestrial and a maritime dimension and that the two dimensions go hand in hand. In my view, sea basin strategies that tie into the Integrated Maritime Policy can become an integral part of any territorial cohesion policy.
Before going any further, I would like to give you a brief overview of the latest developments in our Integrated Maritime Policy. A year has now passed since the Blue Paper was adopted and I am pleased to say that many developments have been underway.
I think that possibly the most important achievement has been the change in people's perceptions regarding the policy itself.
Not only have we managed to make people – policy-makers, users and the general public alike – more conscious of the over-riding European dimension to the ocean and seas, we have also come a long way to making this awareness more tangible and more likely to have an impact on people's daily lives. One way has been by bringing about the adoption of specific sea-basin strategies.
I believe that this approach is the best way of taking into account the specificities of each particular maritime community. It will help build on the growing momentum and groundswell of support behind our Integrated Maritime Policy and allow it to become still more effective and attractive. The Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region, ably set in motion by my colleague Commissioner Hubner, is a good example of how this can be done.
Other significant developments are also worth mentioning.
Above all I would draw your attention to the first set of implementation actions, focusing on three distinct policy strands, namely: maritime spatial planning, integrated maritime surveillance and marine knowledge.
All three strands constitute clear examples of areas where policy direction has charted a steady course and where specific initiatives have already taken place. For instance, a roadmap on spatial planning has been published and a pilot project on maritime surveillance initiated, with concrete proposals from Member States to kick-off in mid-April. Insofar as marine knowledge is concerned, the European Marine Observation and Data NETwork (also known as EMODNET), has already reached an advanced stage in terms of preparation, with the aim of increasing our capacities in this particular area.
This brings me to excellence in research, which lies at the heart of the Integrated Maritime Policy. Research has received a further boost with the adoption of the first ever European Marine and Maritime Research Strategy, designed to foster integration and synergies across research disciplines. It is no coincidence that last December, the EU competitiveness ministers highlighted the Strategy's capacity also to generate knowledge-based skills, create new jobs and open up new markets.
The Atlantic Arc Commission has made research and innovation to improve competitiveness another of its priorities. I would urge you to make use of the funding and governance structures under this Strategy to further your aims.
The Commission also has a number of studies in the pipeline. These will examine a range of topics, including the effects of climate change on coastal communities, the legislation applied to maritime surveillance in Member States and maritime clusters.
Clustering, like research, is crucial to the competitiveness of a region, both in its coastal areas and beyond. Moreover, enhanced cross-border co-operation among maritime clusters through dialogue and the exchange of best practice can contribute to the economic potential of the Atlantic region and have indirect effects for the whole of the EU. The Green Atlantic for Sustainable Development consortium is a fine example of partners working together across borders to create a platform of expertise and action on maritime and environmental safety issues. This is precisely the kind of bottom up initiative we applaud.
I am confident that we now have the momentum needed to proceed further along our Integrated Maritime Policy road. We have a similar momentum for change in another area which falls directly within my responsibility – the Common Fisheries Policy. Indeed, the CFP has a crucial role to play in achieving the core objectives of the Integrated Maritime Policy.
In the case of the Common Fisheries Policy, we are faced with a very fine balance between achieving a sustainable future for the fishing industry on the basis of a healthy marine environment and the current situation of excess capacity and over-fishing of many of the stocks in European waters. Although we have had a number of successes along the way, a number of issues that have to do with sustainability, or better still, the lack of it, persist. While serious in itself, this has additional repercussions on the economy, on employment levels and on the welfare of many coastal communities who depend, often entirely, on their fishing industry.
Fully aware of this, we are preparing a reform of the Common Fisheries Policy as a follow-up to the initial reform of the policy that took place in 2002.
There are many aspects of the current policy that require our attention. These may be structural or social in nature. And, as if this were not enough, they have been further exacerbated by the fuel crisis and economic downturn that have shaken us all in recent months. All these factors together have demonstrated that there is much that needs to be done to establish profitability levels that can sustain the fishing industry over the long term.
Structural changes will thus be inevitable to ensure that, once the storm has passed, the industry is in a position to enjoy long-term sustainability.
At present there are still too many fishing vessels competing to catch too few fish. We also have to stop overfishing and discarding the fish on which the future of the fishery depends. We have to restore the productivity of our oceans and seas. This is not just an ecological imperative. The long-term economic interests of the fishing sector, and of coastal communities, demand it.
This will require genuine, fundamental reform, which is why we are launching the 2012 reform process now. The upcoming Green Paper is designed to trigger a wide-ranging debate amongst the broadest possible constituency on all aspects of the reform. The debate should leave no stone unturned – nor should it exclude anyone or any idea. By launching such a broad reform process at this early stage, we are seeking the chance to come-up with bold solutions to transform the way we manage our fisheries over the longer term.
I believe, however, that there are a number of broad aims upon which we can agree and which should govern our long-term approach to fisheries management:
I have no doubt that on all these issues the CPMR and its members will, as always, provide us with frank and constructive input. Together we can fashion a policy fit for the 21st century - a policy which will help the sector to be profitable and to deliver healthy and safe seafood to Europe's consumers from a strong and sustainable marine environment.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Our sights are firmly set on the future. I have just returned from a stakeholder conference in Rostock on the Baltic Sea Strategy. Information-sharing and co-operation there are at an advanced stage and have put the region in a good position to embrace integrated solutions to the challenges it faces on maritime and fisheries issues alike.
Of course, the Atlantic region has different needs and priorities. But the progress in the Baltic Sea could still be seen as an example that the Atlantic basn could look into. My visit here has also shown me that there are many areas in which others can learn from you. You have recognised and begun harnessing the potential for real integration across sectors in this region. The challenge now is to step up a gear – and I am sure that you will do so without any hesitation.
You can count on my full support for your endeavours to this end. I truly believe that this is the way forward to achieve a healthy marine environment able to support the activities of our many maritime industries.