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Maria Damanaki

European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries

The EU and Norway: addressing Arctic and maritime challenges

Seminar High North

Oslo, 17 October 2011

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am very pleased to be today here in Oslo to speak about the cooperation between the European Union and Norway concerning Maritime and Arctic Policy.

I would like to thank the Norwegian Shipowners' Association for organising this event- and for their hospitality.

Coming from a sea-faring nation myself, I am very well aware of the key role of the shipping community.

Moreover, I have very strong, positive views about the maritime domain, in general.

Maritime activities have a huge economic potential. Through them, we can seek better opportunities, and we can achieve prosperity and growth.

Moreover, maritime policy also offers a great potential of cooperation with others.

By pursuing a policy of 'open horizons' in the seas and oceans you can interact with, and you can have a better understanding of, other nations, peoples, and cultures. As well as their needs and interests.

This is essential in the globalised world we live in.

Norway is a very important partner of the European Union.

We have excellent relations in the political field.

And we have also very promising relations in the maritime policy area.

Let me give you just two examples.

First, on integrated maritime surveillance. As 90% of Europe's external trade is carried out at sea, and its fishing fleet is more than 84000 vessels, increased effectiveness and cost efficiency are vital for supporting sound economic growth. The development of integrated maritime surveillance will contribute to the cohesion of maritime Europe, and in particular it would benefit Europe's peripheral regions. Furthermore, it will allow us to balance the uses of each sea region in a sustainable manner. This is essential for ship traffic and faster reactions to emergencies, for instance. In all this work, Norway has been an invaluable partner and its contributions and exchange of experience have been very important.

Second, on research. Norway plays an extremely active role in the research programmes of the European Union. Norway has participated in 26 out of the 57 research projects dealing with fisheries and aquaculture research and technologies for the period 2007-2011. This means that almost half of the projects financed under the Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development (FP7) on fisheries and aquaculture have Norwegian participation. This speaks for itself.

My ambition is to further this excellent cooperation of ours in the maritime policy domain.

Allow me now to move to another issue, where Norway is a driving force and a good partner : the Arctic.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We are told that by the end of 2013 the Arctic Ocean could be entirely ice free and that the ice is decreasing faster than all models predicted. A recent and alarming study from NASA confirms this.

What happens in the Arctic Ocean has consequences for the rest of the world and obviously for the European Union.

In fact we know - from a programme on climate change and marine ecosystems research that the EU funded - that the melting ice in the Arctic has an impact on ocean circulation and migration of sea-life that extends down to the Mediterranean.

Climate change in the Arctic is a call to action for all. We are in this together.

At the same time, we are witnessing an increase of human activity in the Arctic. The big oil and gas companies Exxon and ROSNEFT have recently signed an agreement to undertake joint exploration and development of hydrocarbon resources in the Arctic.

Everything seems to point out that time is running faster in this fragile and unique sea basin.

What’s happening there is our common concern. It is our common responsibility to tackle not only the risks but also the opportunities that are opening, in order to ensure the sustainable development of the Arctic.

The EU plays its role here. We are a constructive and dynamic actor of the Arctic community and we are committed to the policy objectives defined in our Communication on the Arctic of November 2008. There are three objectives:

  • We have to contribute to the preservation of the Arctic with the people of the region.

  • We have to ensure that the emerging industrialization and exploitation of the Arctic resources follow the highest environmental and safety standards and are accessible to all businesses on a level playing field.

  • We have to contribute to enhanced governance in the Arctic by implementing the relevant agreements, frameworks and arrangements.

A first step was to discuss with representatives of non-EU States that have territory in the Arctic. I have visited Moscow and Washington. Now I am here in Oslo. I have been listening carefully to what the representatives in these capitals had to say about the Arctic – about their Arctic territories and about what they thought the EU ought to be doing.

Here in Oslo, I am particularly attentive. Your country is a success story in combining economic interests with ethical considerations and sustainable development. I tell myself that a country that invests the lion's share of its oil riches on improving the everyday lives of Norwegians is an ethical compass that could provide a model for other nations.

Anyway, during my recent trips there was general consensus concerning the first two objectives of our policy – preserving the Arctic and promoting sustainable exploitation. The third objective took more explaining. I was asked what "enhanced governance" means in practice.

I made it absolutely clear and I want to do the same with you today: we have no desire to impose any new structures. The EU fully upholds the existing law of the sea and respects the sovereign rights of the Arctic states. And I will bring this message to every corner of the world if I have to.

For instance, we welcome the agreement that Norway and Russia signed in April 2010, which divided a previously disputed area of the Barents Sea between the two countries and outlined how they would cooperate on hydrocarbons exploitation. This clearly demonstrates that existing law is sufficient and refutes vague suggestions of "security issues" or "potential conflict" in the Arctic.

So what do we mean by "contribute to enhanced governance in the Arctic"?

Simply this: cooperation. We want to ensure that we all go in the same direction, that what we do in the Arctic aligns with what others are doing; and that there is no duplication of efforts. "Teamwork" is needed - and this could be another term to describe what we mean.

We are doing a lot. Up to now the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme for Research, which started in 2007 and ends in 2013, has funded 46 projects or scholarships that are directly related to the Arctic. This comes up to something like 20 million euro a year.

We have projects that study Arctic glaciers, Arctic ecosystems, icebreaker designs and the impact of human activity on its regions.

Now, as part of our effort to take a more integrated approach to the sea, a new project – "Arctic Access" – has started. It will evaluate how climate change in the Arctic over the next twenty years will impact on human activities like marine transportation and tourism, fisheries, marine mammals and the extraction of hydrocarbons. By covering all these activities within one project, the implications across sectors can be taken into account.

The European Space Agency coordinates a joint European effort to build and operate satellites for monitoring snow and ice. The most exciting recent development has been the successful testing of the Cryosat satellite. We have long been able to measure the extent of sea ice, but we now have the means to monitor the thickness.

The next stage is even more exciting. The EU plans to use the Cryosat technology in future Sentinel satellites. This will not only be useful for research but, by delivering measurements quickly, it will also help those who live and work in the Arctic.

Does this research and monitoring correspond to what is needed? This is what our "enhanced governance" means. Better communication and better cooperation. Are we building on what others have done or are we duplicating it? It is a simple matter of efficiency.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It has been said that the EU wants more influence on the Arctic. A better way to put it would be that we want to ensure that what we do in the Arctic is in line with the Arctic needs and the Arctic objectives. We already influence the Arctic through our greenhouse gas emissions, or our imports of fuel and of fish. We already influence the Arctic through European Union laws. As some Arctic states are also EU Members, they need to follow EU rules in matters such as fisheries management, safety of vessels, control of hazardous chemicals, energy conservation, or greenhouse gas emissions.

A more urgent aim is for the Arctic to influence the European Union. As I said, what we do makes a difference to the Arctic. We want more input from those who live and work in the Arctic to avoid any kind of mistakes. Does what we do meet our objectives of preserving the Arctic region? Are resources exploited sustainably? If not, what can we do to change?

The golden rule is to get in early. Understand when a change is in the air, speak to other stakeholders, and make your concerns known. We have begun a structured dialogue. We held a first meeting with indigenous people last year in Brussels, and a second this year in Tromsø.

We encouraged them to look into different funds and cooperation instruments of the EU, such as the INTERREG IV North Sami programme, the Kolarctic cross-border cooperation programme, the Northern Periphery Programme, the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights. You have probably never heard of these programmes. Well, nor had the indigenous people who came to our meetings - even though those programmes were partly set up for their benefit. So you see how important communication is.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me finish by giving you an example of an urgent challenge. The EU is committed to reducing carbon dioxide emissions, and all industrial sectors will be expected to contribute - including shipping or oil and gas exploitation. A Northern route across the summer ice-free Arctic, that cuts the distance between Asia and Europe by a third, is going to be extremely tempting for the shipping sector. In the meantime the offshore exploitation of hydrocarbons will increase in the Arctic region.

I am sure that this northern route will become a crucial issue for you. Will there be a level playing field for ships from all nations? How will this affect the people who live there? How will this affect the environment? What will happen if there is an accident? Cooperation is absolutely necessary.

Later this year we will report on the progress made since our 2008 Communication. This will be the launching pad for a reflection as to what our next steps should be.

You will know that our application to join the Arctic Council as a permanent observer was deferred at the ministerial meeting in Nuuk last May. We have looked at the criteria that were set at that meeting for attaining observer status and we believe that they do not present any obstacles. But before making any decision we wish to discuss the matter more thoroughly with you. You have provided good advice and support in the past. Our objectives are the same.

Your great explorer Roald Amundsen wrote: "Adventure is just bad planning". We should plan carefully together this long and promising journey in the Arctic.

We have a unique chance here: an almost virgin territory, full of opportunities and possibilities. There is no denying that, faced with similar choices in the past, we have behaved irresponsibly. We have looked at our immediate gain and assumed that whatever wounds we inflicted to it, the Earth would heal itself. The Arctic is our chance not to commit the same atrocities, the same mistakes.

The European Union is ready to put all disciplines together in this great effort and to understand your points of view.

We are ready to work together.

Thank you.

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