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European Commission

Maria Damanaki

European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries

Opening speech

Debate on "Adriatic-Ionian Macroregion: Transnational, Crossborders and Interregional actions paving the way ahead"/Brussels

10 October 2012

Dear President Chiodi, Ambassador, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a true pleasure for me to meet so many partners from the Adriatic and Ionian Region. I thank the Abruzzo Region for bringing us together today.

We need events like this one to bring our cooperation forward. We need the active participation of all levels of governance to make this cooperation as concrete and relevant as possible.

The Adriatic and the Ionian Seas are a major maritime and marine area in Europe, with precious ideas, experience and know-how.

It is precisely this know-how that we want to build upon with a maritime strategy, to pinpoint the opportunities for growth and jobs that are specific to these two Seas.

Two days ago, in the Cypriot city of Limassol, the EU Member States and the Commission adopted a Declaration which gives new impetus to our prosperity project; opens a new step for an effective maritime policy and upholds the "Europe 2020" strategy for growth.

In this Declaration, we all support the development and implementation of integrated sea-basin and macro-regional strategies as important platforms to drive sustainable growth in coastal regions.

EU Sea-basins are strategic gateways from and into the Internal Market; they are crucial to the development and implementation of the Integrated Maritime Policy.

The Adriatic-Ionian Sea basin makes no exception.

This is why in Ancona, in February 2011, I proposed to work on a dedicated stategy for these maritime regions.

This was the starting point. Since then, we have had extensive discussions with the Adriatic and Ionian authorities. We have received valuable inputs from all stakeholders, notably during the workshops held this year in Athens, Trieste and Portoroz. And I'd like to thank again Greece, Italy and Slovenia for their strong commitment in organizing these events.

On the basis of these contributions we are now ready for the next step: the Commission's proposal for the Strategy, due next month.

Let us give a closer look at the priorities that have emerged until now. Together, the Adriatic and Ionian countries have come up with four main pillars of cooperation.

Firstly, the Blue Economy:

Due to their position both on the East-West and the North-South axis of Europe, the two Seas are an important transport route; there are many countries and towns around the basin, all relatively close to each other by sea; so the potential to develop Short-Sea Shipping is strong.

To promote connectivity and a truly international role for Adriatic and Ionian ports, we need inter-modality; we need public-private partnerships; we need to cut red tape. We also need improve the connectivity of each island.

In the field of tourism, there is room for more innovative marketing strategies and products; we can develop tourism, but need to limit its environmental footprint, promote sustainable cruise tourism, and improve the value and perception of the region's cultural heritage.

Secondly, the protection of the marine environment:

Let me give you one example: currents carry litter from country to country; and litter damages small crafts, threatens marine life and poses aesthetic problems; According to a recent study by the University of Patras, over an area of 20 square kilometres, over three thousand items of marine litter can be collected. We have to join forces and tackle marine litter, but also climate change or water stress, more efficiently. The key here is to ensure that all countries sharing the same sea apply similar standards and preventive measures.

The third pillar is a safer and more secure maritime space:

The Ionian is one of the more seismic areas in the world. Yet, no international cooperation is in place to respond to a potential tsunami.

The Adriatic Sea is enclosed and transport-intensive and the number of ships carrying oil and fuel is increasing which implies a significant risk of accidents and of environmental damage.

But the ADRIREP system which was created ten years ago to monitor the maritime traffic flows is now outdated. The region's coastal states should get together, develop a solid regulatory framework and provide modern solutions that are compatible with the current traffic monitoring systems.

For all the main hazards of the region, we must develop scenarios, carry out risk assessments and identify gaps in order to prevent disasters and in any case organise a rapid and effective response.

Finally, sustainable and responsible fisheries:

There are many possible actions here, all in line with our imminent reform of the common policy: from switching to a more sustainable management of fisheries to ensuring the industry's profitability and ownership by stakeholders; we must also ensure compliance, improve data collection and develop scientific cooperation so as to respond to the needs of the fisheries and aquaculture sectors in an adequate way.

The Communication we are issuing next month is just the beginning. We will then move next year on to an Action Plan which will include priority areas, actions and projects recommended for support.

There will be no new funding, this you all know, but smarter management and synergies of existing funding opportunities.

We are now in the final phase of negotiation for the new financial framework of the EU; so if you want to tap intelligently into the opportunities, we need to accomplish our work quickly.

President Chiodi, Ambassador, ladies and gentlemen,

The fact that we share this basin with non-EU countries should not stop us. On the contrary, this is the true advantage of a regional strategy: it enables all levels and all countries to work together and on equal footing.

There is no doubt that building a macro-regional Strategy from scratch is a demanding task. But we have to start somewhere, and a maritime strategy for the Adriatic and Ionian will set the right pace until we can move on to a new – more mature – phase.

Today's meeting will mark a further step in this direction. The Commission and I look forward to the next ones.

Thank you.

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