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European Commission - Speech - [Check Against Delivery]

Conference on Maritime Spatial Planning and Tourism

27 November 2014

Karmenu Vella - Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries

Venice, Conference on Maritime Spatial Planning and Tourism

Ministers, professors, ladies and gentlemen,

Let me start by saying how happy I am to be here in Venice.

Firstly, because Venice always brings back lovely memories to my past visits to this beautiful and vibrant city.

Secondly, because today's discussion is about one of my pet subjects – tourism. A sector for which I was responsible as a previous Minister for Tourism in the country I come from.

We are here for work, but being in Venice, it’s impossible not to feel a bit like a tourist, marvelling at the palazzi, the bridges, the churches, the canals, plus the hustle and bustle of the tourism activity. This city is a magnificent tourist magnet.

And there really couldn’t be a better place for today’s discussion than Venice. This splendid city, with its history and its challenges, basically sums up some objectives of my mandate as European Commissioner:

  1. implementing the new Directive on Maritime Spatial Planning as part of the Blue Growth Agenda;
  2. turning our maritime tourism into a modern, smart and environmentally sound sector;
  3. and boosting the economy of Europe’s maritime regions.


Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to launch the EU Strategy for the Adriatic and Ionian Region; where coastal sustainable tourism was identified as one of the strategy's four pillars.

Apart from being the most resilient sector, tourism is a massive revenue earner as well as a job creator for our young people – especially those between 16 to 35 years old, who make up 45 percent of the industry’s employment. (Greece).

Tourism also has the added advantage that it can produce results quickly, often being the kick-starter to many economies. Not to mention the investment it attracts.

I myself come from an Malta – an island in the centre of the Mediterranean – in fact the smallest Island Member State which is highly dependent on tourism (statistics).

Similar to Malta, there are other numerous coastal communities in Europe with fewother economic alternatives, where tourism is the main and at times the only resource.

I would also like to make a special reference to the Mediterranean which, in spite of its particular problems, is still a sea full of tourism opportunities, hosting more than one third of global tourism – mostly in its coastal and maritime areas.

But the Mediterranean is just an example. Europe is fortunate in having an extensive coast - well over 66,000km long.

For those coastal communities, tourism is by far the biggest economic opportunity. However, not taking advantage of this potential, is like having a big bank account and not using it, or like sitting on a gold reserve without even knowing it!

But tourism is not simply a bed of roses. It has a lot of economic benefits, but also environmental costs. It is an asset that needs to be protected and properly management in order to maximise its benefits and minimise its costs.

In areas that are already densely populated and prone to environmental pressures, badly planned tourism risks depleting natural resources, destroying biodiversity, degrading land and even pollution. And that is why the sustainability of tourism is a priority that should take centre stage in any tourism management and strategic plans.

Cruise sector

But let me now nose-dive into the heart of another aspect of tourism – cruises. The cruise industry is a fast growing industry, which is becoming very much in demand.

Last year, the European cruise industry generated almost 38bn euro with more than 11,000 new jobs – and that's in only one year! And it currently employs over 320,000 people across Europe.

However, the cruising industry is a highly rewarding industry, which can also pose some very serious challenges.

I know that this point is an important item for discussion today, and that the impact of the cruise industry and the presence of cruise ships in the laguna is a highly debated topic.

I think what we need is a proper dialogue - an open, constructive, no-holds-barred debate, addressing issues like berthing congestion at ports or impacts on local communities. A discussion that would hopefully lead to innovative solutions to address the sector’s environmental and other challenges.

The data at hand are that only a few months ago CORILA, the research consortium hosting us today in this magnificent venue, issued a digital Atlas of the Venice lagoon which provides an excellent basis to sound decision- making for this unique habitat.

That said, this conference is a good opportunity for this kind of debate. It is important to listen to both sides of the coin.

This conference is a prelude to the Pan-European Dialogue that we are about to launch between cruise operators, ports and coastal stakeholders; and that we will then take to the regional level.

Maritime Spatial Planning - space

Let us now come to a very important element in coastal and maritime activity – space. A very important element for which different activities and sectors have to compete. Tourism is a dynamic and a continuously growing industry and it has to compete for space with other sectors, such as transport, aquaculture, offshore installations, transhipment, and so on. (tourist activities have to compete as well).

A new offshore wind farm, for instance, can get in the way of sailing routes or of security zones for cruise ships. It may also affect the coastal scenery on which tourism depends.

And as if to prove the huge potential that our seas have to offer to the economy, other maritime sectors are expanding at the same time in that same space:

- transport grows by 8.5% on average

- offshore wind energy is projected to grow from today's 4 gigawatts to 150 in 2030

- and the new fisheries context is bound to boost aquaculture.

This makes space at sea just as precious as space on land. And it should be managed just as carefully.

And of course, different countries manage their coastal space differently.

For instance Belgium has a maritime plan that ensures access to space for traditional and recreational fisheries, which bring additional revenue to local communities.

In the Netherlands, the maritime plans exclude any permanent construction in the 12-nautical-mile zone for the benefit of tourism.

Our new maritime spatial planning directive is an important tool to manage and to choose between conflicting and complementing activities. This is done by bringing together at the planning stage all stakeholders and all their different activities so as to ascertain that planning takes into account the various inputs of those activities on each other in general, and on the environment and on our ecosystem in particular.

The maritime spatial planning directive sets all this in a legal obligation.                                                                                                                                                                                  

As a result of the MSP directive:

- operators know what, where and for how long economic developments are permitted or otherwise – this creates the certainty and secure conditions without which investments cannot thrive;

- in addition, MSP reduces a lot of duplication of surveys and prospection;

- and certainly, better planning transparency also improves the investment climate.

 Maritime Spatial Planning – synergy

Don’t take me wrong, spatial planning is not just about competition for space! It is very much also about harmony, synergy and ultimately delivering blue growth.

It helps identify opportunities for multiple uses of space: for example strategically placed, fish farms or offshore wind sites can turn into tourist attractions, as is the case in Ireland and Denmark.

It also helps identify locations for Marine Protected Areas that are more consensual. And I am particularly glad that the touristic potential of Marine Protected Areas is also going to be debated here today.

Probably most of you already know about ADRIPLAN in the Adriatic, which is a cross-border project that we are funding, and which is led by the research community right here in Venice. ADRIPLAN is giving regions and stakeholders of the Adriatic a clearer view of how shipping, offshore installations, aquaculture farms, Marine Protected Areas or tourism can sustainably coexist.

Seven coastal countries are involved, including Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, and Greece as partners… and this only goes to prove my belief that the EU Strategy for the Adriatic and Ionian Region can be a laboratory for Blue Growth in the Mediterranean.

And by the way, let us not forget the interaction between marine planning and land planning.


To give an example of this interaction, 400 million passengers pass through EU ports each year – more than 2 million in Venice alone – and they produce a good amount of waste. A ship carrying 3000 passengers produces approximately 50 to 70 tonnes of solid waste per week.

If we want to further grow the sector, it’s all well and good. But then this growth must be combined with appropriate waste management facilities in ports.

In other words, good planning of land and sea activities together is essential and this is what the new Directive will help us do.

And by the way, this Directive on Maritime Spatial Planning is quite an achievement. It is the first legislation in the world that makes maritime planning compulsory and that requires cross-border coordination among countries.

It is one of a number of concrete steps which makes us world leaders when it comes to sound Ocean Governance.

A lot of work has already been done, but the real work is still ahead, because by 2016 countries are to transpose the Directive into their national legislation and nominate the Authority in charge. Then, by 2021, all sides will have to sit down and draw their map, so as to cover all EU waters.

It’s as simple as that - and if it isn’t, the Commission will help. And there is money available in the Maritime and Fisheries Fund for this purpose.

This will allow us to use the seas to kick-start and contribute towards our economies whilst managing our environment and natural resources more rationally.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Despite its rich history, Venice is not a city entrenched and living in the past. On the contrary, as far as maritime affairs are concerned, Venice is very much in the forefront.

Some of Europe's best marine research institutes are here. In Terminal Passeggeri, thanks to an innovative project, some ships at berth don’t have to keep their engines running as they get shore-side power supply. This reduces CO2 emissions by more than 30% and nitrogen oxide emissions by more than 95%.

The Laguna will soon boast the world's first example of a conventional refinery converted into a bio-refinery, which now uses palm oil but could use oils from algae in the near future.

Building on the past and being creative for the future is my message to you for the rest of this conference. Our speakers have very diverse backgrounds, and that is what maritime planning is all about.

Today economic growth and environmental protection are no longer in opposition. Today it is not an either-or situation. Today the environment is very much an integral part of the economy.

And this is why both sides have to sit together and jointly draw those maps. I suggest your dialogue today starts from this premise, because it is the only way to keep Europe – and Venice - afloat and contributing towards a better life.

Thank you.


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