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European Commission - Speech - [Check Against Delivery]

Full steam ahead: Europe needs a top-quality shipping sector that can compete internationally

Brussels, 04 March 2015

Violeta Bulc EU Commissioner for Transport

European Shipping Week Conference, Brussels

Dear President, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a real pleasure to be here today. After four months in office, I can already say that shipping is a fascinating business. I can also see that is of great relevance for the European economy. More than three quarters of goods imported to Europe come by sea. Thanks to shipping, our industry can reach markets around the world. This gives Europe's leading position in shipping, a strategic importance.

Shipping is fascinating to me, because it has so many aspects: economic, technical, social, environmental, international. I will touch upon all of these, if only briefly.

With the many challenges that Europe's economy is facing, we need to invest as much into the relationships between all players as we do into vessels and ports. This is, I understand, an objective of the shipping week. Let this meeting today be the start of our cooperation over the next five years.

Your first session today was on innovation - for a good reason. In transport, a wave of innovation lies ahead. It brings huge opportunities and benefits. Digital solutions, alternative fuels, shared mobility, to name just a few, are making transport more efficient, safer and environmentally friendly.

I am convinced that shipping must remain at the forefront of innovation to stay competitive.

The environmental impact of shipping is a challenge in other parts of the world too. Everywhere ship-owners and operators have an interest in more fuel efficient ships. And who wants to seriously advocate for less stringent safety standards? Rather there should be a gradual convergence towards the high standards of safety we have in Europe already today.

Innovation is therefore, first and foremost, an opportunity. Where we innovate, we can export our technologies and services abroad. As long as we continue to work together towards global standards. Global standards which reflect our values and let our industry benefit from its competitive advantage.

To this end, Member States must ensure progress within IMO in some critical areas. We must move forward with a global data collection system for CO2 emissions before the Paris 21 conference in autumn this year, to demonstrate that shipping contributes its fair share.

Maritime transport and short sea shipping can make our overall transport system more sustainable. They are the cleanest modes of transport for large quantities of cargo. Some journeys in Europe are actually much shorter by sea than by land! But we must also recognise the total emissions from shipping and the rate at which your industry is predicted to grow.

The Commission will continue to support you in coping with the growing demand for reducing the environmental impact of shipping. We have demonstrated through the European Sustainable Shipping Forum how keen we are to cooperate with you to promote innovative and competitive solutions.

With an effective policy mix the EU supports the uptake of alternative fuels:

- national policy frameworks with binding commitments, for the deployment of alternative fuels infrastructure,

- standardisation of refuelling equipment and

- financial support from the Connecting Europe Facility and the European Strategic Investment Fund.

I am conscious how important other measures are to maintain the competitiveness of European shipping, including tonnage tax systems. The Commission has no plans to take away the important benefits that system gives the European shipping industry. But the Commission obviously keeps an eye on how Member States implement the State aid guidelines in this area. Our common objective must be to keep the European flag attractive and of a high quality, while making sure that the Internal European Shipping market works well.

For the European shipping sector to prosper on a global level we must ensure free access to markets and a level playing field for ship-owners and operators. That is why the EU promotes the inclusion of maritime transport in the EU trade negotiations. The negotiations of the TTIP with the US are crucial to achieve further opening of the market and flexibilities that will allow European shipping to operate in a more efficient manner. We also have bilateral dialogues with international partners like Japan, China or Brazil to promote common approaches to sustainable and quality shipping.

Global trade needs secure seas internationally. The Commission is already doing a lot to protect shipping from piracy and terrorist threats and will continue to do so. We have seen progress in the Indian Ocean. We are conscious of the importance of private armed guards and would like to see a coordinated approach on the issue.

We are also reaching out to our partners worldwide to raise the security at ports from where passengers and cargo leave for the EU. And we work on a mutual recognition with countries respecting standards similar to ours since this would reduce costs for passengers and cargo.

Ladies and Gentlemen, an important objective of my term is to integrate shipping better into the overall transport system. More efficient ports and their connection to the hinterland are needed for that, as well as administrative simplification and digital logistic services.

The Commission has adopted a comprehensive action plan on ports which I intend to implement, in close cooperation with the sector. In January I met with the European Sea Port Organisation ESPO and CEO of European ports. Our common objective is to encourage effective and efficient port services, create a level playing field and facilitate investments in ports.

I hope that the Parliament and Council can soon agree on the Ports Regulation, which is a first step towards greater transparency and reducing unnecessary rigidities. Financial transparency is a key condition for fair competition between ports and a better use of public funding. For me it is clear that, with the substantial funding provided by the CEF we also need to see where the money goes and how it is used. I expect investors under the Juncker Plan to share the interest in transparency!

To improve the competitive environment for shipping, I will push hard for simplified reporting formalities and interoperable IT solutions, I want to advance on the Blue Belt through the e-Manifest and complete by 2020 an EU maritime transport space without barriers.

Digital solutions play a key role for simplifying procedures. The Union Maritime Information and Exchange System hosted by the European Maritime Safety Agency is an excellent basis. With a small investment here, we could take some giant steps forward. But I also look at Member States, which need to implement their national single windows by June this year.

The digitalisation of maritime transport and of transport and mobility in general, will be one of the priorities of my term. It is key to better integrate maritime transport into the logistic chain. As a first step a Forum on Digital Mobility and Logistics will soon start its work. I very much invite you to engage and contribute to this Forum. Our aim should be to create a data layer which cuts across modes. To use the existing infrastructure optimally, make logistic services more efficient and reduce the environmental impact of transport.

Ladies and gentlemen, today's politics are sometimes criticised as being too pragmatic, and sometimes as being too lofty. I think we need to be both pragmatic and visionary. My vision is to create value for people. I believe that whatever we do, we do it for and with people. That's us, here today, but also the European citizen, the businessman, worker, taxpayer and consumer.

Whatever technological developments may come, people must remain at the centre of transport, either as passengers or at the helm. Maritime transport carries 400 million passengers per year in Europe –for leisure or to connect them to their homes on islands and in peripheral regions. Safety has always featured high on the Commission's agenda. However, as the recent Norman Atlantic tragic accident reminded us again, we should never rest on our laurels. We are working hard to review our legislation on passenger ship safety to make it fit for purpose. At international level we are pushing important issues like the operation of watertight doors, evacuation analysis and damage stability.

I will continue to push for the highest standards in Europe. At the same time the Commission will work hard to see the International Maritime Organisation develop global rules which serve European interests. Once again I would urge you to see sustainability and safety requirements as an opportunity for developing innovative products and systems.

In all transport modes we need a qualified workforce and maritime transport is no exception. But we witness a constant decrease of European seafarers. This is worrying. Seafarers are the base of the maritime industry. Without them we lack critical know-how not only at sea but also in the businesses which are based on shore.

I am sure you had a good discussion this morning during the second session on competence and you could hear from the Commission about the EU's many initiatives to support maritime professions.

Where do I see the objectives? First, we need to stimulate continuity between sea and shore-based careers. To close skills gaps the education side and the employment side must cooperate better. And of course we need excellent employment conditions for European seafarers. To promote such conditions without compromising the competitiveness of the European fleet, we must enforce working conditions better - for all ships calling at EU ports.

Ladies and Gentleman, when we talk about people, we must also talk about those, that leave their lives week by week, in the desperate attempt to reach the coasts of Europe. For me, these are unacceptable events that challenge the very values on which our Union is founded.

Most of us learn about these tragedies over the internet or the evening news. Others are part of them. I want to express my great respect to those who have taken on board refugees, many of them in difficult circumstances, sometimes risking the safety of their ship and of those on board.

It is an intolerable situation if a tanker transporting chemical products takes on board a group of refugees that is many times bigger than the crew and cannot be given proper shelter. But for the moment this seems to be without alternative. We must find ways to change this situation and to work on the causes of these events, even if they are not directly linked to transport.

Ladies and gentleman, I am grateful to ECSA for its initiative and to all that have contributed to organise the European Shipping week. The shipping week shows that you are much more than a 'sector'. You are a Community.

I very much look forward to cooperating with you in the coming years. There is a lot we can achieve together. For now, I invite you to participate in the public consultation on the Review of the EU Maritime Strategy which is open until the end of April.

Thank you very much.



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