Brussels. Joe Borg Commissioner for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs speaks at Mare Forum Conference

Friday, 24 November 2006

Ladies and Gentlemen,

One year ago, here in Brussels, under the joint forces of Mare Forum and the Dutch Maritime Network, we gathered to talk about Europe’s vision for a future Maritime Policy for Europe. Then, the Green Paper that would guide our discussions on the subject was still under preparation and it was then that I extended the invitation to “put our heads together... [to] forge a maritime policy for the EU that is representative, integrated and dynamic”.

A year later I am glad to say that we have indeed put our heads together fuelling what has already been a good debate. It has been a debate that has opened our eyes to many of the realities of Europe’s maritime economy.

Yet I believe there is still more to learn and more to discuss. We need to move from a general debate into the specifics of a new more integrated maritime policy. This is inevitable if we are to have a more productive discussion during the forthcoming semester of the consultation phase.

Almost six months have passed since the launch of the Green Paper and from the broad spectrum of contributions that we have already received it appears that a future maritime policy for the Union will be structured around the following four key areas:

The sustainable use of our oceans and seas and how Europe should engage in further developing her maritime economy, her competitiveness vis a vis the rest of the world, while at the same time decoupling such growth from marine environmental degradation;

The knowledge and the innovation potential, working on making existing maritime and marine data more widely available, learning more about the oceanic system and promoting new innovative uses of the sea;

Improving the quality of life in coastal regions through better tools for ocean and land interface management, including spatial planning and integrated coastal zone management, and by bringing important areas and activities into the maritime cluster.

And finally,

Governance and how Member States, their regions and the EU should develop a more integrated management of our oceans and seas;

While all of these are in some way relevant for Europe's maritime cluster, I shall restrict myself today to those areas which are instrumental in order to foster Europe’s growth and competitiveness.

Allow me to remind you what is at stake: why the economy is an important part of this process.

As indicated in the Green Paper, the EU is the leading maritime power in the world, in particular with regard to shipping, shipbuilding technology, coastal tourism, offshore energy - including renewable energy, and ancillary services. Looking into the future we see sectors with considerable growth potential such as cruise shipping and maritime tourism, ports, aquaculture, renewable energy, submarine telecommunications and marine biotechnology.

And we need to find the way to maximise the benefits that we derive from these maritime activities. It is only in this way that the maritime sector will be able to make a contribution to the Lisbon agenda of economic growth and job creation. In so doing, we will also be able to enhance the image of this sector and to thus obtain the recognition of its status as a critical partner to Europe's future.

The strength of the European maritime industry lies in its entrepreneurship and ability to innovate. Having said this, however, we have to ensure that the highest quality production factors are available to the industries and the services of the maritime sector. These are the oceans and seas themselves as the resource base; excellent knowledge about all aspects of the oceans; cutting-edge technology and the quality and experience of our work force.

Much of this relies on you – on your investment in knowledge, in safeguarding the marine environment and in the quality and motivation of the work force. As decision-makers, we can contribute to these goals, namely by creating the best possible conditions for you to operate in, including by providing the appropriate regulatory environment.

Nobody expects a new maritime policy to come into effect by decree - that is to say through the simple adoption of a given piece of legislation. Yet, on the other hand, the fact that the mission is difficult and that it will be time-consuming to bring about, does not mean that we need to completely rethink it.

Much of the way in which we conduct our affairs is rational, well-suited and has served us very well in the past. What the proposed, new, maritime policy calls for is a fresh look at the way in which we deal with our maritime activities – a look at the broader picture rather than its individual pieces.

We have a number of serious challenges ahead of us: globalisation and the need to remain competitive; the considerable degradation of the marine environment and its biodiversity; learning more about and adapting to climate change; pursuing energy security; and addressing a growing demographic pressure in Europe's coastal areas.

We have started with a new vision for a more Maritime Europe – a vision which we are confident you can share.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let us look at some of the messages that have emerged from our consultation with you thus far.

I am glad to say that, first and foremost, our suggestion to move from a piecemeal, to a holistic, approach has been widely endorsed. I take this as encouragement to continue along this road.

From this premise, it follows that if a maritime policy is to be an integrated one, it will need to be intersectoral and not simply a mere collection of vertical policies. It should look at the oceans and seas based on a sound knowledge of how they work and how the sustainability of their environment and ecosystems may be preserved.

It also means that any maritime policy must be all-inclusive, considering sectors that so far have not been regarded as part of the maritime cluster or directly linked to oceans’ and seas’ governance, such as coastal tourism.

Finally, another important feature of our vision, which has been accepted by all without exception, relates to the global nature of the ocean and the accompanying, at times, difficult questions of their management. To regulate maritime activities in the interest of worldwide sustainable development necessitates universally applicable rules. Yet simultaneously, it is recognised that each part of the oceans and seas is different and may require its own more specific rules and administration. This apparent contradiction illustrates why the global nature of the oceans is such a challenge to policy-makers.

The Green Paper goes into a number of other aspects.

Knowledge is one such area.

It is possibly Europe’s principle asset yet it is one that, across the board, requires more attention in order for its benefits to be truly maximised.

Knowledge presupposes research. Yet conducting research alone is not enough. We will have failed if no one makes good use of the results of our research. It is interesting to note that, despite Europe’s position as a world leader in scientific output, its investment in R&D still does not match that of the US and Japan. If our research and technology capabilities decline, it will be hard to maintain Europe’s lead in advanced products.

Innovation and R&D into information and communication technologies, can provide enormous added-value in many maritime domains. This is why in the Commission’s strategic priorities for 2005-09, marine related science and research constitute one of the main pillars for a future European maritime policy.

Knowledge as a broad category can also be said to include knowledge of the way in which the market functions and of the economics of the maritime sector. To be able to seize growth opportunities in shipping and other maritime sectors, European companies must be able to predict with some accuracy the future development of the market. Additional market information and statistics could be helpful in this regard.

Knowledge also means the ability to work with the best and the brightest. We have heard the concerns of many about the image of the maritime sector and its falling ability to attract young people to the sector. More attractive career prospects can come from increased mobility, more training and better working conditions. Ultimately this ties in to our Lisbon objectives of better employment leading to better economic growth.

Sound policies and programmes also have a central role in boosting competitiveness, as has been shown by the LeaderSHIP 2015 initiative. By addressing the shipbuilding and ship-repair sectors, LeaderSHIP 2015 has proved to be a model of co-operation based on cutting-edge knowledge, entrepreneurship, innovation and stakeholder participation. We are interested in knowing more of whether you see the value of replicating LeaderSHIP 2015 elsewhere in the maritime sector.

Another area in which we would appreciate more feedback relates to the role of maritime clusters in increasing competitiveness.

Many contributions have indicated that the image and productivity of various maritime sectors can be enhanced, if a common understanding can be developed of the inter-relationships between them. Exploiting the potential of clustering is even more relevant in sectors involving a large number of small and medium sized enterprises.

Let us reflect therefore on the boundaries of the European maritime cluster. As shipping, shipbuilding and ports are intrinsically linked, co-operation among these sectors is already robust. Other sectors have not been as fortunate in immediately identifying this link. One such example, and one which pertains to one of the fastest growing sectors, is marine tourism - which increasingly includes recreational yachting and cruise shipping.

As more and more Europeans devote their time and resources to pursuing leisure activities, marine tourism is increasing in profile. This brings significantly enhanced funding to coastal areas which is most welcome but it also brings with it certain challenges such as the need for a relatively large infrastructure which is only used at full capacity during peak holiday periods, such as seasonal work and increased competition for coastal space.

And all this, has, to some extent, served to highlight a growing interest in marine spatial planning across Europe's marine and coastal areas.

Hence, in the Green Paper we recognise that as maritime activities continue to thrive, there will be increasing competition between them for the use of coastal waters. Without some form of planning, investment decisions may be hampered by uncertainty. The Commission believes that a system of spatial planning for maritime activities in the waters under the jurisdiction of the Member States should be created. Consequently a debate is needed on this and then, if there is agreement to move in such direction, on the principles which should underlie such planning.

Although decision-making as to the uses of coastal areas should be taken at a national, regional or local level, we feel that a common framework for marine spatial planning is appropriate in order to ensure that decisions affecting the same marine region and ecosystem, or cross-border activities such as shipping routes, are dealt with on the basis of the same principles. We want to ensure coherence across Europe's seas and oceans.

This leads me to the subject of Europe’s common maritime space – an issue that is as complex and potentially controversial as it is vast. I would like to make one point at this stage in our discussions, which is, that a true common maritime space that does not separate Europe's seas away from others in other regions but that facilitates the circulation of goods by sea, can be greatly beneficial to the common market and to our ports and maritime industries' competitiveness. Again, I would appreciate hearing your ideas, arguments and views on this issue.

There are a number of other issues which have been brought to the table since the publication of the Green Paper which are also considered to be 'sensitive'. I firmly believe that it is essential to gather your contributions on these issues to know exactly what your views are and to understand why. These relate to an EU register, an EU coastguard or a coordinated system of coast guards, and the Community’s membership in relevant international organisations.

The issue of better regulation is also at the top of your agenda.

To many, better regulation means less regulation yet what we are seeking to have is more coherent legislation. This, contrary to some expectations, does not necessarily mean that there will be less of it.

In the Green Paper, we have asked you to report on regulation that you have identified which causes policy contradictions or possibly, undue burden. Some of you have, in fact, already come forward and signalled specific laws that pose a problem. I would encourage those of you who have not yet done so to also point at what is inconsistent, unhelpful or where you see a need for change.

Good regulation is often defined as fair legislation that is designed to reward quality and which has fewer controls for those with good track records. In this regard, I can cite the Third Maritime Safety Package, in particular the proposals on port state control, which allow for a reduction of the burden of inspections on high-quality ships.

Without going into more detail, allow me to recall some key questions which are directed to you in the Green Paper and to which your answers will be very much appreciated.

How can the regulatory framework for the maritime economy be improved to avoid inherent contradictions?

Which exclusions from certain EU social legislation are still justified? Should further specific legal instruments on employment conditions in the maritime sector be encouraged?

To what extent, and in what areas, can self-regulation and corporate social responsibility complement government regulation?

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Our readiness to invest in the competitiveness of the maritime sector does not mean that we are ready to invest in competitiveness at the expense of safety or security.

You will have already heard this morning from Commissioner Dimas about the challenges that face our marine environment. I am grateful for the active role that he is playing in highlighting this very real concern and for the strong willingness he has shown to work, together, to build a holistic maritime policy.

It is amply clear that our oceans are under pressure. We cannot afford not to be resolute about our environmental ambitions, not solely for the sake of the marine environment in its own right but also because we know that our economic well-being depends to a large extent on the condition of the oceans and seas. It is the well-known equation of the wealth of the maritime economy being dependant on the health of the oceans and seas.

Your input to decoupling maritime activities from environmental degradation is essential. You have the tools at your disposal. There are already a number of good examples which can be built upon. Cleaner engines, the treatment of ballast water, and oil recovery, carry the promise of drastic reductions of air and ocean pollution. We look forward to working with you in the context of the Waterborne Technology Platform and we are ready to provide matching support through the Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development for further developments of this kind.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is fair to say that we have invested a lot of time and effort in our preparation of the Green Paper. We are now investing equally in the consultation process.

Let us seize the momentum that has been created with the launch of the Green Paper. As the world changes, and with it our oceans and seas, we have little choice but to seize this opportunity and to bring new momentum to our maritime traditions and economy.

Any inability to overcome vested interests or to fail to look beyond next week’s or next month's gains, is simply not a good enough explanation to let this opportunity slip by.

Our success will depend on our joint commitment.

I invite you to reflect on the commitment that you are prepared to make.

Last Updated ( Friday, 24 November 2006 )