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Borg Speaks On Plans For Holistic Maritime Policy

by Ulrika Lomas,, Brussels

06 September 2006

Delivering a speech at Wageningen University in the Netherlands on Monday, EU Fisheries and Maritime Affairs Commissioner, Joe Borg outlined the European Commission's plans for the development of what he called a 'holistic maritime policy'.

He observed that:

"The University of Wageningen understands the value of bringing politicians, practitioners and academics together. This is why we are here today."

"Shaping a new maritime policy for Europe is no different. When in June this year, the European Commission published a Green Paper with a view to launching a discussion on a new vision for the oceans and seas, it too, sought to bring together the diverse knowledge of stakeholders."

"Indeed a debate is already emerging but we are still at the beginning of a long process."

The Commissioner went on to pose the question:

"Why do we need to look at, and possibly change, the way in which we handle our maritime affairs? In fact, why change at all?"

"To start with, this is because our relationship with the seas is changing. We are multiplying the uses we make of the seas through the exploitation of new resources and the provision of new services...Our seas are also changing. The sheer scale of the seas historically led people to perceive them as an inexhaustible source of wealth and resources, but over the past decades a growing body of research has taught us that we were wrong.

"We have learnt that there are limits to the capacity of marine ecosystems. Growth cannot continue indefinitely at the expense of the available resources. This continuing economic exploitation of the seas and the environmental degradation of the resource base, are therefore compelling reasons to change."

Outlining the Commission's priorities going forward, Mr Borg stressed the need for clean, safe and profitable seas, and for stronger growth and more jobs in Europe, based on marine resources and technologies.

Speaking with regard to the sector's impact on European economic growth, the Commissioner stated that:

"Ports are the gateway for practically all the commodities and goods traded on the world market. 3.5 billion tonnes of cargo and 350 million passengers pass through European seaports each year. What would the impact of the failure of our ports to absorb the growing volume of trade be on our economic growth potential? Clearly the impact would be negative. From an economic perspective, port expansion is therefore needed."

"But we need, at the same time, to acknowledge that port expansion carries collateral costs: it impacts the environment and denies other users the opportunity of exploiting the same coastline; be they tourists, farmers, birds or fish. It may have negative effects on surrounding aquatic ecosystems. Thus, jobs may be gained in the port, but others may be lost in neighbouring areas."

"This example shows that questions of transport, the environment, recreational activities and economic development are inter-linked. They come together in what we term spatial planning – whereby competing uses of the seas are looked at in an integral manner. In policy terms, however, prevailing decision-making in Europe remains largely sectoral."

"This fragmentation of decision-making creates disagreement, and sometimes even conflict, about the right balance between various interests. It generates misunderstandings; it causes uncertainty and thus delays in finding solutions. Moreover it can lead to negative, or unintended, outcomes."

Finally, he outlined what he saw as the three key challenges facing the EC, namely the need to streamline and exploit research efforts currently underway, the need to secure Europe's leadership in marine research, and the need to create increasing added value from the region's "scientific excellence".

"We need to overcome Europe’s research paradox. Although Europe is the world leader in scientific output, R&D investment in Europe is lower than in the US and Japan, especially in the private sector," he observed.

In conclusion, Mr Borg told those attending the event that:

"I am convinced that a holistic approach, an overall vision for Europe’s oceans and seas, is the way forward. It is the way to preserve our oceans and seas' rich resources for our children and our children's children. Yet, to achieve these results, we need more than a vision, we need action."

"But, before we can move from words to action, we must have the fullest input from those who know our oceans: people who carry out in-depth studies, people who engage with the oceans and seas in their daily work, who derive their living from them and who have a direct interest in their future."

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