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Bremen Conference Outlines Environmental Maritime Agenda

by Ulrika Lomas, for, Brussels

08 May 2007

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso last week hailed a major international conference "The Future Maritime Policy of the EU: A European Vision for Oceans and Seas" in Bremen.

Hosted by the German Presidency of the European Union Council of Ministers and by the Land of Bremen, the event was billed by the European Commission as one of the high-points of the year-long Green Paper consultation process.

The three days of debate brought together political and business leaders with scientific experts, and stakeholders' representatives from across the EU. The main focus of their discussions was on the added value of an integrated European maritime policy, and how to identify new potential for sustainable development of Europe's oceans and seas and coastal regions. Participants reviewed the preliminary results of the ongoing process of consultation, and their conclusions will inform the activities of the Commission and the Portuguese Council Presidency during the second half of 2007.

President Barroso commented: "The launch of an EU maritime policy was one of the first initiatives of this Commission. So I am delighted to take it forward with Chancellor Merkel and with the forthcoming Portuguese Presidency. The oceans and seas bound Europe, but they also bind it together."

Vice-President Jacques Barrot observed that: "90% of Europe's foreign trade arrives or leaves by ship. An integrated maritime policy will contribute to recognising the important role of maritime transport for the European economy."

Commissioner Borg added: "The Maritime Policy Green Paper has struck a chord throughout Europe. After ten months of intense public consultation it is fair to say that there is broad support, and indeed enthusiasm, for the main ideas put forward. Encouraged by this debate, the Commission will present in October a package of proposals towards a new integrated maritime policy for the Union that will cut across all policy areas and link them together."

The Federal Minister of Transport, Building and Urban Affairs, Wolfgang Tiefensee, opened the conference, presenting a programme for more environmental protection and safety in the maritime transport sector. "Shipping is increasingly becoming an economic factor for both Germany and the entire European Union. 90 percent of the EU's foreign trade and over 40 percent of intra-Community trade goes by sea. We have to make our transport - be it surface, waterborne or air transport - as environmentally acceptable as possible. And this also applies to maritime transport", he said. "The climate change impact and the adverse effects of the consumption of resources present shipping with new challenges that cannot be met unless all stakeholders take concerted action and unless innovative technologies and solutions are deployed."

Mr Tiefensee said that in shipping, as in other sectors, the Federal Government is pinning its hopes on innovative technologies to reduce emissions. "These include primarily environmentally friendly marine engines, innovative marine fuels and drivetrains, and the use of diesel fuel in place of heavy grades of oil. In the long term there can only be one approach: we have to move away from heavy grades of oil. We have to replace heavy grades of oil by modern and environmentally sound marine diesel. Marine diesel pollutes the oceans far less than heavy grades of oil. We need the quality standards that we have long enjoyed on land for fuels used on the seas".

He said that such a changeover would have many advantages. It would, for instance, be possible to significantly reduce sulphur and particulate matter emissions and oxides of nitrogen in the short term. "This would benefit not only nature but also the population living around seaports." "Shipping has to play its part in reducing CO2 emissions. Even if shipping only causes around 2 percent of global CO2 emissions, the Federal Government supports the Commission's proposal for the inclusion of shipping in emissions trading. However, we are committed to developing rules that are binding worldwide and do not distort competition. Only rules that are uniform and binding throughout the world can result in the desired reduction in CO2 emissions. We will also advocate such rules in the International Maritime Organization (IMO)." In addition, Mr Tiefensee called for a ban on single-hull tankers in the long term. This will result in more safety for the environment and help to reduce the number of accidents involving serious oil spills", said Mr Tiefensee.

The two days of debate were divided into four thematic sections: Employment and Competitiveness; Research and Innovation; Shared responsibility for the maritime environment; and Life on the coasts. The conference was preceded by a number of side events, including the opening of a marine science exhibition, attended by Mayor Böhrnsen, Minister Tiefensee and Commissioner Borg, and workshops on sea-use planning, surveillance of the sea, marine ('blue') biotechnology, marine science and maritime logistics.

Published by the Commission in June 2006, the Green Paper on a future Maritime Policy is an integral part of the EU's policy of promoting sustainable development in Europe in the 21st century. The Green Paper explores the potential benefits of a holistic approach to policy development and planning that would transcend the current sectoral approach to maritime-based activities and decision-making so as to maximise synergies and prevent inter-users conflicts. In this way, it would be possible to promote growth and employment in the maritime sector, while ensuring that the marine environment is protected for the benefit of all, and also for future generations.

The consultation exercise is one of the largest ever launched by the Commission, and will run until the end of June this year. Participation to date had already been extremely broad-based, with 141 written contributions received so far from a wide range of coastal regions, industry associations, scientific institutions and NGOs, as well as from individual citizens. There have been 231 events touching on issues raised in the Green Paper across Europe, organised and funded by interested parties.

A particularly high number of contributions was received from coastal regions directly or through representative bodies, such as the Committee of Regions at the European level or the German Bundesrat at national level, confirming that the debate stimulated by the Green Paper is of genuine concern to the citizens of Europe, of whom more than 40% live close to the coast. Following the conclusion of the consultation process, the Commission will come forward with a range of proposals for action in October.

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