A new vision for EU Maritime Policy?

7th Jun 2006 The European Commission is today publishing a Green Paper asking citizens how they want to deal with oceans and seas and launching one of the largest consultation exercises in the EU's history.

The Green Paper, called 'Towards a future Maritime Policy for the Union: A European vision for the oceans and seas', is a response to the growing awareness of the vital role which the sea already plays as a driver of Europe's prosperity, and of its potential for providing more jobs and greater well-being. The results of this exercise will help the Commission define a new vision for an Integrated Maritime Policy.

The main question asked by the Green Paper is: can Europe afford to manage its seas and oceans in a sectoral, unconnected, way, or has the time come to establish a truly integrated Maritime Policy which will release untapped potential in terms of growth and jobs while strengthening the protection of the marine environment? If so, how should we go about it?

European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, who initiated the process, said: "Europe has long benefited from its maritime activities. However, much more could be made of our seas and oceans to increase the prosperity and well-being of European citizens. Today's Green Paper gives us all the opportunity to put our heads together to see how best to do it. I encourage everyone to have their say on how they see a future maritime policy for the Union which would boost jobs while protecting the marine environment."

Joe Borg, European Commissioner for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs, said: “As our maritime activities increase and diversify so does the need for coordination and planning so as to avoid conflict and optimise our returns from the sea. An all-embracing approach would allow us to combine economic growth with effective protection of the marine environment and greater stakeholder participation. This is a project where Member States, regions, industry, NGOs and the public all have an interest in finding the best way ahead in our future relation with the sea.”

Transport, shipping, trade, coastal and port-based industries, off-shore, traditional and alternative energies, fisheries, aquaculture, marine research and tourism all have an impact on our oceans and the quality of the life they help sustain. Yet too often, the sectors which impact on the maritime environment operate independently – each has its own structures, embodies its own culture and vision, and is run according to its own rules. Yet they all depend on the same resource.

The Green Paper seeks to highlight interconnections and interdependence. It points out how, for example, the development of port infrastructure has to be weighed against the protection of local ecosystems, the promotion of coastal aquaculture and tourism development, as well as on the benefits of economic growth through foreign trade. It shows how fishing vessels, container ships, pleasure boats, oil companies and wind farms, for example, have to jostle for position in our increasingly crowded waters. It also underlines the fact that this convergence of myriad different issues is not the exception, but the norm, for it reflects the underlying wealth and diversity of Europe's seas.

The question is asked: is it really possible to continue to manage and develop all these different and frequently overlapping activities independently? Or has not the time now come for Europe to invest in a truly integrated policy approach, if we are to succeed in creating a vibrant and sustainable maritime economy for the 21st century, and beyond?

The Green Paper comes from a Commission decision taken in March 2005 to launch a consultation on the future of Europe's seas. President Barroso asked Commissioner Borg “to steer a maritime task force with the aim of launching a wide consultation on a future maritime policy for the Union”.

The issues raised in the Green Paper will be debated in Ireland at a public consultation to be held l