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The benefits of the EU’s Integrated Maritime Policy

Submitted by on 17 Mar 2011 – 15:49

By Commissioner Maria Damanaki

The European Union’s Integrated Maritime Policy has celebrated its third birthday recently. In such a short time not only has it forged ahead on a number of fronts, but also helped engineer a shift in  Europeans’ attitude toward the continent’s seas. Among Member States, administrations and maritime stakeholders there is now a growing enthusiasm to apply the crosscutting approach to our seas and coastal regions which the integrated maritime policy advocates. The benefits are clear: no duplication of efforts and more synergy means increased efficiency and lower costs.

The maritime policy was conceived at the time of economic boom, when traditional maritime sectors such as shipping and shipbuilding prospered thanks to global trade. But the unprecedented recession that hit us has left its mark on maritime economy, too. We now need to work on how maritime policy can trigger growth and both economic and environmental sustainability. It is what I like to call “blue growth”.

In order to make a difference, the maritime policy must push forward on several strategic fronts at once. The first concerns governance: it is up to EU institutions, Member States and coastal regions to ensure that policies are coordinated from the start and to counter any lingering trace of compartimentalised thinking.

The second will be the further development of proper tools to enhance economic growth, environmental protection, safety, security and law enforcement in and around Europe’s seas. For example, maritime spatial planning, combined with better marine knowledge, can unblock substantial financial investments and drastically improve the way we manage our maritime spaces. Or putting our various existing maritime surveillance systems together can make a difference in the way national authorities combat illegal immigration. Or evolving technologies, like satellite imagery, can be used in, say, oil-spill tracking, customs control, crime prevention and many other disciplines.

Defining the collective sustainability of all human activities having an impact on the marine environment is a third strategic focus for the years ahead. This is vital if we are to fulfil consistently the maritime policy’s ambition of marrying economic and social well-being with environmental responsibility.

We must also be mindful of the need to tailor solutions to local specificities. In this regard, sea-basin strategies adapted to the specific geographic, economic and political contexts of each maritime region have a crucial role to play. This approach is already being tested through two ongoing pilot projects-one on maritime surveillance and the other on maritime spatial planning.

Dialogue with third countries sharing sea basins with the EU will be an important factor in the success of seabasin approaches. It will also be crucial to the fifth strategic front – developing the maritime policy’s international dimension.

This brings me to the last – but by no means least – of the strategic fronts. Given the present economic downturn, the maritime policy should put a renewed focus on sustainable economic growth, employment and innovation. There are many opportunities for us to explore – from supporting the competitiveness of well-established sectors such as tourism, shipping or civilian and military shipbuilding, to developing sustainable growth scenarios for new maritime sectors with great potential, such as offshore energy, deep-sea technology or marine biotechnology.

But if we are to make these many opportunities a reality, we cannot afford sectoral policies to operate in “splendid isolation”. In these difficult times the maritime policy is the way forward. By engaging in cross-sectoral thinking, exploiting synergies and overcoming fragmentation, the maritime policy will deliver the blue growth and jobs I personally have pledged to create and thus do our bit towards achieving the goals set out in Europe2020 Strategy.