EU unveils plans to develop maritime sector

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Shifting freight traffic to short-sea shipping, promoting innovation and raising the quality of jobs in the maritime sector are at the heart of the EU’s new integrated maritime policy. The Communication also aims to cut rising CO2 emissions from maritime activities and tackle environmental damage to oceans.

The Commission, on 10 October 2007, presented a Communication for an all-embracing EU maritime policy, which will focus not only on strengthening the global competitiveness of Europe’s maritime industries and protecting the marine environment, but will also seek to respond to key challenges such as climate change, energy security, migration and drug trafficking. Key aims over the next two years include: 

  • Reversing the decline in people ready to take up maritime careers and preserve Europe’s maritime skills, notably with a Communication, also presented on 10 October, to reassess with social partners current exclusions of certain maritime sectors from EU labour and social legislation; 
  • shifting traffic from congested roads to short-sea shipping
  • contributing to the fight against climate change by cutting greenhouse gas emissions from shipping. Among the suggestions is a proposal to fully or partially exempt ships using shore-side electricity rather than keeping their engines running on fuels while in port. The Communication also recommends that the EU considers unilateral action on cutting CO2 if multilateral efforts within the International Maritime Organisation fail to deliver (EURACTIV 18/04/07); 
  • helping the development and expansion of Europe’s 1,200 ports to cope with Europe’s growing sea-borne trade and to create poles of growth, jobs and regional development; 
  • reaffirming the EU’s leading position in world shipping, notably by establishing maritime ‘centres of excellence’ and promoting maritime research
  • promoting innovations that cut marine pollution and prevent maritime accidents; 
  • exploiting renewable sea-based energy technologies, and; 
  • delivering new jobs and wealth through novel forms of nautical leisure and tourism, and; 
  • clamping down on illegal and destructive fishing practices in EU waters, which are causing the depletion of fish stocks and harming the sea floor. 

"Europe should pay more attention to the seas," said Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso. "I am convinced a great part of our future lies in the untapped potential of the oceans." 

Commissioner for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs Joe Borg said that EU officials were already in discussions with the shipping industry to see how they could reduce carbon dioxide emissions from ships, despite the fact that emissions from the sector were "relatively low" in comparison with aircraft emissions, for example. "It is our intention to drive forward a reduction in CO2 emissions by various ways and means with regard to maritime transport. That is the future if one wants to promote the increase of maritime transport, and this is needed because our roads are already heavily congested." 

Vladimír Špidla, EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities stressed the importance of continuing to increase job standards and attract new workers to the sector: "Jobs in the maritime sector should be of the same standard as in other sectors: this includes working conditions and social protection. At the same time, the EU has to contribute to consolidating a global level playing field for the maritime sector. This is especially important if the latter wants to attract young, highly skilled professionals." 

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) welcomed the goal of creating a single framework to regulate maritime transport, off-shore energy production, carbon capture and storage, tourism, fisheries and environmental protection in European waters, but stressed "the need to avoid that this policy becomes a simple patchwork of actions taken in isolation of each other".

"For years, oceans and seas have been treated as a no-man's land for free exploitation. Now, for the first time, we see the intention to apply to the marine environment the same principles used on land. WWF looks forward to the setting up of corridors for maritime transport, areas for sustainable energy, fishing zones and closed marine areas," said Aaron McLoughlin, Head of the WWF European Marine Programme. 

Green members of Parliament also welcomed the Communication and called on the Commission to cut emissions from maritime transport. Vice-President of the EP Environment Committee Satu Hassi said: "Shipping has been forgotten, to a large extent, in the current attempts to bring the growing CO2 emissions from transport in check but emissions from the shipping sector have also been rising…We need strict emissions standards for maritime vessels, including retrofitting measures and fuel quality standards. We also need measures to tackle the damaging NOx and SO2 emissions from shipping. Oceans have been an important CO2 sink but this is leading to acidification of sea-water, which has profound impacts on all marine life, and we need to take action to address this before it is too late." 

However, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) criticised the Commission for failing to integrate environmental and biodiversity concerns sufficiently into other maritime sectors. "IFAW is particularly concerned that the expansion of economic activities at sea and/or in coastal areas as envisaged in the Action Plan will exponentially increase the level of pressure on cetaceans, other marine mammals and sensitive areas", says Veronica Frank, Marine Campaigner at IFAW's EU Office. 

In June 2006, the Commission adopted a Green Paper external  for an EU maritime policy, launching a one-year consultation that closed on 30 June 2007. The purpose of the policy was to gather, under a single heading, sectors which at that moment were treated separately – fisheries, shipbuilding, port activities, tourism, coastal management, environmental protection and maritime safety to name just a few – despite the fact that actions taken in one field often had knock-on effects (desirable or otherwise) in other areas (EURACTIV 31/03/06).

Oceans are crucial for Europe, with maritime regions home to 40% of the European population and sea-based and coastal activities providing for some five million jobs and 40% of the EU's income.

  • 10 Oct. 2007: Adoption of a Communication and accompanying Action Plan covering maritime policy for 2007-2009.

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