EU Maritime Green Paper focus on economic growth

Published on June 9, 2006

On June 7th the Commission published a Green Paper named “Towards a future Maritime Policy for the Union: A European vision for the oceans and seas”. The aim is to boost economic growth in maritime sectors in accordance with the Lisbon Strategy while protecting the marine environment. Environmental groups are skeptical, saying the focus is too growth-oriented. One year of consultation with EU’s citizens will follow.

Focus on economic growth

The Green Paper attempts to link together many policy areas; transport, shipping, trade, coastal and port-based industries, off-shore, traditional and alternative energies, fisheries, aquaculture, marine research and tourism, all of them affecting the marine environment.

Commission President José Manuel Barroso said: “Europe has long benefitted 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. The 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”.

The mandate for the Maritime Task Force, which seven Commissioners, steered by Commissioner Borg, have participated in for a year, has been to examine all economic activities of Europeans, which are linked to impacts on the oceans and seas. The mandate has also been to examine the policies dealing with the impacts, with a view to finding the best way to extract more benefit from the oceans in a sustainable manner.

“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” Joe Borg, European Commissioner for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs said.

Environmental groups sceptical

However, several environmental groups had concerns. “The Maritime Green Paper shows an alarming disregard for the limits to which we can push our natural environment. Europe needs to make its maritime sector sustainable if it hopes to ensure a dynamic and prosperous future for the industry” said Saskia Richartz, Marine Policy Adviser for Greenpeace, adding: “Although the Commission’s draft has improved, the Green Paper launched today contains the same weakness as many growth-oriented documents coming from the Barroso Commission: it ignores the fact that Europe will in the future have to do a lot more with a lot less.”

Also WWF had their doubts, warning for an approach too focused on economic growth: “The EU needs to learn form the fisheries experience: when the environment is not a priority, long term sustainable economic growth is not possible. Billion of euros have been spent on fisheries sector in the name of economic growth but they just lead to less competitiveness and the annihilation of the marine environment”, said Carol Phua, Fisheries Policy Officer at WWF European Policy Office. “If the Maritime Policy takes the same approach, we will face not just overfishing but a complete overexploitation of the seas.”

Our opinion

The Fisheries Secretariat is hoping for a stronger environmental focus. “The competitiveness will deteriorate together with the marine environment if fish stocks remain at critically low levels and marine environmental impacts, such as marine pollution and bottom habitat damage, are not seriously combated. The Marine Strategy, meant to be the environmental pillar of the future Maritime Policy, is too weak to ensure a sustainable Maritime Policy.” said Staffan Danielsson, Policy Coordinator at the Fisheries Secretariat. “The competitiveness focus may for instance weaken the necessary reduction of the fishing fleet overcapacity.”

A period of consultation with citizens and stakeholders will follow, starting June 7th 2006 and ending June 30th 2007. All documents, including the Green Paper and information of events, can be found at the commission website.