With a 70,000-kilometre coastline and a maritime territory covering some three million square kilometres, the European Union faces a multitude of challenges in its surrounding seas. The new Integrated Maritime Policy, which covers everything from shipping to scientific research, seeks to harmonise Europe's approach to its seas. Marine policymakers will no longer concentrate solely on individual sectors such as energy, fisheries or tourism.
Europe’s seas are a vital natural resource supporting some five million jobs. In October 2007, the European Commission adopted a new maritime policy designed, in the words of President José Manuel Barroso, to generate “growth, jobs and sustainability”.
The policy is a vision for the future, unifying and augmenting several sea-related EU initiatives in the area of environment, including the Marine Strategy Directive (adoption imminent at the time of writing), which is intended to deliver a high level of protection to the marine environment. The new policy showcases Commission legislation in numerous maritime areas, while retaining a focus on protecting the environment in the seas and oceans around the Community.
Extensive public consultation has ensured that the policy takes a broad view of maritime matters. Ten Commissioners were involved in its conception, and the results encompass a number of areas including social and economic development. An action plan launched alongside the policy contains initiatives that target Europe’s 1,200 ports, onshore and offshore sea-based jobs, and energy infrastructure and technology – notably oil and gas production and distribution.
While the policy will promote the maritime economy, it also includes a significant environmental component that is more ambitious than the Marine Strategy Directive it complements. The policy highlights the need for time-bound action and concentrates on integrating other policies wherever possible. Fisheries data for instance, when collected by member states, should also be reused to protect marine biodiversity and tackle pollution.
Environmental protection is to be maximised by the creation of a European Marine Observation and Data Network. This is intended to focus on marine research and the mapping of the seas and oceans, facilitating implementation of the Marine Directive with a view to achieving good environmental status for all EU marine waters by 2020.
Integration is key
Europe is a leader in marine technology and shipbuilding, but faces growing competition in these areas from other countries. The European Commission is aiming to boost the overall performance of these industries by targeting research and development. The thinking is that as competitive industries tend to produce environmental champions, this new support could reap rewards in problematic fields such as reducing pollutant emissions from ships, treating ballast water (a source of many invasive species) and developing alternatives to today’s toxic hull-cleaning agents.
Policymakers believe that the marine environment will benefit enormously from a more integrated approach to the shipping sector, from the design of vessels to ship dismantling. This could be modelled on the lifecycle approach currently used in the car industry.
Further new integrated coastal-zone management initiatives produced under the policy will focus on mitigating and adapting to the environmental problems brought about or exacerbated by climate change, such as rising sea levels and ocean acidification.