Portorož/Piran, Slovenia, 10 June 2008

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State secretary, Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Welcome to this conference on the Integrated Maritime Policy and the Mediterranean. My sincere thanks go to the Slovenian Presidency and the University Centre for Euro-Mediterranean Studies for joining us to organise this event.

Our aim is to engage in discussions on the impact of the Integrated Maritime Policy on the Mediterranean.

This is no mean feat, as this will be, in effect, the very first time we will look at ways in which to implement the Integrated Maritime Policy within a regional context.

As has been often stated, the Integrated Maritime Policy aims to establish a more coherent approach to the way we manage man's relations with the oceans and seas. This will, of necessity, differ somewhat from region to region. The Mediterranean's reality is clearly different to that of the Baltic, the Black Sea or any other European waters.

What we will be trying to do as a result of this meeting, therefore, is to set this process in motion by 'regionalising' – or focusing more closely on the realities on the ground – here in the Mediterranean.

We are encouraged in our efforts by the number of experts and eminent thinkers on this subject that have joined us from both inside and outside the EU. The Mediterranean has long been the object of scholars' attention for reasons emanating from the Med's rich history, central location and economic importance over the years.

There is a wealth of experience here that we are privileged to be able to tap into.

We are fortunate also, that the two Member States holding the EU Presidency this year are both Mediterranean. During its tenure in the first half of this year, Slovenia has done much to promote Mediterranean cooperation, not least through the Euro-Mediterranean University in Piran, which was formally inaugurated yesterday. This promises to make Slovenia a hub for debate and progress on Mediterranean issues for years to come. Our host country has thus, also provided its successor, France, with a fine springboard from which to launch the actions foreseen both under the Integrated Maritime Policy and also as part of the revitalised Barcelona Process.

Regional cooperation is already firmly anchored in the policy frameworks governing Euro-Mediterranean relations namely: the European Neighbourhood Policy, or ENP, and the newly baptised "Barcelona Process: Union for the Mediterranean". The ENP addresses the needs of the region through a bilateral approach to relations with Mediterranean partners. The "Barcelona Process: Union for the Mediterranean" seeks to complement this further by revitalising the existing process through joint ownership, cooperation and dialogue.

The Communication on the "Barcelona Process: Union for the Mediterranean", adopted recently by the Commission at the end of May, is very much focused on projects - many of which will have a bearing on areas in which we hope to make progress under the Integrated Maritime Policy. They vary from subjects such as energy, the opening of new sea-traffic routes, migration, surveillance and cross-border links within the scientific community.

The Commission's ultimate aim is to promote growth, employment, regional cohesion and economic integration around the Mediterranean.

However, lest anyone be misled, let me be clear. We are under no illusion here.

We know that the Mediterranean presents a number of challenging specificities and complex issues. It is an enclosed sea, bordered by several EU Member States, candidate countries and non-EU countries. The juxtaposition of wealthy and less prosperous nations, the accompanying problems posed by migratory flows, the cross-boundary scourge of drug trafficking and other such phenomena compounded by the huge degree of diversity across the region in terms of cultures, practices and trade, present a truly unique set of challenges. The increased human activity resulting from globalisation plus more sector-specific problems with respect to fisheries protection zones, for example, inevitably also carry an impact on our environment.

So there is much to contend with.

But this should not deter us – especially since we are all ultimately working towards the same goal.

For every challenge we face, by pooling our resources, experience and efforts we can lay the foundations for co-operation in the Mediterranean region that will stand us in good stead for the future. Today we will be examining five particular areas in which we can make progress in building the kind of cross-sectoral and cross-border cooperation advocated by the Integrated Maritime Policy.

The first relates to governance.

Co-operation with non-EU partners is the crux of the matter here. We need to be able to propel the Mediterranean Action Plan forward, to make it wholly relevant for the 21st century. At the same time, we urgently need to set about building robust and coordinated maritime governance structures in the Mediterranean to remedy the lack of EEZs and the weakness of regional organisations.

Environmental considerations constitute our second topic for discussion.

The Mediterranean Sea is relatively small, while the region's traffic flows, agricultural activity, mass tourism and the forces of climate change make it extremely vulnerable to environmental decline and pollution.

Our attempts to deal with pollution are ongoing. The Horizon 2020 Initiative is now up and running and several regional and bilateral programmes are in the pipeline. In addition, the Commission has adopted the third maritime safety package (Erika III) and Communications specific to disaster prevention and adaptation to climate change. We would be interested to hear your views as to whether some of the governance tools listed by the Blue Paper, such as maritime spatial planning or, as it might more appropriately be termed, strategic management of maritime areas might also help to solve these problems.

Thirdly, we have the issue of safe shipping.

Shipping in the Mediterranean, currently accounts for 30% of the world's maritime transport. However, the Med's unique position as a link between east and west is now less pronounced, and Mediterranean shipping activity remains susceptible to the changing winds of fortune. There is also the added problem of the huge, unregulated competition between different ports to attract container cargo.

The Commission is tackling transport safety issues from a number of angles. In general terms, it favours safe and secure shipping under the Integrated Maritime Policy because of the greater energy efficiency offered by shipping when compared to road transport. The Commission is launching a consultation to see how we can inject further momentum into the 'Motorways of the Sea' and 'Maritime Transport without Barriers' projects. Furthermore, it is working on instruments under a new European Ports Policy to develop ports that are able to cope with modern transport needs and that can operate on a more level playing field.

I feel there is also scope for much progress on today's fourth topic and that is: co-operation in the field of maritime surveillance.

It is an area where much progress can be made, both with non-EU partners and among EU member states. The importance of an efficient surveillance network in keeping our seas safe cannot be overstated. And yet surveillance activities remain fragmented.

The Commission is actively working to address this problem in order to create, and benefit from, synergies. FRONTEX is now coordinating operations in the field of illegal immigration. In addition, the Commission is looking at developing a European border surveillance system, a pilot project on the interoperability of surveillance systems in the Western Mediterranean and a work plan to create an integrated network of maritime surveillance systems. To back this up, we are exploring avenues for third-country involvement in our surveillance projects in the near future.

Lastly, we also wish to address the all-important issue of maritime research.

Again I would stress that information-sharing is crucial to ensuring that the scientific and research communities, throughout the Mediterranean, can pool their efforts together. Implementing the Integrated Maritime Policy in this regard will encourage excellence in all fields while enabling cross-sectoral networks to flourish. It will also eliminate some of the wasteful duplication of resources that we have experienced all too often in the past.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Returning to what I said at the outset, I truly feel that we are at the start of a new journey.

We are entering new territory in setting out specific ideas for a regional dimension to the Integrated Maritime Policy. We have come a long way, to this point, from the early days when the Green Paper was still just a handful of ideas, there to be mulled over and discussed with our stakeholders.

By bringing these issues into the here and now and focusing on a particular region is a significant step forward. We have now reached the point when things become more specific, tangible and more likely to have a direct impact on those closely involved.

The issues we will be highlighting today cannot be dealt with in isolation. We can zoom in on the specifics of the Mediterranean, for example, but at the same time we must also remain aware of the need for these to be put in the wider European context. In parallel, there are other processes going on - within the Mediterranean - which must also be factored in. With your contributions to the Commission's upcoming policy paper on a European Maritime Strategy for the Mediterranean, next year, we will be able to look at some concrete actions that can be implemented.

The Integrated Maritime Policy is not an inward-looking policy. On the contrary, we are eager to hear from stakeholders and partner countries in the Mediterranean in order to develop truly integrated policy initiatives that will benefit the whole region.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The stunning setting for this conference is the town of Portorož, whose status as a health resort not only stretches back many centuries but is today both economically and culturally vibrant. In addition, part of the town - the famous Seèovlje Saltpans - is now a unique natural habitat for over 250 bird species.

In much the same way that Portorož has managed to do – we believe that the Mediterranean can be a prosperous region with a thriving marine environment, and I am certain that all of us here want to do their part in bringing this about.

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