The Sea… what comes to your mind when you think about it? A year ago, I would think of a great blue extension of Atlantic ocean, big waves beating volcanic rock, splattering spume all around and bringing me a feeling of pure freedom. Romantic as I am, I still try to keep this souvenir attached to the Sea concept, but it has become more difficult since I got in touch with EU Affairs. That is because, in the view of the European institutions and bodies, the Sea is a political object.
The six European Seas are seen as assets and development resources. Ultimately, its extensive and intensive management could represent a move which would bring the EU closer to the achievement of the omnipresent Europe2020 strategy. Let me try to splash you with these thrilling aspects of European maritime policy.
What is Blue Growth?
The Sea represents the World’s second largest economic activity, only after food – even before drugs!. The European Commission, aware of the economic potentials of the European seas, has launched the blue growth strategy. Theoretically, it should include the three dimensions of sustainable development, namely social, environmental and economic development. This means that the ‘Maritime Europe’ should not only be innovative and centered on industry, but it is also expected to contribute to the creation and promotion of jobs in the maritime sector, while protecting the marine resources.
The development of the EU Integrated Maritime Police is referred to as a catalyst for blue growth. This will be helped by introducing the EMFF, a source of funding oriented to support fisherman in the transition to sustainable fishing, the diversification of the economy in coastal regions and their adaptation to climate change. Moreover, the EU pretends to increase the attractiveness of its coastal regions for investment, specifically in R&D, which is badly needed in order to boost the blue economy.
It seems clear that the Sea is rising in the EU political agenda, due to its potential for the creation of growth and jobs, along with that ambitious political (science-fiction) strategy called Europe 2020. To be more concrete, the Commission predicts the creation of 1.5 million jobs directly related to the sea by 2020. Sustainable fishing, a more energy-efficient and safer shipping industry, the development of aquaculture and the installation of more offshore wind fields are just examples of the economic potential lying on as well as beneath European waters.
In addition, a more traditional economic activity, coastal tourism, is tied to the lure of a holiday period at the beautiful banks of the Sea. The arrival of tourists in high seasons has a huge economic impact, making the population double in some maritime cities and resulting in a juicy source of revenue.
To squeeze out the most resources offered by the Sea, it also becomes crucial, and the EU policy-makers are aware of this, to tackle the issue with a multidimensional approach. On the one hand, the EU is starting to consider the synergies and interrelations between land and maritime management, which is seen by the Commission proposal for maritime spatial planning, by the integrated maritime policy, and by the mention to the maritime environment in the Territorial Agenda of the EU.
Additionally, the EU is aware of the importance of bringing together, under the umbrella of European goals, broad national policies and narrower regional and local initiatives. After all, regional and local governments have a more ‘selfish’ point of view, caring merely about the interests of their very localized community of voters. However, they are also the ones maintaining direct contact with interest groups, as well as the ones aware of the specificities of their region or locality and the particular impacts that a European policy measure may cause in their territory.
Finally, due to the interrelation between land and sea based activities and as well as the diversity of stakeholder, it is said that EU maritime policy should be designed according to a cross-sectorial approach.
Economic development and Environmental protection; hopeless marriage?
The exploitation of maritime resources for a generation worth of economic development, especially in times of economic crisis, is a laudable objective. However, the resources offered by the Seas are limited and that is why one of the biggest challenges for EU maritime policy is to keep the balance between the development of the blue economy and the protection of the fragile marine environments. The key word in this case is, sustainability.
It is easy to imagine a daydreamer ecologist fighting for an ideal protection of all the zoomorphic inhabitants of the European seas, against a reckless entrepreneur with the Euro symbol painted in his forehead at an oil platform throwing coins over his head. However, thinking of blue growth and green growth as polar opposites is a mistake. Thereby, for instance, the investment in maritime renewable energy could generate both green and blue growth and the degradation of the maritime environment would represent a fatal threat for the touristic industry. What to say about the Erika and Prestige catastrophes? The losses were huge both in ecological and economical terms. Therefore, struggling for finding a common ground, for these apparently opposed interest groups, would be the optimum.
To sum up, sustainable development is the only smart way for EU maritime policy to follow. The only, small problem is that no-one knows concretely what this constitutes in practical terms. All in all, if the EU plays this game on the Sea well, the economic potentialities of blue growth could work as an ace up the sleeve against the economic constrains (particularly in Southern Europe), by opening the way to new sources of economic growth and employment.
Eager to know more? On 21 and 22 May 2013 there was, held in La Valleta, the 6th European Maritime Day Conference. Policy-makers and stakeholders exchanged their views on the opportunities which European seas and oceans offer: http://ec.europa.eu/maritimeaffairs/maritimeday/conference/programme_en.htm