Cross-sectoral management

The case for an integrated vision of maritime zones

No EU citizen lives more than 700 km from the coast, and almost half are within 50 km of a seashore. The EU is surrounded by four seas and two oceans, and has 89 000 km of coastline, twice as much as Russia. The maritime areas under the jurisdiction of its Member States are larger than the land masses. The obvious conclusion: the need for rational management of the seas and oceans.

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At the moment, management of Europe’s maritime areas is fragmented. Various authorities take decisions, which may be contradictory or leave negative impacts on the environment or the economic health of another sector of activity.

To avoid such conflicts, the European Com - mission set up a task force in early 2005. Led by the European Commissioners responsible for policy sectors with maritime components, this task force operates within the framework of the 2005-2009 strategic objectives aimed at relaunching the Lisbon process. “Our remit,” explains the task force’s leader John Richardson, “is to relaunch the economy and employment in Europe's coastal regions, with due regard for the marine environment and the quality of life in coastal regions.” Ideas from a series of preliminary consultations were gathered into a “Green Paper on a Future Maritime Policy for the Union”, which was published on 7 June 2006. All move in the direction of a cross-sectoral management of sea-related matters.

The voice of civil society

“Based on this Green Paper,” John Richardson continues, “we launched a vast consultation of civil society. Over 250 conferences and seminars were organised across Europe. In parallel with this, more than 480 contributions with new ideas were received via the internet.”

“Not only were we not expecting so many contributions,” Mr Richardson states with pleasure, “but we can also say that the reactions to the proposals set out in the Green Paper were generally positive: an overwhelming majority of contributors are in favour of an integrated EU maritime policy, though obviously with diverging opinions as to the exact way to move forward.”

What next? “This autumn,” John Richardson explains, “a Blue Book was presented to and adopted by the European Commission. It contained not only the results of this large-scale consultation, but also a political vision of what a future integrated maritime policy should look like, with an initial action plan and measures for implementing this political vision.”

Scientific research as a driver of political action

“In the Blue Book, as in the Green Paper,” John Richardson adds, “scientific research is identified as a key element of this political vision, placing Europeans in a strong position to remain at the sharp edge of the maritime sector and to face up to global competition. But at the same time, scientific research is simply a driver for the better management of the seas, and hence for coordinated decision-making in maritime matters.”

The seas and oceans are at the centre of a large number of interactions and processes. To optimise political decision-making, we must first clearly understand these interactions and processes. Ecosystems and their operating mechanisms need to be understood in all their complexity, as do the disturbances caused by human activity. Fishing, tourism, trade, transport, global warming and pollution of various kinds are having undesired effects on the marine environment.

All these problems are tackled in this issue of research*eu. Together, they offer an insight into the complexity of the “seas and ocean system”: everything is interlinked, everything depends on everything else, everything affects everything else. There is no other way to effectively manage this system than to get to grips with it as a whole.

Matthieu Lethé