Ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you all for joining us today. It is good to see this room full of people who understand the importance of planning the use of maritime space.

And it is good to see many new faces in the room, especially from the corporate world.

The European Commission has hosted several events on maritime spatial planning in the last years. But this is the first time we have fully extended our reach beyond the planners and experts. We wanted to reach out to those working in fisheries and aquaculture, in tourism and shipping, in offshore energy and all the other sectors that make up Europe's thriving and diverse maritime economy.

So to those of you joining us for the first time: welcome!

On previous occasions planners have discussed what Maritime Spatial Planning could do for you. Today it's the other way around. It's the planners who are in listening mode. And it's your chance to tell them – and us, the European Commission – what you need.

But before that, let me quickly set the scene.

Around 10 years ago maritime spatial planning was little more than a local concept, with some EU member states acting as pioneers.

Today – in the European Union at least – it's common practice.

This is because we have realised two things:

First, that the oceans give us so much. They produce the oxygen we breathe, regulate our climate, feed us. They also underpin trillions of euros of economic activity. In fact, if the ocean were a country, it would be the world's seventh largest economy and therefore would have a seat at the G7 meetings.

But there was a second thing we realised: oceans are under tremendous pressure from climate change, marine pollution and unsustainable economic activities. And we can only sustain and benefit from them if we take good care of them at the same time.

Planning the use of maritime space and ensuring that competing activities do not harm the ocean environment is one big part of the solution.

That is why, in the European Union, maritime spatial planning is now compulsory. All Member States must adopt maritime plans by 2021 – which means that all Member States should currently be carrying out their planning processes.

In addition, countries are now legally required to cooperate with their neighbours when planning the use of their maritime space – a global first!

This requirement is challenging, I know. But it is worth it.

And we are not leaving countries to fend for themselves.

Since 2014, the European Union has spent nearly 18 million euros to support cross-border planning in different sea basins. And we will continue to support new projects each year.

In fact, I am very pleased to announce that we have just finished selecting four new projects, worth nearly 6 million euros, to improve cross-border planning in the North Sea, the Baltic Sea, and in the EU’s Outermost Regions in the Atlantic and the Indian Ocean.

But that is not all.

More than half of the world's maritime spatial plans have been drawn up within the European Union. So we have a deep pool of experience. And we have decided to share our experience internationally.

In fact, just next week we are hosting a training seminar on maritime spatial planning in Cyprus, for our eight partner countries from the southern shore of the Mediterranean Sea.

And beyond our immediate neighbourhood, we are taking the global agenda on the oceans forward together with UNESCO's Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC).

Earlier this year, we adopted a Joint Roadmap to accelerate Maritime Spatial Planning processes worldwide.

And, having charted the course, we are now ready to set sail. 

As the European Union announced at the Our Ocean conference last week, we will support UNESCO's International Oceanographic Commission (IOC) with 1.4 million euros to develop international guidelines for countries looking to work with their neighbours when drawing up their maritime plans.

We will also set up two international cross-border pilot projects next year – one in the Mediterranean and one in the South Pacific – to help develop these guidelines.

And, at a joint workshop in May, we will jointly kick off an International Forum for Maritime Spatial Planning. To empower a new generation of ocean planners and navigators.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I have given you a flavour of what the European Union is doing. But, as they say, it takes two to tango.

So now it's up to you. Use today to share your experiences and your expectations!

So that your local town hall or national ministry knows what to consider when they draft their maritime plans – plans that will affect how you do business.

I wish you a successful conference.

Thank you.

* * *

Check against delivery