Representation in Malta

Commissioner Vella: Overview of the challenges and achievements

/malta/file/commissioner-karmenu-vella-and-head-rep-elena-grech_enCommissioner Karmenu Vella and Head of Rep Elena Grech

Commissioner Karmenu Vella and Head of Rep Elena Grech
Commissioner Karmenu Vella and Head of Rep Elena Grech

On 15 November, we bid farewell to Karmenu Vella and thanked him for 5 years of excellent work as EU Commissioner for the Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries. Commissioner Vella gave an overview of how his work on the environment, oceans and fisheries created a solid foundation for the upcoming von der Leyen Commission. Read his full speech below. 


I still remember, as if it was yesterday, when 5 years ago Prime Minister Joseph Muscat announced my nomination as EU Commissioner.

I rushed off to Brussels full of nervous expectations. I was not yet aware of which portfolio I will be heading.

Well, to say the truth, there were rumours that I might be given Maritime Affairs and Fisheries. But little did I know that President Juncker had the brilliant idea of merging Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries.

It was as if I was expecting a baby, but eventually ended up with twins!

Looking back over the past five years, I can now say that both twins are doing well. And are both standing strong.

We have seen throughout my mandate that we cannot deal with environment without taking into account the ocean.

What happens on land affects the ocean. And what we do to the ocean, impacts our land.

Like President Juncker, President-elect Von der Leyen understands the importance of having the green and blue agenda under one umbrella.

In fact, the new Commission will keep environment and oceans under one portfolio. As the combination of the two policy areas create bigger synergies when combined.

 But today I don’t want just to look back and say “well done us, we have done a great job”. I want to focus on how the incoming Commission will build on what the Juncker Commission has achieved.

As already announced, one of the first actions of the new Commission will be the rollout of the new Green Deal. A deal that will be specifically aimed at protecting our environment as well as our ocean.

The Juncker Commission has escalated environment and ocean protection to the highest levels of its political agenda. We have not only managed to do this at a European level but we have also pushed to put environment and oceans amongst the topics discussed at international fora. And lead by example when it came to action.

This is specifically what our citizens are calling for. We know this from the Eurobarometer Studies. We see it from the votes in the European elections. And we see it from the thousands of marchers who make a stand for climate action and protest about biodiversity loss.

Environment, oceans, climate and biodiversity will remain amongst Europe’s political priorities, through the new Green Deal that will be delivered in the first 100 days of the next Commission.

Yes, that does sound very ambitious but definitely not impossible.

Von der Leyen’s ambition is built on very solid foundations, foundations built both by the Juncker Commission as well as by previous Commissions.

Over the past 5 years, we have ensured that the Nature Directives were fit for purpose. Where they were falling short, we brought in an Action Plan to fill the gaps. Today, more than 75% of the actions included in the nature action plan have been delivered.

The deal includes a new biodiversity strategy for 2030 on the way, and an ambitious commitment to curtail biodiversity loss both on land and at sea, in the next five years. President von der Leyen is determined to see Europe leading the world at the 2020 Biodiversity COP in China next autumn, and equally determined to deliver a deal that changes the global perception of the problem, the way the Paris deal did for climate in 2015.

And let’s not forget that the main architect of the Paris deal was of course the European Union.

We have also scheduled a major increase in funding for Nature under the EU LIFE Programme. This strengthens our domestic commitment to halting the loss of biodiversity. The generation of new LIFE projects, means that support remains for Member States, including Malta, to meet their environmental objectives.

It goes without saying that our credibility on the international stage, our capacity to convince the rest of the world to follow our lead, depends on what we do at home.

A solid domestic nature policy, backed by political commitments and strong financing, will go a long way to convincing the rest of the world to take those ambitious steps.

Steps that nature demands, and that nature deserves.

Our work to eradicate our traditional linear economic model, and to move towards a more circular economy, will not be in vain. It will continue through the Green Deal. The circular economy is a key element for the new economic model. It prompts innovation, creates new jobs and generates a sustainable competitive advantage on the global stage.

I dare say that the European Union’s progress towards a more circular economy, is indeed one of the greatest achievements of the current Commission. Especially in areas like plastics and waste. It was the circular economy which led to our Plastics Strategy and the legislations on Single Use Plastics.

But plastics is just one sector and it is only the beginning.

Our next step is to ensure that the circular economy expands to new areas such as textiles, food, water, construction and ICT. All these areas are ripe for further development.

Action towards the protection of our citizens and the improvement in their quality of life will also continue through the new Green Deal. We can expect a Clean Air Action Plan, building on the legacy of the existing legislation.

The watchword will be zero pollution. Continuing on the path we have set out towards healthy air, and clean water.

Clean water flows between the two aspects of my portfolio, so I will turn now towards fisheries and maritime affairs, and more specifically towards our oceans.

For the past five years, I made it my mission to fully implement the 2013 common fisheries policy reform. A much needed reform that has also proved to be a solid framework for a sustainable fishing and coastal economy.

In the Atlantic, the North Sea and the Baltic we achieved very good results. Almost 99% of the volume of stocks managed solely by the EU will be fished sustainably this year. That’s very good news for fishermen, because experience has shown that when we fish within sustainable limits, fishing profits rise, sometimes to record levels.

We have implemented regionalisation, one of the key features of the reform. And we have rolled out the landing obligation.

For the  Mediterranean, we mapped out the path to recovery.

The 2017 MedFish4Ever Ministerial Declaration, signed in Malta during the Maltese Presidency of the European Council, gave the region the battle plan it needed for multilateral fisheries governance. It’s ambitious, it’s comprehensive and it goes from data collection and scientific evaluation all the way up to compliance. It covers conservation, employment and development, and it links Member States, third countries, and international organisations.

We entrusted the  General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM) with overseeing its implementation.

The declaration has changed the dynamics of fisheries governance in the region, so that fishermen, authorities, NGOs and consumers now all work together to improve the situation in our precious Mediterranean sea.

A lot has been done at EU level as well. We adopted the first ever multi-annual management plan for the Western Mediterranean. And soon, the first fishing opportunities regulation for the Mediterranean will be adopted.

But we are still only at the beginning of a long journey. Many stocks are still in a precarious state, but the EU will keep pushing the pace of implementation of the needed reforms.

This brings me to the ocean which is essential for our own survival. Amongst other things, the ocean is the prime climate regulator  absorbing 90% of the planet’s temperature and more than one third of the planet’s carbon. It is also the source of 50% of our oxygen. It is our duty to protect and restore it, and time is running out.

The recent IPCC report on climate and oceans has a frightening list of the impacts of climate change. Plummeting fish stocks. Floods and storms. Ecosystems destroyed, on a planet that needs to feed 9 billion mouths.

The only way out is better global cooperation, and stronger ocean governance.

It can be done.

I know this because I have seen it. The Central Arctic fisheries agreement is an excellent example. It’s a landmark agreement, with 75% of the global economy, including the US, China and Russia, putting a moratorium on fisheries in that area, until science tells us how we can fish sustainably.

I have seen it in our ocean governance policy and in our ocean partnership agreements with Canada and China. We are now working hard to make these agreements come to life. For example, last month we signed a deal with China to share ocean observation data.

And I have seen it in our cooperation across the world to fight illegal fishing. As the EU, we put our full economic weight behind this battle. We block our fish imports for countries that allow illegal fishing. And we work with them, helping them put in place the systems and regulations they need. And it works. A positive approach always works. We have now more allies in the fight against IUU than ever before.

This is good for our oceans, for our consumers, and for local economies around the world.

And like many of you, I have seen the true scale of international support for protecting our oceans. When we organised the Our Ocean conference here in Malta two years ago, the event was a huge success, with 433 new and substantial commitments, including one hundred from industry. Financial pledges worth 7 billion euro. It was one of the absolute highlights of my mandate, and I will always be thankful for your support.

I hope I have given you an overview of the solid foundation that the Commission together with the co-legislators: the Parliament and the Council, have put in place. A legacy that the European Union can continue to build on. And a clear roadmap for the challenges ahead. 

To conclude,

I would like to thank Prime Minister Muscat for his trust. My cabinet and both the services.

I would also like to thank all of you for your encouragement and support.

And finally a big thank you to the staff at the European Commission and European Parliament Representations in Malta for organising today’s event.

THANK YOU ALL I sincerely hope we can all continue to look to the future with a firm determination so that we can build on our achievements.

Thank you.    


Read more 

From a drop in the ocean to a wave of change - Review of Commissioner Vella's mandate 2014-2019: