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Conference on Maritime Policy in the Mediterranean Sea

On 10 June 2008, only two days after the World Ocean Day, the Slovenian Presidency of the European Union, the European Commission and the University Centre for Euro-Mediterranean Studies (Center EMUNI) as the predecessor of the Euro-Mediterranean University which was solemnly inaugurated a day before, organised the first ever international high level conference on maritime policy and governance in the Mediterranean.

Recognising the particular importance of the sea and the sustainable management of its use and resources, the conference brought together a vast array of officials and stakeholders from EU and non-EU partner countries in the Maghreb, the Middle East and Turkey to discuss the need of developing a holistic approach to the management of maritime sectors and activities in the Mediterranean Sea basin. 

The conference provided a unique opportunity for addressing the specific challenges of an Integrated Maritime Policy (IMP) in the Mediterranean. The Governments’ representatives and stakeholders from the EU, 13 Mediterranean partner countries, the European Commission and several international agencies and organisations analysed the principles, specificities, prerequisites and tools necessary for implementing the concept of an Integrated Maritime Policy in the in the territory and waters of Mediterranean countries, both in the European Union and its partners, and in the high seas. In particular, the discussions focused on the structures and problems of cross-sectoral maritime governance, the sustainable development of sea-based industries, environment, fisheries, integrated surveillance, maritime transport and marine research.

In their opening addresses Dr. Joe Borg, the European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Dr. Peter Verlič, State Secretary in the Ministry of Transport of the Republic of Slovenia and Prof. Dr. Marko Pavliha, Member of the Slovenian Parliament and EU Maritime Ambassador, insisted on the potential of the Integrated Maritime Policy for solving the pressing problems of maritime management in the region. They highlighted the complexities of governance structures in this area which require a cooperative approach between the countries bordering the Mediterranean and the various conventions and organisations which have a mandate for high seas governance.

Detailed technical discussions took place in a number of workshops where panellists and participants addressed aspects of governance, environmental protection, transport policy, surveillance needs and research cooperation. The themes of the workshops correspond to several of the priority areas which had been identified during the consultation on a European Integrated Maritime Policy in 2006 and 2007.

The first workshop, dedicated to the "Future EU Maritime Policy and the Governance of the Mediterranean", was chaired by Mr. Salvino Busuttil, Deputy Chairman of the Malta Foundation. Panellists drew a picture of the variety of governance systems applied in the Mediterranean. They emphasised that the present set-up of sector-based regional organisations in fisheries, environment and other policy areas in an area where bordering countries were reluctant to declare Exclusive Economic Zones was not sufficiently effective to addressing the management needs of a maritime space as densely populated and intensively used as the Mediterranean. There was a call for a Mediterranean dialogue on the ways and means of establishing more efficient, national, cooperative and cross-sectoral governance mechanisms. It was highlighted that this dialogue should not only involve governments and institutions but in particular also stakeholders, since without their experience and commitment no viable solutions for problems of maritime governance can be found nor implemented.

The second workshop, under the title "Environmental Strategy for the Mediterranean and the Future EU Maritime Policy", was chaired by Paul Mifsud, Director of the Mediterranean Action Plan, United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). The speakers drew the attention to the common objective of all Mediterranean countries to ensure sustainability and environmental protection, since a healthy environment is the precondition for many economic activities such as tourism, professional and recreational fishing, etc. Both panellists and speakers from the floor insisted that environmental protection exceeds the possibilities of a single country or even a group of countries. Sustainable use of resources and sustainable economic development that does not put the health of ecosystems in jeopardy must be a common condition for all, and rules need to be enforced and respected. There was a strong call for achieving this by enhanced cooperation and dialogue using existing mechanisms and innovative forms of dialogue and coordination.

The third workshop, named "Opportunities and Risks of Sea Transport in the Mediterranean" was chaired by Mr. John Tzoannos, Secretary General at the Ministry of Mercantile Marine in Greece. It was agreed during this workshop that there should be enhanced co ordination on both sides of the sea to implement international regulations and that countries should seek to put their means in common. Due to their transnational dimension, motorways of the sea projects should be given the highest attention to be fully implemented as soon as possible.

The fourth workshop, on the "Integration of Mediterranean Surveillance Systems", was chaired by Mr. Elie Jarmache from the French Secretariat General for the Sea. A general consensus emerged on the fact that the challenges for maritime surveillance in the Mediterranean Sea are growing every day and that it is urgent to act in common, while the main problem is the fragmentation of surveillance systems, not only of means but also of legal systems and data bases.
The fifth workshop, addressing the "Future of Maritime Research in the Mediterranean Basin", was chaired by Mr. Frédéric Briand, Director General of the International Commission for the Scientific Exploration of the Mediterranean Sea. It became apparent during this workshop that scientific information, knowledge and experience concerning the Mediterranean is rich and there is a great variety of research activities. The main problem is however the fragmentation of information and insufficient funding. Some examples of good cross-governmental cooperation exist and should be encouraged but research activities and funding need to be stepped up to meet the numerous challenges in the maritime sector.

During the conference participants also welcomed the launching by the European Commission of a public consultation on the development of an integrated maritime policy approach for the Mediterranean and commended the Commission's announcement to come forward, under the French Presidency of the European Union, with a Paper indicating key questions and possible policy option in this context.

The Commission will reflect the recommendations, results and findings of this conference in the consultation process and during the preparation of the Paper. In particular, it took note of the general consensus on the need for better and more efficient maritime governance and the need and will to implement an integrated approach to the management of sea-based activities in the Mediterranean which emerged through the discussions.

Organizers and participants concluded that the complexity and relevance of the problems discussed at the Piran (Portorož) conference require further work and efforts by all concerned, governments, multilateral bodies and stakeholders alike. In this context, in addition to addressing problems in individual sectors such as transport, fisheries, the environment etc. future discussions should focus on the two following cross-cutting issues:

• The absence of Exclusive Economic Zones and the ways to find acceptable solutions to solve the difficulties this situation is generating
• Surveillance and the way to create joint ownership for cross-sectoral surveillance in the region, among EU and non-EU countries.

They encouraged the European Commission to feed into the discussion and consultation process with the forthcoming initiative. Further work on maritime policy in the Mediterranean could culminate in a large scale follow-up event in 2009, bringing together both stakeholders and decision-makers. The upcoming consultation process should create joint ownership for the solutions, governance tools and decision-making processes that will be necessary and tailor-made to the Mediterranean Sea.

In the closing remarks presented by Mr. Xavier de la Gorce, Secretary General for the Sea in the French Prime Minister's Office, the incoming French EU Presidency took a strong commitment to including the development of an integrated maritime policy strategy for the Mediterranean Sea one of the priorities of its EU Presidency. Work will focus on cooperation in maritime surveillance, de-polluting the sea, implementing the motorways of the sea, data collection and scientific research.