Sea is 'inexhaustible source of growth and prosperity' for Europe

Greece's marine policies can benefit all EU member states, explains Miltiadis Varvitsiotis.

By Miltiadis Varvitsiotis

19 Dec 2013

Greece is a country that lies by the water and its main economic activities are related to the sea. It has the longest coastline and the biggest number of islands among our EU partners. The Greek shipping industry is a world leader and secures unimpeded flows of trade to and from the EU, since it makes up 15 per cent of global shipping and 40 per cent of European shipping.

Based on our tradition and the belief that the sea and our maritime activities form an inexhaustible source of growth and prosperity for the whole of Europe, Greece decided to make the sea one of the pillars of its EU presidency in the first half of 2014, hence we call it the maritime pillar of our presidency which will trigger a series of horizontal and sectoral policies, to which I will briefly refer.

This gives us the opportunity to stress the need to promote the competitiveness of the EU shipping vis-à-vis its competitors outside the EU. This translates, on the one hand, into sustaining positive measures in favour of our shipping industry from an economic perspective and, on the other, into promoting the adoption and application of global rules through the international maritime organisation (IMO). The latter dimension is, we believe, of paramount importance as regards improving the cooperation framework of member states in the IMO, so that their expertise is used to the benefit of all.

The insular geography of our country and its sea tourism are additional factors that underscore our interest in maritime issues. For this reason, the integrated maritime policy of the EU (the IMP) will be a second main strand of action. Following the landmark Limassol declaration, we will put forward draft council conclusions to the June 2014 council. In such a policy text, we will provide guidelines to the European commission's initiatives in the field of the IMP actions, namely 'blue growth' which includes maritime and coastal tourism, blue energy, aquaculture, exploitation of marine mineral resources and insularity.

The dimension of cross-sectoral and cross-border cooperation at sea could be added as a priority. Sea basin strategies, such as the maritime action plan of the Adriatic and Ionian strategy will be promoted, once adopted. The cooperation strand will also include the promotion of Europe's coast guard functions forum, which will be supported by the European Union.

In particular, insularity is the main topic that relates to our experience as a country with thousands of inhabited islands, and highlights the wider dimensions of the insular policy in context with related EU policies, such as environmental, transport, rural and spatial policies. The aim of introducing the notion of insularity in EU policies is therefore to prevent territorial and thus social exclusion, to avoid isolation and to offer equal growth opportunities to our islands.

Needless to say that securing the EU maritime domain is an essential ingredient in order to realise economic growth from the sea. Maritime Europe and the Greek presidency expects with great interest the joint high representative European commission's communication on a European maritime security strategy, which is currently underway. It will most likely comprise of both internal, as well as external, aspects of maritime security and promote global solutions in dealing with challenges at European level, in accordance with international law and in particular with maritime legislation.

And last but not least, maritime security is a 'hot' issue that relates to sea-borne migration. It constitutes an important field of cooperation within the EU context and particularly in the Mediterranean region, especially because of recent, unfortunate incidents. Given its obvious importance for the European economy, its social cohesion and security, particular importance is attributed to the regulation on the Frontex operations, to the monitoring and development of the proposed actions by the task force for the Mediterranean, as well as to the related gradual development of a common information sharing environment on maritime surveillance.

[pullquote]Our aim is to cooperate closely with all our EU partners with whom we share the same strategic interests in order to promote policies that will benefit all EU member states and ultimately our maritime industries and our citizens[/pullquote]. The EU maritime domain is vast and so are its challenges and opportunities.