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Promoting an Integrated Maritime Strategy for the Atlantic Ocean Area: The European Union Leads the Way

Tuesday, 21 February 2012
by Alexandros Kailis, Ph.D Candidate, Research and Organization Group, MEPIELAN Centre, Panteion University of Athens, Greece, f. Policy Officer in the Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, European Commission
Promoting an Integrated Maritime Strategy for the Atlantic Ocean Area: The European Union Leads the Way
1. Introduction

Fostering the sustainable management of the oceans, seas and coasts and enhancing the overall development of all sea-related activities in a sustainable manner necessitate the adoption of overarching and integrated approaches to maritime governance. Within this context, the European Union has developed so far an integrated maritime policy framework aimed at promoting and implementing an all-inclusive and holistic approach to maritime affairs[1]. The cardinal objective of this maritime policy framework for the EU is to create optimal conditions for the sustainable use of the oceans, seas, and coastal regions through the interaction, coordination, and synergies between different sectoral policies (i.e., maritime transport, environment, energy, research, maritime safety and security, and fisheries), and among a wide range of maritime stakeholders[2].

At the core of the EU integrated policy approach to maritime governance lies the development of integrated regional sea-basin strategies tailored to the specific characteristics, needs and challenges of different seas-basins sharing European coastlines. Building on this fundamental premise, inspired by the already established EU maritime-basins policies[3] and in line with the strategic goals of the EU 2020 Strategy[4] and the request of the European Institutions[5], the EU adopted on 21 November 2011 the Communication on Developing a Maritime Strategy for the Atlantic Ocean Area[6]. The new EU Maritime Strategy for the Atlantic Ocean aims at laying the foundation for the sustainable growth and development of the Atlantic region, and the further implementation of an integrated approach to the management of the whole Atlantic Ocean area. In particular, the EU Atlantic Strategy places emphasis on the following thematic areas which are to be further analyzed and elaborated in the course of establishing the Strategy: (i) the main challenges and opportunities facing the Atlantic Ocean area, (ii) the core EU policy tools to be used for addressing the Atlantic challenges and (iii) the key actions needed for the effective implementation of the EU Atlantic Strategy.

2. Challenges and Opportunities

As to the most alarming challenges facing to date the Atlantic Ocean, the pollution of its fragile marine ecosystem features prominently. Addressing this challenge, requires the implementation of an integrated and coherent ecosystem-based approach to the management of human activities in the Atlantic (i.e. fisheries, offshore aquaculture and energy), based on the fundamental EU integrated maritime policy tools of maritime spatial planning and integrated coastal zone management. Recognizing especially the importance of fisheries for the economies of Atlantic Member States, the EU Atlantic Strategy encourages the Member States concerned to proceed, in line with the EUs Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), to the adoption of a set of comprehensive policy and technical measures with a view to ensuring the long-term sustainability of sea fish stocks and preserving the vulnerable marine ecosystems of the Atlantic Ocean.

In parallel, the EU Atlantic Ocean Strategy draws its attention to the potential opportunities provided by the Atlantic Ocean towards the development of climate change mitigation measures. Specifically, strong winds, powerful waves and tides appeared in the Atlantic lay the groundwork for the exploitation and development of innovative offshore renewable energy infrastructure capable of producing clean energy and reducing Europes carbon footprint. Additionally, the Strategy highlights that the further strengthening and enhancement of international legal, policy and technical measures and targets regarding greenhouse gas emissions from maritime transport may contribute significantly to the decrease of the carbon footprint in the Atlantic and influence the Atlantic shipping routing. In this connection, the development of short sea shipping in the Atlantic region should be further promoted and encouraged since it provides the means for shifting efficiently freight from road to sea and reducing consequently carbon emissions.

Moreover, the Communication on the Atlantic Strategy places a high priority on the issues of exploitation of the Atlantic seabed natural resources. In an attempt to reap the benefits of sustainable exploration, exploitation and use of the Atlantic seafloors natural resources, the EU aims to further explore the possibility of creating those conditions which will stimulate environmentally sound investments in the Atlantic seabed marine raw materials. Within this framework, the EU should reinforce the marine research cooperation among research institutes on both sides of the Atlantic on a wide range of issues relating to the rich biodiversity of the Atlantic ocean, and facilitate the easy access to a wide range of natural and human-activity data on the oceans produced by public authorities and research institutions.

Recognizing the necessity for reinforcing the means put in place for preventing and facing threats and emergencies derived from natural disasters, accidents and criminal activities in the Atlantic Ocean area, the EU advocates the need for further improving its legislative arsenal on maritime safety and security measures. Effective monitoring of the sea and increased cooperation and coordination between national and regional authorities should be an integral part of streamlined marine disaster preparedness and response mechanism and maritime security system.

Furthermore, ensuring sustainable growth and jobs, avoiding the decline in maritime employment and protecting coastal and maritime tourism constitute another overarching objective the new EU Maritime Strategy for the Atlantic Ocean area. In this context, a high priority should be placed on working towards the development of a system which will provide the citizens of the Atlantic coast with better and wider career prospects in maritime related sectors (i.e. fisheries, shipping, tourism, shipbuilding). This will include enhancing the skills and qualification of maritime professions through continuous training and education, attracting young people to maritime careers, and improving working conditions for seafarers and fishermen. In addition, weigh should be attached to the importance of encouraging the development of regional clustering of maritime industries, and further exploiting and promoting the touristic assets of the Atlantic coast (i.e. nautical activities, natural beauty, rich biodiversity, traditional seafood).

3. EU Tools for meeting the Atlantic Strategy goals

The European Union is now in the process of elaborating, refining and developing the necessary financial, legislative and policy instruments to be used for addressing the challenges and opportunities facing today the Atlantic Ocean area.

Within the framework of the EU 2020 Strategy, the European Union is planning to create a Common Strategy Framework for structural funding through which a wide range of thematic actions and projects will be financed throughout Europe. This Common Framework will merge all the actions covered today by a number of Union funding instruments[7], and it will seek to identify and exploit synergies with other EU financial programmes for research, lifelong learning and innovation. As a result, coordination and better strategic investment of available funding will become a priority for the EU in the next financial perspective 2014-2020.

Furthermore, the Marine Strategy Framework Directive[8] constitutes one of the key legislative tools which will contribute significantly to meeting the environment related challenges identified in the Atlantic region. The Directive provides the fundamental basis for protecting and preserving the marine environment and ensuring a good environmental status of the EUs marine waters by the year 2020. The EU Member States of the Atlantic should give priority to the effective harmonization of their legislative framework with this Directive and increase their cooperation towards the efficient monitoring and assessing of the good environmental status of their marine environment. Additionally, the reformed EU Common Fisheries Policy[9] (CFP) will provide the Member States from the Atlantic with all necessary means needed for ensuring effective and efficient sustainable fisheries management based on simplified objectives, standards and targets.

The implementation of an all-inclusive and holistic approach to maritime affairs depends to a large degree on the further evolution of the three cross-cutting policy tools of the EU integrated maritime policy: (i) a European network of a cross-border and interoperable maritime surveillance system[10], (ii) maritime spatial planning[11] and integrated coast zone management[12], and (iii) a marine data and knowledge network[13]. The EU should continue to take initiatives, actions and measures towards the further development, improvement and implementation of the above-mentioned integrated maritime policy-making tools in the Atlantic region.

The Atlantic Ocean area will also benefit from the prioritization and linkages of pilot projects, international cooperative actions with partners in the Atlantic region and research programmes which promote excellence, growth and competitiveness. In this context, the Horizon 2020 a Common Strategy Framework for research, innovation and technological development provides a mechanism through which the EU could enhance the cooperation between national and regional research programmes and actions with a bearing on the Atlantic Ocean area. In parallel, the EUs external policy financial instruments, like the European Development Fund (EDF), will give the great opportunity to EU Member States of the Atlantic to foster dialogue and coordination with third countries, to build up partnership agreements and to exploit synergies and exchange best practices with international partners with a vested interest in the Atlantic region.

4. Implementation of the Atlantic Strategy

Implementing effectively and efficiently the EU Maritime Strategy for the Atlantic Ocean area requires, apart from the commitment of the EU institutions, the active engagement from a wide range of Atlantic stakeholders, including Member States, regional authorities, local and coastal communities, the industry, civil society and research institutions. In addition, the promotion and fostering of international cooperation with third countries, partners and international organization on a great deal of issues related to the Atlantic Ocean area such as marine environment protection, maritime safety and security, illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing will give meaning and teeth to the Atlantic Strategy.

Against this background, the European Commission is planning to set up an Action Plan for the Atlantic Strategy by the end of 2013. This Action Plan will enumerate a set of actions and measures that the European Commission proposes to take as a first step towards the implementation of the new EU Maritime Strategy for the Atlantic Ocean area. In a similar vein, the European Commission has elaborated a number of means which will assist the Atlantic stakeholders to implement the Strategy. These means include: (i) continuing cooperation, dialogue, information sharing and exchange of best practices on issues with a bearing on the Atlantic region through conferences, workshops and formal and informal meetings and discussion groups - in this connection, an Atlantic Forum involving Atlantic stakeholders is expected to start working in 2012; (ii) targeted actions and activities taken within existing agreements and institutional structures such as the OSPAR Convention, regional fisheries organizations and the International Maritime Organization (IMO); and (iii) strategic combination and linkage of the financial, policy and legislative instruments used for addressing the challenges and opportunities of the Atlantic region and achieving the goals of the Strategy.

An Epilogue

It goes without saying that the Maritime Strategy for the Atlantic Ocean area forms the foundation for the emergence and establishment of an integrated governance framework for the Atlantic. The challenges and opportunities facing today the Atlantic demonstrate the need for the adoption of an overarching, integrated, and coherent approach to sustainable management and development of the whole Atlantic region, based on the philosophy of an integrated maritime policy for the EU. However, if the priorities and objectives of this Strategy are to be translated in concrete results, it is pertinent that the EU, the Atlantic Member States and all the Atlantic stakeholders concerned pool their efforts and join forces to create those structures, mechanisms and common tools which will ensure the effective refinement and implementation of the Strategy in the years to come.


  1. See European Commission Communication on an Integrated Maritime Policy for the European Union COM(2007) 575 of 10 October 2007, and Action Plan to the Communication on an Integrated Maritime Policy for the Union SEC(2007) 1278, Commission Progress Report on the EU's Integrated Maritime Policy COM (2009) 540 final of 15.10.2009.
  2. Kailis, A. "Towards the Adoption of an Integrated Approach to the Governance of the Arctic Ocean: The European Perspective", Ocean Yearbook, Vol. 24, 2010, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, pp. 445-473.
  3. Communication from the Commission on the European Union and the Arctic Region COM(2008) 763 of 20.11.08, Communication on the European Union Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region COM(2009) 248 of 10.6.2009, and Commission Communication "Towards an Integrated Maritime Policy for better governance in the Mediterranean COM (2009) 466 of 11.09.2009.
  4. Commission Communication on "EUROPE 2020: A strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth" - COM(2010) 2020 of 3 March 2010.
  5. Council Conclusions on Integrated Maritime Policy of 14.06.2010, European Parliament Resolution on the European Strategy for the Atlantic Region, 9.03.2011 (ref B7-0165/2011).
  6. COM(2011) 782 of 21 November 2011. The strategy will cover the coasts, territorial and jurisdictional waters of the five EU Member States with an Atlantic coastline - France, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and the United Kingdom, including the Outermost Regions of the Axores, the Canary Islands, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Madeira, Martinique, Saint-Barthelemy and Saint-Martin - as well as international waters reaching westward to the Americas, eastward to Africa and the Indian Ocean, southward to the Southern Ocean and northward to the Arctic Ocean.
  7. The main EU Funding mechanisms include: the Cohesion Fund, the European Social Fund, the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, the European Regional Development Fund and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development.
  8. Directive 2008/56/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 June 2008 establishing a framework for community action in the field of marine environmental policy (Marine Strategy Framework Directive), OJ L 164/19, 17 June 2008, available at
  9. Commission Communication on Reform of the Common Fisheries Policy COM(2011) 417 of 13 July 2011.
  10. Commission Communication "Towards the integration of maritime surveillance: A common information sharing environment for the EU maritime domain"- COM (2009) 538 of 15.10.2009, Commission Communication on a Draft Roadmap towards establishing the Common Information Sharing Environment for the surveillance of the EU maritime domain COM(2010) 584 of 20 October 2010.
  11. Commission Communication on a Roadmap for Maritime Spatial Planning: Achieving Common Principles in the EU, COM(2008)791, of 25.11.08, Commission Communication on Maritime Spatial Planning in the EU Achievements and future Developments COM(2010) 771 of 17 December 2010.
  12. Commission Progress Report on the EU's Integrated Maritime Policy COM (2009) 540 of 15.10.2009, p. 6.
  13. Commission Communication on Marine Knowledge 2020: marine data and observation for smart and sustainable growth COM(2010) 461 of 8 September 2010.

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