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Policy News, BB200607

Launch of the Green Paper on Maritime Policy: A European vision for the oceans and the seas

29.01.2007

After more than a year of preparation, the Green Paper Towards a future Maritime Policy for the Union: A European vision for the oceans and the seas [see below] was officially adopted by the European Commission on 7 June 2006. The objective of the document is to examine all economic activities linked to or impacting on oceans and seas, as well as all related policies. and to find the best way to extract more benefits from the oceans in a sustainable manner.

The presence of two European Commissioners at the launch conference – Joe Borg for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs and Stavros Dimas for Environment – organised by the Sustainability Intergroup of the European Parliament, was indicative of the importance that the European Commission attaches to this Paper – on which there will be an unusually long period for debate (until the end of June 2007). The new EWEA policy director, Isabel Blanco, was invited to the launch and took the floor to express the wind industry’s point of view.

The attendance of other key stakeholders coming from the European Parliament, the Committee of the Regions and a variety of associations further underlines the broad nature of the document. It seeks to cover a vast range of interrelated fields that affect coastal areas, such as maritime transport, industry, tourism, offshore energy, fisheries, aquaculture and the like. Indeed, one of the main novelties of the Green Paper is the integrated approach to those activities, intended to yield a coordinated solution, which may comprise, among other things, a European Marine Observation and Data Network to regulate the use of the oceans more effectively.

The Green Paper places strong emphasis on ensuring that economic activities are compatible with the preservation of the marine environment, making clear that adverse environmental impacts on oceans and seas are not only caused by marine activities. This was emphasised by Mr. Dimas in his speech when he stated that addressing environmental aspects of marine and coastal areas implies not only an examination of offshore industry, but also land-based activities, responsible for 80% of marine pollution. The Commissioner seized the occasion to recall the existence of a Thematic Strategy on the Marine Environment [COM (2005) 504 and 505 final], adopted last October, which in certain aspects complements the current Green Paper, and which also seeks to achieve a “good environmental status” of the marine environment by the year 2021 through the principle of “ecosystem based-management” implemented at the regional level.

The third dimension of the Green Paper regards social aspects, and takes into account that one out of two European citizens live in coastal areas. Sea-related tourism is their biggest employer and employment in some marine-related activities - such as fisheries - is declining, while high technology sectors provide qualified and well paid jobs.

References to wind energy in the Green Paper

From the point of view of the wind energy sector, the document contains some important issues. It is the first time that offshore wind energy has been regarded as an important economic activity for coastal areas, both in terms of the energy services it can provide, and as a source for employment and wealth. The Commission states that “offshore wind energy, (…) if successfully exploited, could contribute a substantial supply of electricity in many coastal areas of Europe. This could further support economic development and sustainable job creation in these regions” (page 8 of the English version). The document reveals the opportunities that offshore renewable energy installations can offer to coastal areas, and states the European Commission’s projection of 70,000 MW produced from wind energy in Europe by 2010, of which 14,000 MW would be offshore.

The document continues, to recognise that “European companies have developed know-how, not only in the offshore exploitation of hydrocarbons, but also in renewable marine resources (…)” (pages 8 and 9) and that they will make a contribution to improving European worldwide export capacity. The Paper asks for more European funds to be devoted to energy and environmental infrastructure and services, but without referencing any precise figures.

Finally, it emphasises that a healthy marine environment is a major objective, points to the need to prevent tank disasters such as those of the vessels Erika and Prestige, the concerns that pipelines and tankers raise generally, and calls for the reduction of GHG emissions and compliance with the Kyoto Protocol.

In terms of issues to be raised, the Green Paper comprises one specific question directly linked to the wind energy sector: “how can innovative offshore renewable energy technologies be promoted and implemented?”. The wind industry must provide a precise and far-reaching response to this question.

EWEA’s position

All in all, the document should be viewed with moderate optimism. It has at least addressed the potential of the sector, and has called explicitly for the participation of industry in the debate.

Still, in EWEA’s view, it is very unfortunate that some key aspects are completely missing from the text. For instance, nothing is said about the grid infrastructure that is needed for the deployment of offshore wind - at a time when grid connection plans are under revision, nor about the need to devote specific funds (R&D funds, but also Structural and Cohesion Funds) to it. Offshore electricity grids would not only make it possible to tap Europe’s largest renewable energy potential in the form of offshore wind power, they would also make a much needed contribution to a better functioning internal electricity market, through improved interconnection.

There is not a single reference either to the Egmond Process or to the Copenhagen Strategy, adopted in November last year, which called upon the European Commission to initiate a European policy for offshore wind power in the form of an Action Plan; the Green Paper towards a maritime strategy should recognise this and support the preparation of such an Action Plan.

EWEA believes that the positive employment and economic benefits of the offshore wind sector have not been sufficiently highlighted. The Paper should take into account that the European wind industry is the world market leader, with a strong export capacity, and that it can thus help overcome the crisis in which other traditional sectors located in coastal areas are suffering, while contributing towards the objectives of the Lisbon Strategy.

The establishment of a long-term planning tool to overcome potential impacts between different activities seems a sensible measure, but more detail should be given on the criteria that will be used in its implementation, and common criteria for its implementation across different regions.

All these arguments reflect the need for the wind industry to actively participate in the debate that has just been opened, which it is to be hoped will finish with a clear recognition of the potential of offshore wind energy in the future of maritime policy.

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