The European Commission is promoting the use of maritime spatial planning to facilitate offshore investments. Maritime spatial planning also helps to monitor and evaluate the impact of activities at sea on each other and on the marine environment. It is an essential tool for ensuring a rational use of the sea and reconciling the interests of different maritime sectors.
The Commission believes that a common approach across the EU and closer coordination between Member States could cut administrative procedures and provide a stable legal framework for investors.
Addressing representatives from national and regional administrations and stakeholders, Commissioner Borg said: "For maritime spatial planning to be functional in sea areas shared by two or more Member States, cross-border cooperation will be of vital importance in making spatial planning projects viable. That is where a common European approach can add value."
The conference is the first in a series of four workshops which the Commission will hold throughout 2009 to find answers to such questions as:
- How should we organise maritime space while protecting marine ecosystems?
- What are the challenges for new maritime and offshore economic initiatives?
- How does existing EU legislation apply to maritime spatial planning, for example in environmental or fisheries policies?
The Commission intends to summarize the findings of the workshops and present subsequent steps in a report early next year. The documentation from all the events will be made available at a dedicated Maritime Spatial Planning website.
Europe's seas and coasts are home to a wealth of human activities, from shipping and fishing to renewable energies and tourism. With many of these activities set to grow still further, there is no space for impromptu decisions.
No new house, road or factory can be built on land unless a spatial plan had been drawn and the environmental impact of the new investment had been assessed. Our seas can be equally pressed for space: they are criss-crossed by shipping routes, harvested by fishermen, and built-up with offshore oil drilling platforms, wind mills and aquaculture farms.
Yet, national and regional authorities too rarely use spatial planning to bring order and establish political priorities about the use of the sea. As a result, investors in offshore activities lack the same legal certainty and predictability that their counterparts on land enjoy, one that comes from a long-term and transparent spatial planning framework. Therefore, consistent use of maritime spatial planning measures is a prerequisite for continuous and increasing investments in the maritime sectors in Europe. These sectors are estimated to generate 3-5 per cent of Europe's gross domestic product.
At the same time, maritime spatial planning can help evaluate and monitor the environmental impacts of activities at sea to protect marine ecosystems. It can also help mitigate and adapt to climate change. Maritime spatial planning can promote efficient use of maritime space and support investments in offshore renewable energy. If it takes account of the known and foreseen impacts of climate change, cost-effective adaptation measures can be applied.
Maritime spatial planning is the responsibility of Member States. However, national decisions have an impact on neighbouring countries. Many issues, such as climate change or energy security, transcend national borders. Member States sharing a common approach to the management of marine space will find it easier to meet these challenges. The EU is there to promote understanding and coordination between Member States and recommend common principles that should guide maritime spatial planning professionals.
Maritime spatial planning is one of the key tools of the Integrated Maritime Policy for the EU. Both initiatives aim to better coordinate and integrate maritime activities and policies and help resolve conflicts between them.