EUR-Lex Access to European Union law

Back to EUR-Lex homepage

This document is an excerpt from the EUR-Lex website

Document 52013AE3961

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the ‘Action Plan for a Maritime Strategy in the Atlantic area — Delivering smart, sustainable and inclusive growth’ COM(2013) 279 final

OJ C 341, 21.11.2013, p. 77–81 (BG, ES, CS, DA, DE, ET, EL, EN, FR, HR, IT, LV, LT, HU, MT, NL, PL, PT, RO, SK, SL, FI, SV)



Official Journal of the European Union

C 341/77

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the ‘Action Plan for a Maritime Strategy in the Atlantic area — Delivering smart, sustainable and inclusive growth’

COM(2013) 279 final

2013/C 341/18

Rapporteur: Luis Miguel PARIZA CASTAÑOS

On 3 July 2013, the European Commission decided to consult the European Economic and Social Committee, under Article 304 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, on the

Action Plan for a Maritime Strategy in the Atlantic area — Delivering smart, sustainable and inclusive growth

COM(2013) 279 final.

The Section for Agriculture, Rural Development and the Environment, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 3 September 2013.

At its 492nd plenary session, held on 18 and 19 September 2013 (meeting of 18 September), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 184 votes to 3 with 8 abstentions.

1.   Conclusions and recommendations


The EESC supports the Action Plan for a Maritime Strategy in the Atlantic area, which sets out priorities for research and investment in the region and provides considerable European added value in terms of boosting blue growth under the Europe 2020 strategy. Cooperation will develop within this strategic framework between authorities and social and economic operators in the Atlantic regions of the five Member States concerned: Ireland, the United Kingdom, France, Spain and Portugal.


However, the Committee regrets to note that the scope of the Action Plan is limited to the Atlantic basin and suggests that it should be only the first step in establishing a macro-regional strategy that explicitly includes a territorial pillar and is linked to the objectives of cohesion policy. The approach should be more ambitious, providing for the conversion of the strategy into a macro-regional strategy before 2017, when the mid-term review is scheduled, and taking the experience of the Baltic Sea and Danube regions into account.


The Committee is sorry that the Action Plan does not provide for an adequate system of governance, envisaging only a weak implementation mechanism. In its earlier opinion on the subject (1), the EESC already proposed a multilevel governance system that would guarantee the involvement of all relevant players based on a bottom-up approach that would allow local and regional authorities, the private sector and civil society to spur activities and contribute their know-how directly on the ground.


It is unfortunate, in the EESC's view, that the Commission has wound up the activities of the Atlantic Forum with the adoption of the Action Plan. The Committee proposes that the activities of the Atlantic Forum be continued until 2020, with regular meetings of interested parties to stimulate activities and programmes under the strategy, evaluate their implementation and mobilise all policy-makers and economic and social players in the Atlantic region.


It is essential to maintain a firm political commitment on the part of the EU institutions and the Member States, and ensure effective participation of all relevant parties: local and regional authorities, social and economic players, and civil society. With the Leadership Group and the Steering Group during the Atlantic Forum it was possible to involve the EU institutions, the Member States, the regions and civil society. The Commission must have the necessary human and material resources.

2.   Background


Since the macro-regional strategies for the Baltic Sea and Danube regions were launched, there have been various initiatives to adopt a similar approach for the Atlantic. The Council tasked the Commission with developing a maritime strategy for the Atlantic region, and the Commission published a communication on the matter on 21 November 2011 (2).


The European Parliament also adopted a resolution on the subject EU Cohesion Policy Strategy for the Atlantic Area in 2011. The EESC adopted an opinion on 24 May 2012 (3), and the Committee of the Regions also adopted an opinion (4), on 10 October 2012. The European Parliament, the EESC and the CoR endorsed the Commission's proposal, but considered that a broader approach was needed, to take full account of the regional dimension and establish clear links between offshore and onshore regions. The Committee proposed a more ambitious approach: a macro-regional strategy which, in conjunction with the maritime pillar, incorporates the territorial pillar, taking account of the experiences of the Baltic Sea and Danube regions.


The Commission, European Parliament, EESC and CoR, together with the five Atlantic Member States, jointly set up the Atlantic Forum to draw up the Action Plan. The Forum enabled these Member States, the European Parliament, the EESC, the CoR, local and regional authorities, civil society and all interested parties to be involved. Five Atlantic Forum meetings were held: in Horta, Brest, Bilbao, Cardiff and Cork. The Leadership Group of the Atlantic Forum was set up, which comprises the EU institutions and the five Member States in question. A Steering Group was also created. The involvement of the EESC made it possible for civil society representatives from the Atlantic region, as well as the Atlantic Transnational Network of Economic and Social Councils (ATN), and economic and social players, to take part in the events of the Forum.


In its opinion, the EESC proposed that the objectives of the Atlantic region should be based on the thematic pillars of the Europe 2020 strategy, that the Atlantic Forum should not be dissolved after drawing up the Action Plan, that the limits of the "3 NOs" (no new legislation, no new financing, no new institutions) be transcended, and that a system of multilevel governance be established.

3.   Commission communication: the Action Plan


The Action Plan develops the Maritime Strategy for the Atlantic Ocean area (COM(2011) 782 final) and sets out investment and research priorities with a view to stimulating blue growth in the Atlantic region, encouraging the sustainable development of coastal zones, and safeguarding the environmental and ecological well-being of the Atlantic ecosystem.


In the Atlantic Forum, the Member States, European institutions, local and regional authorities and civil society representatives discussed how to address the five challenges of the Atlantic region identified in the strategy. Five thematic workshops and an online consultation exercise also took place.


Based on the discussions conducted with the Member States and the response from the Atlantic Forum, the Commission drew up an Action Plan with a number of priority areas, focused on promoting blue growth and furthering sustainable development in the Atlantic region.


The timing of the Action Plan dovetails with that of the Common Strategic Framework for the Structural and Investment Funds. The Plan is based on three pillars for action: properly targeted investment, increasing research capacity and improving skills and qualifications.


The Action Plan has four priorities:


to promote entrepreneurship and innovation through: knowledge-sharing between higher education, businesses and research centres; strengthening competitiveness and innovation capacity in the maritime economy; and adapting and diversifying economic activities to promote the potential of the Atlantic region;


to protect, secure and develop the potential of the Atlantic marine and coastal environment by: improving maritime safety and protection; exploring and protecting marine waters and coastal zones; practising sustainable management of marine resources; and developing the renewable energy potential of the marine and coastal environment;


to improve accessibility and connectivity by promoting cooperation between ports;


to create a socially inclusive and sustainable model of regional development by improving understanding of social challenges in the region and preserving and promoting the Atlantic cultural heritage.


The timing of the Action Plan will enable the Member States to take account of its priorities in the Partnership Agreements which they are negotiating in 2013 for the period 2014-2020. These agreements must take the Atlantic strategy into account when identifying priority areas. Financing through the funds of the Common Strategic Framework (ERDF, ESF, EAFRD and EMFF) will be coordinated with other source of financing.


The Action Plan will guide the Commission with respect to the funds which it manages directly, including Horizon 2020, LIFE+, COSME and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund.


Public investment will trigger private business initiatives. The European Investment Bank is also ready to mobilise its financing instruments and expertise to support implementation of the Action Plan.


The Action Plan will encourage the mounting of joint projects for the five Member States, e.g. through Horizon 2020, European territorial cooperation financed through the ERDF, the Erasmus programme and other European programmes.


The Commission proposes creating an implementation mechanism that will enhance the engagement of national, regional and local players and allow progress to be monitored, taking on board lessons learned from the Atlantic Forum.


The implementation mechanism will promote political commitment and oversight, private sector involvement and evaluation. It will be light and based on other strategies. The mechanism will be defined in consultation with the Member States and relevant stakeholders before the end of 2013. It could also serve to guide the project promoters, provide a means of liaising with the managing authorities of the programmes, and promote cooperation in the Atlantic region.


The Commission will work together with the Member States to establish a monitoring method. A mid-term review of implementation is planned before the end of 2017, together with an independent evaluation.


The Commission and the Member States will also endeavour to involve international partners from America and Africa in implementing the strategy.

4.   General comments on the Action Plan: the Atlantic strategy as a sea-basin strategy


The EESC has endorsed the Integrated Maritime Policy in other opinions. Since the publication of the "Blue Paper" on an Integrated Maritime Policy, a new approach to sea-related policies has been initiated based on common horizontal instruments and a focus on the development of maritime sectors.


The Integrated Maritime Policy has highlighted the maritime dimension of the EU and laid the groundwork for economic development of seas and their sustainable use based on a cross-sectoral and integrated approach.


This new approach to maritime affairs received a further boost with the Blue Growth initiative, set out in the Commission Communication on Blue Growth: opportunities for marine and maritime sustainable growth (COM(2012) 494 final), which draws attention to the key contribution that the blue economy makes to economic growth and the creation of jobs in Europe. The blue economy is the maritime pillar of the Europe 2020 strategy.


In its opinion on Blue Growth (5), the EESC emphasised that this focus is "the necessary logical continuation of efforts to implement an Integrated Maritime Policy (IMP) in the European Union".


The Action Plan is a further step, one which will help the Atlantic maritime regions to take advantage of growth and job-creation opportunities. The Atlantic strategy and its Action Plan are premised on the implementation of the Integrated Maritime Policy and the Blue Growth initiative in line with the specific features of the Atlantic basin.


Under the sea basin strategies, the thrust of maritime activities will be guided by the particular circumstances of each basin, helping to produce a more effective approach that better reflects the potential of the Atlantic region. This effort will require cooperation between players across sectors and borders, and internationally.


The EESC is pleased that the Action Plan addresses not just emerging sectors, but also traditional industries such as fishing and maritime transport, whose revitalisation is envisaged with a view to increasing their competitiveness and reducing their environmental footprint. If they assimilate innovative processes and technologies, these traditional sectors will generate continued growth and employment in the Atlantic region.


However, while supporting the Commission's proposal in so far as it identifies the marine environment research initiatives as priorities, the EESC believes that it should also forefront measures designed to improve the capacity and opportunities of industrial sectors that create jobs and economic growth directly.


Support to improve the competitiveness of SMEs should not be limited to the tourism, aquaculture and fisheries sectors, but be broadened to include all the spheres considered in the Action Plan, such as shipbuilding – an important downstream industry – port activities, renewable marine energy and biotechnology, sectors which now have a solid economic foothold in parts of the Atlantic region.


In the Committee's view, it is small companies and microbusinesses that drive economic activity in remote regions, and it is essential that such businesses should also be involved in the activities of the Atlantic strategy.


The EESC suggests that the economic, social and environmental dimensions of the Action Plan be better balanced. In its opinion on Blue Growth the Committee noted the importance of the human factor in the maritime economy and indicated that working conditions are often difficult.


The Action Plan should include references to improving working conditions and social standards for the maritime professions, and to the recognition and accreditation of professional qualifications. Training and reskilling should be promoted among coastal communities to make it easier for workers to adapt both to traditional economic activities and to new professions. The image and quality of the maritime professions must be improved so that they become more attractive to young people.


The development of new economic activities must be compatible with protecting the marine environment. The Action Plan must boost research programmes in this area. Research focused on avoiding harm to the marine environment will reduce the uncertainty of these activities, e.g. marine energy, modernisation of ports, aquaculture and maritime tourism. Such research will speed up the process of obtaining authorisations.


The EESC believes that a sustainable and socially cohesive regional development model should preserve the Atlantic maritime culture, which is closely associated with the traditional way of life of coastal communities and is a very important aspect of cultural heritage and identity.


The EESC believes that the Action Plan and its priority measures should be complemented by legislation to improve the structure of the regulatory framework and make it clearer for the maritime industries.


The EESC welcomes the inclusion in the strategy of cooperation with the other Atlantic nations. It is crucial, in the Committee's view, to initiate cooperation agreements in the sphere of research, not just with the United States and Canada, but also with the countries of South America and Africa.

5.   EESC proposal to convert the maritime basin strategy into a macro-regional strategy


The Atlantic strategy and its Action Plan are exclusively maritime in nature, in accordance with the agreement adopted by the Council of Ministers.


The EU has initiated a number of macro-regional strategies, which will be expanded in the future under the Treaty mandate to improve economic, social and territorial cohesion.


The Committee thinks that the maritime strategy for the Atlantic basin should explicitly provide for a territorial pillar linked to cohesion policy objectives.


The Committee has already stated this view in its relevant opinion (6): "The EESC proposes a more ambitious approach, however; a macro-regional strategy which, in conjunction with the maritime pillar, incorporates the territorial pillar, taking account of the experiences of the Baltic Sea and Danube regions". And: "Many of the opportunities and challenges of the Atlantic area reside within its maritime dimension, but bearing in mind that its relationship with the continent remains vital, the EESC proposes that as well as the maritime dimension, the territorial dimension also needs to be included. The continental region manages and develops the hinterland, without which any attempt to enhance the maritime potential would be meaningless. The maritime coast needs an active, dynamic hinterland and the synergies that allow for consistent development of the region as a whole".


The Atlantic regions must develop their strategies within a coherent framework of maritime and regional policy. It is not possible to develop activities in ports unless there is coordination with regional investment in rail transport or roads; or to develop marine energy without reference to energy transport infrastructure; or to preserve coastlines and the marine environment without considering the water-treatment systems of cities and towns inland of the Atlantic coast.


The Committee therefore believes that maritime issues cannot be addressed in the Atlantic region without looking at the region as a whole, as those issues must be incorporated into the economic and social agenda of the whole region. It is only by strengthening coordination between offshore and onshore activities that the full benefit of blue growth can be realised.


The EESC therefore proposes that the maritime strategy for the Atlantic be converted into a macro-regional strategy based on the Action Plan.

6.   Governance


The EESC is disappointed that the Action Plan addresses implementation mechanisms only vaguely. In its above-mentioned opinion (7) the Committee suggested that a multilevel governance system be established to guarantee involvement of all players.


Financing the Action Plan through the various European structural and investment funds, and EU policy funds which are managed directly by the European Commission, will require close coordination between the Commission and national and regional authorities.


The process of drawing up the Action Plan following the Atlantic Forum meetings was managed by the Leadership Group and the Steering Group, composed of representatives from the five Atlantic Member States and the EU institutions. The Atlantic regions were involved through the Steering Group, where they had observer status, while economic and social players were represented by the European Economic and Social Committee. A large number of social and economic players from the Atlantic region were enthusiastic participants, both in the five conferences and in the consultation exercise.


It is unfortunate in the EESC's view that the Commission has wound up the activities of the Atlantic Forum with the adoption of the Action Plan, rather than extending its life for the duration of the strategy, up until 2020.


The Committee believes it is crucial to maintain the momentum and the engagement achieved during the Atlantic Forum, so that all relevant players (regional, private sector and civil society) are committed during the phases of implementation, follow-up and evaluation.


The system of governance is of fundamental importance, and the EESC therefore regrets that the Action Plan devotes only one section to governance, under the heading "Support", which contains a sketchy proposal to introduce an "implementation mechanism", whose form and functions are to be determined at a later point.


The "3 NOs" principle discourages the introduction of new administrative systems, but this does not prevent a multilevel, participatory governance system from being established, as for the Baltic and Danube region strategies.


The EESC recommends that a proper system of multilevel, participatory governance be introduced, building on the bottom-up approach, that will allow the Member States, EU institutions, local and regional authorities, and private sector and civil society in the Atlantic region to lead the process of implementing the Action Plan and contribute their expertise directly on the ground.


The EESC believes that regions must be involved in governance of the Atlantic strategy. The European Atlantic regions know that the sea is a crucial part of their way of life. In policy terms, many Atlantic regions have broad powers to design and implement sectoral policies and strategies relating to maritime and coastal activities.


Economic and social players in these regions have the most at stake and are committed to economic development and the creation of jobs in the blue economy. They also have expertise and organisations operating locally.


The Committee proposes that the activities of the Atlantic Forum be continued, with regular meetings of interested parties to stimulate activities and programmes under the strategy, evaluate their implementation and mobilise all policy-makers and economic and social players.


The EESC would like to see an emphasis on the European nature of this strategy, which makes it essential to guarantee the involvement of European bodies – notably the European Parliament, European Economic and Social Committee and Committee of the Regions – in governance systems. The Commission plays a key role in keeping the process going, playing the role of facilitator and supporting the involvement of the relevant players. It must therefore have sufficient resources available to it.


The Committee recommends ensuring involvement of the various Atlantic networks: the Atlantic Arc Commission of regional authorities, the Transnational Network of Economic and Social Councils, and the Conference of Atlantic Arc Cities. These networks play a key role in encouraging the engagement of all players, and they give considerable European added value. They are grassroots entities with a long history of cooperation and in-depth understanding of the Atlantic area, its problems and its players. Their involvement in implementing the strategy will ensure a transnational, multilevel and cross-sectoral approach. The networks also provide a link with the local situations, potential and needs of Atlantic regions, which are often located far away from the capitals of the Member States.

7.   Funding


The EESC urges the Member States and the European Commission to take into account the priorities of the Atlantic regions in the 2014-2020 Partnership Agreements for the Structural Funds and European investment funds.


The European Commission should assign high priority to the objectives of the Action Plan and the funds which it manages directly, such as Horizon 2020, LIFE+, COSME and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund.


Cross-border and transnational cooperation are central to implementation of the strategy, because they provide European added value and can address challenges in the Atlantic region more effectively than the Member States individually. This cooperation is where the Action Plan has the most added value and where it is necessary to have a European approach.


Since there will be no specific budget, the Commission, the Member States and the regions managing the programmes must operate in a coherent and complementary way.


The EESC believes that these public measures will promote investment and private initiatives. The cooperation of the European Investment Bank is critical, and it needs to be an active contributor to the strategy.

Brussels, 18 September 2013.

The President of the European Economic and Social Committee


(1)  OJ C 229, 31.7.2012, p. 24.

(2)  COM(2011) 782 final.

(3)  OJ C 229, 31.7.2012, p. 24.

(4)  OJ C 391, 18.12.2012, p. 1.

(5)  OJ C 161, 6.6.2013, p. 87.

(6)  OJ C 229, 31.7.2012, p. 24.

(7)  Ibid.