Special case in Europe: Integrated Maritime Policy for the European Union

25 October 2012 | Article



1- Origin

The idea of an Integrated Maritime Policy (IMP) for the European Union was unveiled for the first time in a common text delivered by the President of the Commission, Mr. Barroso, and the Commissioner responsible for maritime affaires, Mr. Borg. This vision put forward a simple yet innovative idea: sectoral actions and approaches no longer sufficed to take the complexity of the maritime world and the marine environment into account.

In October, 2007, the Commission adopted a Communication defining what the IMP should be within the EU. At the same time, an action plan was adopted to divide the principles into a certain number of concrete actions to be implemented. To back up the proceedings undertaken by the Commission, the Council, in its conclusions of December 14th, 2007, asked it to deliver a progress report in 2009.

The important thing about the origin of the IMP is that it was an initiative undertaken by the Commission and supervised by the Commission with, to a certain extent, the assistance of the Member States (ME). It disposes of no specific legal foundation in its treaties. Its ambition, equivalent to a definition, was to be "a new approach allowing for the optimal development of all sea-related activities in a sustainable manner". On the one hand, it has a cross-sectoral goal, while on the other it aims to renew sectoral maritime approaches (eg., fishing, transport).

2- Field of application

The IMP was established around three main areas, conceived as being cross-sectoral:

— maritime spatial planning (MSP) and the integrated management of coastal areas,

— integrated maritime surveillance,

— creation of a marine data and information infrastructure.

The Commission sees MSP as a tool for integrating maritime policy capable of cutting across national divides in the field of marine area management. To go beyond these principles, the Commission does not exclude the adoption of a legally binding decree for Member States.

Integrated maritime surveillance takes the form of pilot projects, one of which concerns the development of integrated surveillance in the Mediterranean. The project ends in 2012. Its aim was to assess the feasibility of inter-operability of surveillance sytems, which implies a partnership with indusrialists. This pilot project, whose leadership was entrusted to France, groups together the Mediterranean States of the EU.

The goal of a shared marine data and information network has been steadily pursued by the Commission, as it considers that there is a body of scientific data dispersed among Member States which could constitute a source of information for innovation purposes if it were accessible to economic players in the EU.

On the basis of these three main topics, the Commission developed IMP action plans linked to actions pursued in sectoral directions (transport and surveillance; fishing and the goal of sustainability for living resources). Special mention should be made of the marine environment, as the framework directive consecrating the good ecological condition of said marine environment is explicitly designated as constituting the environmental pillar of the Integrated Maritime Policy, which is not without consequence from many points of view.

A specific application of the IMP is devoted to the Mediterranean, whose main text is a Communication entitled "Towards an Integrated Maritime Policy for better Governance in the Mediterranean"[1]. This text announces up-coming actions and extends the role played by States over and beyond members of the EU. In addition to surveillance via the pilot project already mentioned above, scientific research was the subject of a well-targetted Communication prepared by the Commission; maritime spatial planning in the Mediterranean region was the subject of a study entrusted to consultants responsible for ascertaining the feasibility of such planning, and identifying the hurdles it would encounter at both legal and political level.

3- IMP structures

The Commission applied the first visible measure denoting the existence of the IMP within its own structure, by replacing the former fisheries management body by the DG MARE, in charge of the IMP and encompassing fishing and aquaculture. It is split into a certain number of Directorates with geographical criteria being dominant (Atlantic, Outermost Regions and Arctic, Mediterranean and Black Sea, Baltic Sea and North Sea), plus three Directorates devoted to special themes.

Among the entities set up by the Commission, mention should be made of the commissioners steering group which is backed by a group of cross-services. Then comes the working group of IMP experts representing the Member States who coordinated their activities by creating a "Friends of the Presidency Group" (in 2008). A high-level Focus Points Group was also created, authorized to propose the main outlines of the IMP's future development. Of an informal nature, its role was recognized by the Council's conclusions of December 6th, 2011. Without having a commission dedicated to the IMP, the EU Parliament follows this policy via the coordination of three commissions handling maritime affairs (fisheries, transport, environment).

[1] COM (2009) 466 dated September 11th, 2009.

Mediterranean landscape