Virginijus Sinkevičius, Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries addressed the attendees of Seas At Risk’s Ocean Action! conference, sharing his views on the Blue Manifesto and explaining how the European Green Deal can improve the state of the marine environment. He outlined his political priorities for this Commission mandate and acknowledged the need to address ocean challenges at international level, noting that the ocean does not have borders.

 

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Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to be here with people who understand that blue is an integral part of green. And it’s very reassuring to be with people who understand the need for change. Business as usual will not work. It would drive our planet towards greater danger. We need a different path.

 

The Green Deal and the Blue Manifesto

We are facing a climate emergency. The IPBES Global Assessment on Biodiversity and Ecosystems Services underlines the magnitude of the ecological crisis.

Ecosystems are being polluted and destroyed. Of the eight million species on the planet, one million are at risk of being lost.

Our oceans are at the frontline of this emergency.

It’s time for transformative change. For ambitious, immediate and concerted action.

The response of the European Commission was almost immediate. We presented the European Green Deal, and we are ready to put it into action.

Oceans will play a very important role in the Green Deal and in our transition towards a sustainable, carbon-neutral economy.

I fully agree with the first statement of your manifesto: “We need thriving marine and coastal ecosystems to support a climate-resilient future”. And so we are all on the path to get a genuine sustainable management of our seas and oceans.

We will travel the path together, because many of the milestones presented in your manifesto are actions already announced and scheduled by this Commission.

How will the European Green Deal ensure that the state of the marine environment improves? Let me give you some examples:

  • the climate neutrality objective will limit the catastrophic effects of climate change on oceans
  • the zero pollution ambition will reduce the visible and invisible marine pollution that harm marine life
  • the new circular economy action plan will decrease plastic pollution in oceans and seas, from microplastics in particular
  • the farm to fork strategy will ensure that farmers and fishermen contribute to sustainable food systems that do not harm the environment and preserve biodiversity,
  • the biodiversity strategy will ensure that marine biodiversity is effectively protected, preserved and restored, and that coastal ecosystems become more resilient
  • the sustainable investment plan will support sustainable projects in all relevant sectors, including the blue economy
  • and the EU will continue to champion oceans and be a global leader for an ocean governance.

Furthermore, current EU policies will remain key tools to support these efforts.

 

The Common Fisheries Policy

Further effective implementation of the common fisheries policy, including the landing obligation, will be a priority, throughout my mandate.

By the end of 2022, we will prepare a report on the functioning of the CFP. We will assess how our policy is working.

Many of the cornerstones of our policy, like the MSY objective, the landing obligation, the multiannual plans are only now really being implemented. We just have new technical measures and we are still revising our control system. So let the current policy first prove its merits.

On the other hand, the CFP is already bearing positive results. Many EU fish stocks are in their best shape since decades.

The Fisheries Council of last December shows that we are taking our commitment to sustainability seriously. The political agreement, supported unanimously by all Member States, delivers on our objective of reaching maximum sustainable yield by 2020. Looking at the Baltic Sea, the North Sea and the Atlantic, 99% of landings from stocks managed by the EU alone are set at MSY. For some stocks that are in a bad shape, the Council has introduced stricter conservation measures.

Let me also mention that we have made good progress for one of our biggest challenges, the Mediterranean. For the first time, we have agreed effort limits for 2020, based on the multiannual plan for the Western Mediterranean. This is a historical step towards more sustainable fisheries in the basin, even if further progress is still needed urgently.

Of course, the successful implementation of the CPF requires effective control and enforcement. The Commission has proposed an ambitious revision of the EU control system. It is now up to the Council and the European Parliament to make this much-needed modernisation a reality.

This Commission has put rigorous implementation and enforcement on top of its agenda. You can be assured that I will put a strong emphasis on this aspect in my own portfolio over the next years.

By the way, our efforts on the policy front will continue to be complemented by important funding. At least 30% of the Maritime Fisheries Fund should contribute to climate action.

 

Birds and Habitats Directives, the Marine Strategy Framework Directive

We will also fully implement and further coordinate relevant policies such as the Birds and Habitats Directives, the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, and the Maritime Spatial Planning Directive:

  • priority habitats and species are identified and protected. Today, more than 3150 marine sites of Natura 2000 are spread over an area larger than France or close to 10% of EU seas
  • Member States assess the status of their marine waters, monitoring them and are taking over 4600 measures to tackle human pressures under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive
  • new research stemming from the Marine Directive helps us to understand emerging pressures like marine litter and underwater noise, and give us the basis to adopt new legislation to curb single use plastics and lost fishing gear, which account for some 70% of all beach litter
  • Member States are coordinating their actions at marine region or sea-basin scale, because marine ecosystems and pollution know no borders
  • Some of the benefits of Maritime Spatial Planning are already materialising: Member States have started to consider their activities at sea in a more holistic, integrated manner, assessing their combined impacts, positive and negative synergies and the possibility of multiple uses sharing the same space.
  • While the MSP Directive does not contain any quantitative targets, the obligation to apply an ecosystem based approach and to cooperate across borders are part of the legal framework, which should ensure that EU waters are sustainably managed.

 

International Ocean Governance

Ladies and gentlemen,

Ocean challenges do not recognise national borders. That is why the EU is taking action not only at home but also internationally.

To support our continuous engagement, we are launching an International stakeholder forum on ocean governance in April this year. This forum will bring together stakeholders and experts to support the follow-up and further development of the International Ocean Governance Agenda.

The event will be an important stepping-stone before the UN Ocean 2020 Conference in Lisbon in June.

International ocean governance is a priority of my mandate. The EU must continue to lead the way and play a prominent role at the international, regional and bilateral levels.

Let me give you few examples.

IUU Fishing

The fight against IUU fishing has been high on the political agenda for many years. We have already achieved fruitful results together.

Over the past 10 years, the IUU Regulation has not only helped to protect our market from illegally caught fish, but it has also encouraged underperforming countries to change their practices: they have better addressed the problem of IUU fishing at its source and contributed to achieving more compliance and governance leading to more sustainable use of fishery resources.

However, there is still a lot to be accomplished. This problem has devastating effects globally, putting the health of our oceans at stake.

In this regard, I am very pleased to see that the Blue Manifesto is including IUU fishing amongst the list of issues that need to be addressed as a matter of urgency.

Let me assure you that we take very seriously the fight against IUU fishing. As you know, the “zero tolerance” policy against IUU has been confirmed by the President of the Commission, and will be given significant relevance during my mandate.

But I also count on you on this matter. I will need your continued support as we work together towards the same objective.

Biodiversity

Europe is a global standard bearer for many environmental policies. We need to maintain that position. We have to play a leading role in the international negotiations on biodiversity.

On the biodiversity front, the CBD COP in China in autumn will be a vital opportunity for the world to adopt a robust framework to halt biodiversity loss.

One of our priorities is to reach a new international agreement on marine biodiversity in the high seas, still this year. I am optimistic that we will be able to deliver.

To ensure that the EU plays a key role, we will present a Biodiversity Strategy which will outline the EU’s position for the Conference.

This strategy will set ambitious commitments to address the main causes of biodiversity loss. It will have specific objectives and measures, including legislation, which will help Member States improve and restore damaged ecosystems and reinforce their cross-border cooperation.

Seas and oceans will be at the heart of the strategy. Our priority will be to restore healthy marine ecosystems by reducing the pressure from the main drivers of biodiversity loss. We will need to expand our network of marine protected areas and ensure their effective management. We will need to strictly protect the jewels of our marine biodiversity so that they can stay resilient in the face of the climate change.

 

Conclusion

Ladies and gentlemen,

The word “ocean” in my job title is not just a word. There is a firm intention behind it. This speech was a quick glance at the main elements, as I see them.

Rest assured, I hear your call for more action, loud and clear. It will happen. And I will always be open to hearing new ideas.

Thank you.

 

 

 

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