Jean-Claude Juncker, Karmenu Vella and the missing cluster

EU Juncker Commission

When Jean-Claude Junker announced the distribution of the responsibilities in his Commission on Wednesday 10 September 2014 he decided to group the Commissioners into a number of clusters which he called project teams led as follows:

Frans Timmermans (NL), the First Vice President will deal with Better Regulation, Inter-Institutional Relations, the Rule of Law and the Charter of Fundamental Freedoms. He will oversee the Project on Home Affairs and Justice in addition to being Juncker’s Deputy.

Federica Mogherini (IT) the High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy will oversee a Project Team dealing with Enlargement, Development, Humanitarian Aid and Trade

Andrus Ansip (ET) will be the Vice President leading the project on the Digital Single Market.

Alenka Bratusek (SL) will be the Vice President leading the Energy Union project whilst Vladis Dombrovskis (LT) will as Vice president lead the project on the Euro and Social Dialogue.

Jyrki Katainen (FI) will lead the project on Growth, Investment and Competitiveness Project whilst Kristalina Georgieva (BG) will head the EU Budget and Human Resources Project.

These clusters or projects will bring together Commissioners responsible for specific areas such that there is coordination and purpose in the work of the Commission. Whilst the treaties provide for such a horizontal structure this is the first time that it is being tried. If it succeeds it will become the new template and it will settle once and for all the debate on the size of the Commission.

There is however one missing cluster: a cluster dealing with Sustainable Development. This point has been emphasised by the international NGO World Wildlife Fund in its comments about Juncker’s Commission.

The EU Sustainable Development Strategy is by its very nature a well defined cluster of priorities which identified seven key priority challenges many of which are predominantly environmental.

Yet the Juncker Commission has ignored all this and grouped together the Environment with Fisheries and Maritime Policy, in the process downgrading the importance of all three areas of policy.

Jean Claude Junker needs the approval of the EU Parliament to implement this plan.  From the various statements being made it seems that some MEPs do not have the intention of giving this stamp of approval as they consider that the Environment on the one hand and Fisheries and Maritime Affairs on the other hand each require a separate Commissioner to be dealt with appropriately. The same goes for Energy and Climate Change which likewise have been assigned as responsibilities of one Commissioner instead of two separate Commissioners.

Its fine for the President-elect of the EU Commission to encourage the development of the Green Economy and the Blue Economy as he has emphasised in the mission letter to Commissioner-designate Karmenu Vella. This will not however be achieved sidelining sustainable development, nor by relegating the Environment, Fisheries  and Maritime Policy to a second class status within the Commission.


Santiago and maritime affairs

Aerial View_Grand Harbour

Ernest Hemingway’s Santiago in “The Old Man and the Sea” was unlucky. It took him 85 days to catch his big fish. But when he did, being on his own out at sea without any help, he had to tow it back to port, only to discover then that the sharks had reduced his catch to a mere skeleton.  It is the same with maritime policy. We need to coordinate with our Mediterranean neighbours to have meaningful and lasting results. On our own we can achieve very little.

A national integrated maritime strategy is an essential policy tool. Yet, as was pointed out by Parliamentary Secretary Edward Zammit Lewis, it is still unavailable. On May 19, European Maritime Day,  it was emphasised by Zammit Lewis that such a strategy would identify Malta’s maritime policy priorities required to support the Blue Economy.

The economic opportunities presented by the sea which surrounds Malta are substantial. We do however have to make use of such opportunities carefully, knowing that various impacts may result. Through the sea surrounding us we are subject to impacts as a result of the actions of others. Similarly Malta’s maritime activities necessarily will impact other countries, for better or for worse.

The excellent quality of seawater around the Maltese islands resulting from Malta’s recent adherence to the Urban Wastewater Directive of the EU is one positive contribution to a better Mediterranean Sea even though the sewage treatment system is badly designed as it ignores the resource value of the discharged treated water.

Through Arvid Pardo in the 1960s Malta made a lasting contribution to global maritime thought by emphasising that the seabed forms part of the common heritage of mankind.

The sea and its resources have always had a central importance in Malta’s development. Tourism, fisheries and water management easily come to mind. Maritime trade and services as well as the sustainable utilisation of resources on the seabed are also essential for this island state.

Whilst a national maritime strategy will inevitably seek the further utilisation of the coastline and its contiguous areas it is hoped that environmental responsibilities will be adequately addressed in the proposals considered.

A national integrated maritime policy, though essential, cannot however be effective if it  does not take into consideration the activities of our neighbours: both their maritime  as well as their coastal activities.

This is an issue which is given considerable importance within the European Union which seeks to assist member states in coordinating their maritime policies for the specific reason that the impacts of such policies are by their very nature transboundary.  In fact one of the EU Commissioners, Maria Damanaki,  is tasked with Maritime Affairs and Fisheries.  Her work is underpinned by the Marine Strategy Framework Directive which seeks to protect the sea in order that it could be utilised sustainably thereby contributing to attaining the objectives of EU2020, the ten year growth strategy of the European Union.

Within its maritime competencies the EU has also developed effective instruments of transboundary cooperation foremost amongst which are the Baltic Strategy and the Danube Strategy.  These macro-strategies of the European Union, as their name implies, focus on the Baltic Sea and the river Danube respectively. They bring together the European regions bordering the Baltic Sea and the Danube to cooperate in various policy areas such that the resulting coordination addresses challenges which no single country can address on its own.

Such strategies also serve as an instrument of cooperation with non-EU countries. Through the Baltic Strategy it is cooperation with Russia, Iceland and Norway whilst through the Danube Strategy eight EU member states cooperate with six European non-EU member states.  The EU has also more recently launched an Atlantic Ocean Strategy.

A national maritime strategy will  seek to identify those areas which can absorb strategic investments in order to develop the blue economy.  An important point worth emphasising is that a sustainable development of the blue economy will ensure that no negative impacts are borne by our communities residing along and adjacent to the coastal areas. Unfortunately not enough attention has been paid to this aspect in the past. Such negative impacts can be avoided not only through careful planning but also through proper consultation with both civil society as well as directly with residents.

Impacts which have to be avoided include air and sea pollution. In addition potential noise and light pollution need careful attention in particular if the operating times of the newly identified activities span into the silent hours.

Malta’s Maritime strategy needs a double focus: a national and a regional one.  Both are essential elements neither of which can be ignored. It is in Malta’s interest to take part in initiatives addressing transboundary impacts and simultaneously to integrate these initiatives within a national maritime policy strategy. Otherwise we will face Santiago’s fate. The result of our good work will be taken up by the sharks!

Originally published in The Times of Malta, Saturday June 8, 2013