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The EU Commission has launched a year of public consultation on a European Maritime Strategy Green Paper. Recognising the economic importance of our seas it seeks the co-ordinated and sustainable development of Europeʼs marine environment.
With a coastline of 9,911.3 km, and 95 inhabited islands, maritime policy is of vital importance to Scotland. Weʼve one of the largest fishing and aquaculture sectors in the EU, a burgeoning tourist industry and marine research facilities of world-wide renown. Our coastal communities have a distinctive cultural heritage celebrated each summer in the harbour and boat festivals round Scotland. Weʼve 30 years oil in the North Sea and the potential for offshore wave, wind and tidal energy. Though we tend to think of Scotland as being at the periphery of Europe, weʼre actually at the maritime heart of Europe, sitting at the junction of some of the worldʼs most important sea-routes. The chance exists to develop a first-class network of 21st century ports. The Green Paper is of enormous importance to our country.
Yet Scotlandʼs potential has been squandered and many whoʼve borne the brunt, blame the EU. The CFP has decimated our fishing industry and, while weʼre proud that Scots companies are at the cutting edge of wave-power technology, Portugal will be the first country commercially to benefit.
Meanwhile, the early promise shown by increased commercial and tourist traffic using the Rosyth to Zeebrugge ferry has been damaged by the reduction in service frequency.
So will the Strategy help? It needs to balance the interests of all who depend on the marine environment. That requires local knowledge and input. A creel fisherman from Orkney, a docker from Antwerp, a resort owner on the Costa del Sol and a Commissioner from Malta have little in common - other than a livelihood dependent on the sea. The challenge is to find an approach which manages to reconcile their geographical and sectoral differences.
Maritime subsidiarity is the key and thankfully the Commission appears keen to devolve the Strategy to the most local level possible. A common EU approach is sensible on issues like pollution. However, the SNP will insist that decisions on fisheries, coastal management and lifeline ferry services are taken by those most directly involved - here in Scotland.
So, the Strategy gets a guarded welcome. Weʼll resist any drift towards EU waters being regarded as a common resource – the CFP proves that approach leads to disaster. Thereʼs role for the EU – but only where itʼs appropriate, otherwise, solutions should be locally driven.
Speaking recently, Fisheries Commissioner, Joe Borg, said:
"We are now in listening mode and wait eagerly for you to make your voices heard."
Scotlandʼs Party has plenty to say on the Strategy and looks forward to the debate.