An Integrated Maritime Policy for Malta

MEDIA ROOM

Article by Dr. Austin Gatt

Why an integrated approach is needed at both an EU and national level? If the sea is important to Europe’s well being and prosperity, it is vital for an island state like Malta. The sea is, at the same time, our trade connection to the rest of the world, one of our main tourism attractions, an essential recreational space, a source of food, and an important industry in its own right. If there was ever a country that needed an integrated approach to the way it deals with the sea, this is surely Malta.

We therefore welcome the European Commission’s efforts to develop and steer an Integrated Maritime Policy for the member states of the European Union. There is clear case for integration of policy efforts at a European level. On the one hand technology now allows us to extract ever more value from the sea, and more and more people flow to Europe’s coasts to benefit from the industrial and recreational value that it provides. On the other hand, the cumulated effect of all this activity is leading to conflicts of use and to the deterioration of the marine environment that everything else depends on. The time for silo policy making is over because policies on maritime trade effect the marine environment, those on marine environment have an impact on maritime leisure and so forth.

On a national level, an integrated approach to maritime policy is the answer to our, many times sporadic efforts on projects that seek to increase maritime trade, introduce maritime research, promote sustainable fishing, protect the sea from pollution, control the illegal trafficking by sea and regenerate our harbours all at the same time. An integrated maritime policy is not a consolidation of past projects, it is inspired by a realisation that all matters relating to the seas are interlinked and that sea-related policies must develop in a joined-up way if we are to reap the desired, and now urgent, results.

The main policy goals for Malta’s Integrated Maritime Policy

What does Malta want out of its Integrated Maritime Policy? The Integrated Maritime Policy brings together all the relevant parties to create synergies. The result we want out of those synergies is an action plan that addresses what I see as the four major challenges in our maritime reality.

First, better and smarter regulation: Malta is obliged by EU rules to regulate various activities at sea both for trade, leisure or fishing. We need to go beyond our obligations and regulate the sector because it will mean better safety, coordinated growth and a practical commitment to the natural marine environment contributing to the country’s climate change efforts;

Second, planning and regeneration: An integrated policy structure allows us to balance the many conflicting requests for land use in the harbour areas. The European maritime spatial planning and integrated coastal zone management approach should be used in this regard. The use of the sea as part of our national efforts at public transport reform falls squarely within this challenge.

Third, the development of maritime clusters: When bringing together our location, natural harbours, skilled human resources and fiscal and other incentives, we realise that Malta can be home to maritime clusters that add value and create jobs. An integrated maritime policy will seek to exploit Malta’s strengths in ICT and research and create space for innovation in this area.

Forth, Malta’s maritime leadership; Malta’s ship register is already the second largest in Europe. While consolidating our position as a reputable and serious flag state, I’d like to see Malta playing a leading role in areas in which we can tangibly contribute to Europe. Malta’s success in various sectors is stemming from the fact that we are hard-working, flexible and serious, three essential qualities for the success of integrated policy making. It is for this reason that Malta would seriously consider hosting a European Union agency with direct responsibility to facilitate a Europe-wide effort to integrate and drive sustainable maritime policy.

Principles of a Governance structure that ensures integration and action

The topic of my intervention this morning is “A national integrated maritime policy for Malta – what governance to make the best of opportunities?” Well my short answer to that is “the widest consultation possible with the most focused implementation available”. This is the balance we need to strike in order to reap the benefits. In my opinion, the parameters are simple. We need to launch the widest consultation process ever among the many individuals, companies, NGOs and other stakeholders interested in maritime affairs in its widest sense. The European Commission’s approach to the Blue Book is the best example of this, a process that took over a year that attracted 490 formal contributions and included over 250 consultation events. This was a truly bottom-up approach.

Consultation is important in such a cross-cutting theme because we want to create a movement around the idea of policy outcomes being shared by different entities, even if one particular entity is driving the implementation. This is easier said than done especially in a country like ours.

Once agreed on the broad vision, we will choose concrete, realisable actions and focus on execution to perfection. We will keep an open debate, which is important because of the dynamism that is necessarily involved in such an ever-changing sector. But once we agree on a set of actions, this government will measure the structure we create by its outcomes and not by its mere presence. The wisdom is going to be driving a balance between the need to synergise and pool initiatives into a common governance structure, and at the same time avoiding the risk of individual entities “delegating’ their programmes to this same Governance set-up.

The options available for a Governance structure

The options for such a governance structure are various. We could think in terms of a small executive secretariat, getting direction from an inter-ministerial committee chaired by a senior minister. Another option will be to choose a lead agency, like the Malta Maritime Authority but I feel that this will not bring together the necessary synergy even after the organisational reform planned for the MMA. One could also opt for a dedicated Unit within the Office of the Prime Minister on the lines of the Climate Change Committee that is already functioning.

Whatever the choice of governance structure, I believe that the crucial point is our commitment to wide consultation and focused execution. Only in this way will we give life to our various ideas on a governance structure, ideas that are not an end in themselves, but a means of translating centuries of maritime tradition into concrete benefits to all of us.

Dr Gatt is Minister responsible for Infrastructure, Transport and Communications

(As published on The Malta Business Weekly)