Your Majesties, Excellencies, dear friends,
Welcome to the fourth Our Ocean Conference, welcome to Malta and to the European Union, welcome to the Mediterranean Sea.
You know, before this sea started to be called “Mediterranean”, the Romans, my ancestors, named it “Mare Nostrum“, our sea. But they believed the sea belonged to them, and them only as a people, as Romans, not to anyone else. Today we know this is not the case. The sea is a global common. It does not belong to one people or another, because it belongs to all mankind.
So the words “Mare Nostrum” today have a totally different meaning. It’s Our Ocean not because it is mine and not yours, but because it belongs to humanity, to each and every human being. And we all have a responsibility to preserve what’s common – to preserve it as a treasure and avoid that it turns into a threat.
When oceans are healthy, they are one of the greatest resources we have. If the Oceans were a country, they would be one of the greatest world economies and for sure they would have a seat in the G7. Millions of jobs and livelihoods depend on our ocean. In our globalised world, 90 per cent of world trade is seaborne. Today the sea is not the limit, the frontiers, as it has been for thousands of years. Today the sea is our gate to the world. And I believe a place like this, a place like Malta, a region like ours, cannot but testify this.
But today we also know that the sea is getting sick and insecure. Our Ocean is bigger than any continent, and yet it is not too big to fail. When oceans are not healthy, the world is not healthy, and people, and us, we are not healthy. By 2050 the oceans could contain more plastic than fish. And the poison that we throw into the water comes back to us, to our tables, in the food we eat.
The rise of sea levels is already forcing millions of people to leave their homes and migrate. Talk to sailors, fishermen and people who live by the sea – here it is not difficult to do it, they will all tell you one thing: that they had never seen such strong storms before, or such big waterspouts.
The ocean is becoming a security threat – and we know it is not the ocean’s fault. We have scientists, and meteorologists, and we should carefully listen to them. They told us that warmer oceans would lead to more hurricanes and this is exactly what is happening right now.
Some of you may have seen the images coming from the Bahamas just a few weeks ago. Hurricane Irma sucked all the water away from the archipelago. For several hours, the sea simply disappeared, and was replaced by a sea of mud. It sounds like a story from an old legend, but it’s not. It is today’s reality. And we, as human beings, are contributing to make this happen.
Climate change is man-made. Insecurity is man-made. But as an optimist, the good news is as we are currently part of the problem, we can decide to be part of the solution. This is something we can only do together. We share one world and one big ocean.
This is why I am so grateful to good friend John Kerry [68th United States Secretary of State, from 2013 to 2017] – who will join us tomorrow – for launching this initiative four years ago. And last year Karmenu [Vella, European Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries] and I, together with all the European institutions, were very glad to pick up the baton and organise this year’s conference.
I am proud to announce – in the name of the European Union – that the European Commission is putting €560 million on the table, with 36 concrete actions for Our Ocean. These actions span from global cooperation with our partners, to small gestures in our everyday life.
I give you one small, but very concrete example: our embassies, our European Union delegations around the world have cleaned up 27 beaches in the course of this year. It is a small thing that makes a difference. We need a global alliance and we need everyone’s daily commitment. It is a collective responsibility that we all share.
No country can succeed alone, we have no alternative than to join forces. Let me just mention one of the most ambitious targets we have set together – to create marine protected areas on 10 per cent of the global coastlines. So the European Union and Australia have proposed to set up the biggest marine reserves in the world in Antarctica – and we invite our international partners to work with us to make this project come true. We need to join forces in our own interest.
Two thirds of the world is covered with water and two thirds of global waters lie beyond national jurisdiction. The health and safety of our ocean is a national security issue, and yet it cannot be guaranteed by any individual nation alone. What brings us here today is the urgent and inescapable need for international cooperation on maritime issues.
Experience shows the immense benefits of international cooperation – in all fields, in maritime issues even more so. When pirates made it impossible to trade and sail in the Indian Ocean, we, the European Union, have joined forces – among us and with international partners – to bring security to the coast of the Horn of Africa. We have sent our ships and personnel, arresting pirates and strengthening the local capacity to bring criminals to justice. And it worked.
In the Arctic Ocean, it doesn’t matter whether an icebreaker has a European, an American or an Asian flag. We all try to work together, because we all share an interest to travel freely and safely around the North Pole. The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea has provided the world with a clear set of rules, to prevent conflict, to facilitate business and to make the marine economy sustainable.
Experience also shows how dangerous our seas can become when power-politics strike back and confrontation prevails over cooperation. For this reason, we have made maritime security one of the central issues of today’s conference – with a very concrete contribution from the European Union.
We are investing in international cooperation in some key areas such as the Gulf of Guinea, to create a network of countries and port authorities to fight piracy together. We are working with our partners to fight criminal networks that have taken over the economy of coastal areas. The criminal economy of trafficking and piracy destroys the legal economy of fishery and tourism. So when we train local coastguards or we invest in the building and strengthening of the criminal justice system, we are also investing in a more sustainable and healthy economic system. We are also investing in our oceans.
But our work on maritime security is not only at sea or at land. The European Union has the best technologies in the world when it comes to satellites and high-definition space images. So we have decided to put our most advanced systems –Galileo and Copernicus – to the service of global maritime security. They will monitor pollution and oil spills, detect illegal fishing and search for Unidentified Maritime Objects. This is a top-class European technology that will serve a truly global security interest.
We Europeans, the European Union, we believe that a globalised world needs a more cooperative global governance. We believe in the power of diplomacy, we invest in it, we believe and invest in the power of common rules and international institutions. And it is difficult, actually impossible, to imagine a global governance without a cooperative oceans’ governance.
It is an ambitious goal, and it is a common strategic interest and it is also a moral imperative. But together we can reverse the worrying trends of today. Our ocean doesn’t have to be a security threat. It can be Mare Nostrum, our sea, for all mankind. Thank you.