Karmenu Vella, Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries at the European Commission gives an overview of his priorities for the coming year…
The overall aim of the new European Commission, in office since November 2014, is to help improve the everyday lives of people across the continent. Creating and investing in quality jobs is central to this task. As a Member of this Commission, I have been given a specific mandate by President Juncker. That is a mandate to assure the sustainability of our environment, the preservation of our natural resources, the conservation of our marine biological resources and the management of our fisheries policy.
The challenge, which I think we can meet, is to ensure that these responsibilities compliment the growth and jobs agenda. I strongly believe that growth will be impossible if it is not fair and sustainable. The contribution that the green and blue economy can make to stimulating investment is therefore hugely significant. This is why I am so encouraged that President Juncker decided to combine the Environment portfolio with that of Maritime & Fisheries. To promote good environmental standards, and for strong green and blue growth, there is no point in drawing lines between land and sea. There is, after all, only one planet – 70% of whose surface is water.
The EU has had a sustained period of economic travails. Yet despite this, 95% of its citizens still care deeply about the environment. I intend to use my mandate to promote innovative ways to reflect the expectations of citizens.
I think that if we are going to look at the future we cannot talk about the economy in isolation: we have to start talking about a more affordable and resilient economy. It means looking at the long-term viability of a business model by ensuring the continuity of resources. This is why the concept of the circular economy is so exciting. The commission has committed, in its work programme, to tabling a more ambitious proposal in this area during 2015.
Success can only be achieved by us working together, as EU institutions, as policy makers with member states, and, most importantly, as fellow citizens. I have already started working with my fellow commissioners towards a European energy union.
We have, with my colleague Neven Mimica, the Commissioner for Development, already adopted the Communication on eradicating poverty and boosting sustainable development. This year is the European Year of Development (EYD), which provides an excellent focus as we move towards the definition of the post-2015 sustainable development goals. With our global partners, I will be leading in defining the management and governance of our planet’s oceans. Ocean governance should include both an environmental aspect and an economic aspect. This will mean strong cooperation within the Commission, and internationally, on security, research, innovation and energy issues.
The ‘blue’ economy’ represents roughly 5.4 million jobs and generates a gross added value of almost €500bn a year. There is a lot of potential and we are already working to multiply those numbers. Blue growth and the green economy will be key building blocks of the competitive Europe of jobs, growth and fairness, both because of the jobs that they will create and because of the potential for reducing Europe’s dependence on imported resources.
The issue of marine litter is one that needs to be addressed. With the right political focus and international cooperation, progress can and will be made. Increasing evidence of the damage done by litter, and particularly micro-plastics makes tackling this issue ever more urgent.
2015 is the Year of Natural Capital. To make this fully visible, there will be an important sequence of events, starting with the State of Nature Report in spring, consultations on the Fitness Check of Nature Legislation at different points of the year, and the mid-term review of the EU Biodiversity Strategy in the autumn. The plans for this year are rich and varied and already well underway. My responsibility, like my fellow Commissioners, is to meet the needs of Europeans. I am delighted to play my part in defining and ensuring a sustainable green and blue future.