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‘Athens Declaration’ sets EU future maritime transport policy priorities

The ‘Mid-term Review of the EU’s Maritime Transport Policy until 2018 and Outlook to 2020’ constituted the theme of the Informal Maritime Ministerial Meeting of the EU Member States and EEA Countries, which took place on Wednesday, 7 May 2014. 

The Meeting, under the Chairmanship of the Greek Minister of Shipping Maritime Affairs & the Aegean Mr. Miltiadis Varvitsiotis, was attended by the Vice-President of the European Commission and Commissioner for Transport, Mr. Siim Kallas, accompanied by staff members of the European Commission, and by the Ministers and High Officials of the EU Member States and EEA Countries, responsible for maritime transport issues.

The event was honored with the presence of the Secretary-General of the IMO, Mr. Koji Sekimizu, who participated and addressed the participants, in a working lunch which took place in the context of the Informal Maritime Ministerial Meeting and whose theme was named after the IMO World Maritime Day Theme 2014 “IMO Conventions: Effective Implementation”.

The Minister of Shipping, Maritime Affairs and the Aegean, declaring the opening of the Meeting with the working lunch, placed emphasis on the particularly important work of the IMO and the significance of the effective implementation of the international maritime conventions at global level. He also highlighted Greece’s dedication to the Organization’s objectives and the need for the compatibility of the EU legislation with the international IMO rules in order to achieve and effectively implement a uniform legal framework for international shipping.

As Minister Varvitsiotis characteristically stated: “The effective implementation of the internationally agreed and applied rules adopted by IMO, as the competent UN Agency for shipping having the appropriate know-how, constitutes the key to the sustainability of the European and global shipping. In this framework, it is evident that any parallel adoption of legislative measures, in particular at regional level, should be avoided”. 

During the proceedings of the Informal Maritime Ministerial Meeting, the “Athens Declaration” was unanimously adopted, which sets the policy priorities of the EU Member States and EEA Countries aiming at the support, growth and sustainability of European shipping. The Declaration shall constitute the basis for the adoption of relevant Conclusions by the EU Transport, Telecommunications and Energy Council in June 2014.

During his intervention, Minister Varvitsiotis expressed his deepest condolences for the loss of human lives in S. Korea out of the SEWOL tragic accident, while stressing the emphasis that should be attributed to the safety of passenger ships.

In parallel, the Minister referred to the most worrying phenomenon of mixed migration on the occasion of the tragic loss of human lives some days ago in the north of Samos island. “We need a common approach of EU partners in a spirit of solidarity to cope with mixed migration, as the is a common EU affair”, the Minister said, adding that the Athens Declaration provides for close cooperation between national authorities, the Commission, EU Agencies, in particular FRONTEX as well as EU Coastguards, in order to effectively protect EU borders and enhance safety and security in the maritime domain in general.

The most important issues which have emerged from the “Athens Declaration” and shall constitute the EU’s shipping policy priorities in the years to come, are the following:
•    The important role of shipping to Europe’s economy and welfare.
•    Secure the long-term competitiveness of the EU’s maritime industry.
•    Increase employment in the maritime sector.
•    Free access to markets.
•    Short Sea Shipping needs to play a stronger role in the EU. In this context, the Minister referred to the need to financially support the environmental performance of older Short Sea Ships in order to comply with requirements such as low sulphur consumption standards, scrubbers or LNG fuelling, wishing that this would be done in EU shipyards.
•    Efficient EU-wide digital maritime services.
•    EU’s leading role in maritime technology & innovation.
•    Integration of the concept of “Insularity” in the shaping of EU policies. As the Minister stressed “the idea is to prevent territorial and social exclusion and isolation, in order to offer to smaller and remote islands equal growth opportunities”

Taking the floor, the Vice-President of the European Commission and Commissioner for Transport, Mr. Siim Kallas, thanked the Minister for Shipping, Maritime Affairs and the Aegean for this initiative of the Presidency and noted that the Declaration’s objectives constitute the objectives of the EU as a whole and that in this effort the European Commission services will work constructively and in an absolute cooperative spirit with the EU Member States.

The participating Ministers of the EU Member States and EEA Countries congratulated Mr. Varvitsiotis, as President of the Council, for the initiative of the Presidency, declaring their full support and recognizing the success of its efforts for the enhancement of the competitiveness of the European shipping as a key economic and growth pillar of the EU.

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