France’s maritime policy – Speech by Nicolas Sarkozy, President of the Republic

Le Havre, 16 July 2009


I’ve come to Le Havre today to rectify a historic omission. For too long France has neglected her maritime destiny. How have we forgotten that our country has the world’s second-largest maritime territory after the United States: 11 million km², 20 times the size of metropolitan France – an area bigger than the whole of China or Canada? Why have we given up for so long on such major international ports as Le Havre, of course, but also Marseille, Bordeaux, Saint-Nazaire, Toulon, Dunkirk… all ideally situated on several seaboards for serving Europe and the rest of the world? How can we possibly have neglected to such an extent the incomparable diversity and richness of our overseas maritime areas? How can we any longer disregard our strategic presence in the world’s three oceans, in both hemispheres and as far as the South Pole, in Antarctica.

Admittedly, France has a lot of interests on land and a lot of ties to the continent and it’s very probable that these advantages stopped her turning spontaneously to the sea. She has to have a constant political will to go to the oceans and project an ambition there. Le Havre, which owes its existence to that of François I and its development to Richelieu’s, knows this well. I came to tell you that France had to stop ignoring her potentially tremendous maritime destiny.

When it comes to her maritime vocation, France has certainly suffered from having a large capital city inland, sheltered from high sea breezes and away from shipping lanes. But we can and must make Greater Paris a veritable maritime metropolis. For this, we have to forge a new link through the magnificent Seine Valley, between an old capital city on a river, Paris – whose coat of arms depicting a ship is no coincidence – and its two traditional ports of Rouen and Le Havre. “Paris-Rouen-Le Havre, a single city with the Seine as its main road”, Napoleon Bonaparte said as early as 1802. Apart from the river link, we now need to envisage a high-speed transport link, a TGV [train à grande vitesse – high-speed train], connecting Paris to Le Havre via Mantes and Rouen in an hour and a quarter and also benefiting the two Normandy regions. This high-speed link will be one of the main routes in and out of Greater Paris. So we will be adding this to the Grenelle Environment Forum’s rail investment programme.

We have to rebuild a maritime policy and ambition for France focused on the new challenges: those of a planet whose resources are running out, a planet rediscovering its renewable energies and also a globalized planet breathing through international trade. Our future depends on the sea, as a resource, ecosystem and place of trade. And the future of the sea on our planet also depends on France’s attitude. So I want our nation now to live up to its responsibilities and opportunities as a very great maritime power, not just for the French of today, but also for all the men and women of tomorrow. Here, as on the climate and safeguarding biodiversity, we’re the last generation with the full capacity to act. Act before it’s too late. This signal responsibility will be the yardstick against which our children and future generations will judge us.


First of all, France must once again open up to the seas bordering her. They offer her exceptional access to the world’s peoples and riches.

Back in 2007, a month after I took office, I called for our country to start by ending the inexorable decline of the primary instrument for exploiting her access to the sea, her ports: it was insane for France, with ports like Le Havre, Northern Europe’s first port to be reached by ships from all over the world, and Marseille, the Mediterranean port best placed for access to central Europe, constantly to be losing market share in maritime traffic. Insane for a maritime country to be importing two thirds of its containers through foreign ports. Insane for global container traffic to be increasing annually by 10% and French traffic by only 1%.

So I asked Dominique Bussereau and Jean-Louis Borloo to work on a radical reform of the way our ports are run. Until now, a docker moving boxes horizontally didn’t have the same boss as a crane operator moving them vertically. I don’t even need to explain the resulting disorganization and malfunction. The result: four times more cargo was unloaded per metre of quay in Antwerp than in Le Havre and the cranes were used twice as much in Antwerp as in Marseille. What’s more, the port handling systems were starved of the capital and technological and industrial expertise of the major operators who were investing in all the world’s ports, except those in France. I say this today: that era is over. The Act of 4 July 2008 happily put an end to it.

The major maritime ports have reformed their governance and all adopted ambitious strategic plans. Port equipment is being transferred to efficient operators and management of dockers is going to be unified. An investment plan on an unparalleled scale is under way: €2.4 billion of investment, including over €500 million of State money, by 2013. We have to build the multimodal platforms which provide the interface between sea, rail and river transport which our ports need. We’ll also have to build, in the places most suitable for them of course, the methane terminals which are critical for European energy, since they diversify our sources of supply.

The objective of this massive effort for the ports is, I repeat, to double the French ports’ market share of container traffic, taking it to 12% of the European market. After all, that’s only our share of European imports and the same market share as in 1992. So there’s nothing impossible about it.


The future of our great ports also hinges on their rail and road links. It isn’t acceptable for Le Havre to move only 9% of its containers by rail compared with 38% in Hamburg. It’s an environmental absurdity, but it’s also putting a brake on Le Havre’s development. I want the ports provided with powerful, rapid and regular transport links to central European markets. This entails heavy investment: we have to build a new link for freight bound for Paris and Eastern France. This is vital for Le Havre. We have to dig the Seine-North-Europe canal – the first canal in France since the Second World War – in order to open up routes through the Seine Valley and Greater Paris towards Northern Europe.

But we will do still more and faster by improving service quality than through investment. Quality of service of the rail freight operators, which must reorganize to gain market shares, starting with the largest of them: the SNCF. Quality of service of the Réseau Ferré de France (1), which must no longer cancel freight services at the last minute without incurring heavy penalties and must at last make credible quality commitments. In what transport sector job do you abolish services without notice and without compensation? How can we be surprised that rail freight is declining in France when neither the RFF nor the operators are capable of making commitments on reliability?

Following the Grenelle Environment Forum, our country has set itself a key objective for our sustainable transport policy: to raise non-road transport, 14% of goods today to 25% by 2022. One of the key efforts, as I’ve just said, will involve the rail network and services in and out of our major commercial ports. French maritime transport will also have to play its full part, particularly thanks to the marine motorways (2), which we must now make a reality.

A major reform and major investment plan for ports and maritime transport involves choosing priorities and taking difficult political decisions. They prove that a great maritime ambition is possible. We have acted to enable France to regain her presence on the oceans and access to the sea. And we are going to continue.


Last April, Jean-Louis Borloo launched what I deem an absolutely outstanding initiative: the Grenelle Maritime Forum. Modelled on the original method of the “five-party dialogue” which we had devised for the Grenelle Environment Forum, representatives of central government, local authorities, trade unions, business and NGOs met to frame over 600 specific sea-related proposals. I want to congratulate and salute the commitment of everyone who took part – in Paris, the regions and Overseas France. They produced an extraordinarily rich set of proposals. Thank you everyone. You didn’t labour in vain.

We’re going to draw on the work of the Grenelle Maritime Forum to draft a “Blue Paper” which will set out the French maritime strategy. This “Blue Paper” will be ratified by CIMER (Comité Interministériel de la Mer – Interministerial Committee on Marine Affairs) before the end of the year. Indeed it will be more than time to convene a meeting of this committee: the last one was on 16 February 2004, over five years ago. Admittedly, it isn’t councils and such like which produce good policies – if it were, in France, with all the administrative bodies we’ve got, we’d certainly have the world’s best policies. But the governance of such a vast and crucial issue as marine affairs is extremely important.

We will also – without this meaning creating a new structure – have to think about establishing a method of monitoring this maritime strategy we’re going to decide on in partnership with all those who contributed to the success of the Grenelle Maritime Forum. This monitoring group will also be able to go on pondering certain points and some complex and fragile areas, such as the coastal regions, the “delicate place where land meets sea” as the Grenelle Maritime Forum so rightly described them. By 2020, 70% of the world population will live in a 100 km-wide strip of land bordering the sea. Without a comprehensive study of our coastal areas, from mountain summits and river sources, the powerful pull the coast exerts on mankind will tomorrow lead to a major ecological disaster.


I should like to give you here and now what seem to me some strategic guidelines for our country’s maritime policy in the coming decades.

In a world in perpetual quest for food sufficiency, energy and raw materials, everyone looks to, if not actively covets, the sea. According to yesterday’s logic, no one could access anything protected or given sanctuary status. The sustainable development I believe in is the reverse of that crazy logic, which at the end of the day leaves us with the choice between the slowdown of growth and pillage of resources. I reject both equally strongly. This is also the message I get from the Grenelle Maritime Forum: don’t protect for the sake of protecting, don’t allow limitless or immoderate exploitation with no concern for the future, but protect maritime natural resources in order to use them more sustainably. This is the first strategic guideline I want to adopt.

It is especially applicable to our oceans’ living natural resources. Here more than elsewhere, the choice today isn’t to fish or to protect, but always to protect in order to fish better. The historic compromise I want to see today on the use of fishery resources isn’t the unsound combination of two half measures: you fish a bit less and hardly protect the resource any better. Because that way you upset everyone without resolving anything for the future. We owe the truth both to today’s seafarers and tomorrow’s generations.

I want to defend responsible and environmentally-friendly fishing in our country. This is the purpose of the battle the government and I have waged since 2007 in response to the huge oil-price hike. In January 2008, I announced that a plan had been put in place for sustainable and responsible fishing. Today, the commitments I made in Guilvinec have been honoured. Before the end of the year, €300 million will have been allocated in two years to fund optimization of fisheries resources management, make the fisheries sector more attractive, encourage young people to go into it, promote a sustainable economic development of French fisheries and make life safer for fishermen. This financial effort to promote sustainable fishing is unprecedented.

I want a fisheries sector which provides a dignified livelihood for those working in it. One which continues tomorrow to provide jobs for the children of today’s fishermen. One which does not look back with nostalgia to, or is a relic of, the past. A sector which is no longer the most dangerous in the world, losing one in every thousand fishermen. The fishing world offers, every day, the most marvellous examples of solidarity, courage and human effort. The values of these seafarers will long continue to inspire respect well beyond the ports and coastal areas. Since everyone knows the strength of character needed to leave one’s family and go on board at 4 a.m. I shall never accept the fishing industry disappearing from our country. This is precisely why we must always refuse to allow the sea’s natural resources to vanish.


I want to take up the compromise which emerged from the Grenelle Maritime Forum. France today protects less than 1% of her maritime area. By 2012 I’m determined that 10% of it will be protected, and, by 2020, 20% of the 11 million km² of sea under France’s sovereignty will have to be included. And I expect half this area to consist of fishery reserves and boxes, to be designated with the assistance of fishermen, scientists and local stakeholders. It’s here that marine biodiversity will be preserved. It’s here that we will be able to recover the resources which will in future enable fishing to go on for ever in our country.

So, in 2020, the network of maritime areas will protect over 2 million km² of oceans and seas under French sovereignty. This network will extend both the length of the coasts of metropolitan France, particularly in the Mediterranean, and of Overseas France: from the French West Indies to New Caledonia and Polynesia. This maritime network will complement the green and blue belts created by the Grenelle Environment Forum on land, without forgetting the “navy blue belt” so dear to Isabelle Autissier [French round-the-world sailor]. What we’re going to do in pursuit of this goal of maritime protection, no other State in the world has ever done. The example France is going to set will pave the way for an unprecedented effort to preserve the oceans, recover fish stocks and safeguard all those who depend every day on the fertility of the seas for their livelihood.


During the Grenelle Maritime Forum, requests were made every day for moratoria, in the name of the precautionary principle. Admittedly, we still know too little and are too ill-informed about the life concealed beneath the world’s oceans. It’s also true that evidence of an exhaustion of the natural marine reserves is piling up. Finally, it’s true that threats to the existence of some species like bluefin tuna can no longer be ignored. In this instance, the precautionary principle dictates that we very swiftly beef up our scientific knowledge of the sea bed, exploration of the marine worlds, stocks assessment and understanding of the ecosystems. The precautionary principle dictates too that we substantially increase our scientific expertise on the state of natural marine resources. We will, I most solemnly pledge here, commit the necessary funding. I am keen to see our country return to a great oceanographic policy, drawing, of course, on the network of French expertise in the marine sciences, without ever neglecting such new initiatives as, for example, the building of the “Sea Orbiter” international [floating] oceanic station.


But I want to go further: the reason we want to know more is in order to manage better. The time has come, I believe, to base all our public decisions relating to marine resource management on reliable, independent and shared scientific opinion. So in the forthcoming European negotiations on the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy, I am asking the Minister for Food, Agriculture and Fisheries, cher Bruno Le Maire, to pay due regard to scientific opinion. This is a fundamental break with the past which I am proposing to everyone for the years to come. One of the first applications of this method will be France’s support for listing bluefin tuna in the annex to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), to ban international trade in it. I am delighted that thanks to the Grenelle Maritime Forum we have moved towards the protection of this symbolic Mediterranean species scientists have so long been asking for.

You understand, I am keen for everything we do to be geared towards a well-thought-out and ecologically responsible use of marine resources, including mineral raw materials. The sea can conceal substantial deposits of raw materials, which are a source of wealth which our country can’t ignore at a time of scarcity. But prospecting and using these marine mineral resources will always have to comply strictly with the requirements for sustainable development or it won’t take place.


Finally, and above all, the sea can also be a source of wholly renewable new energies. Personally, I really believe in the prodigious potential of marine energy. Thanks to the La Rance tidal plant, France has had long experience, unparalleled in the world, of what needs to be done and also what mustn’t be done at the ecological level. Talking about the challenge of renewable energies, on 9 June this year, I pledged a parity of resources for research into nuclear and renewable energies. This means nearly €200 million more a year for R&D on renewable energies, with marine energy among the foremost.

In particular, we must place all our hopes on the emerging technologies, the cutting-edge technologies where France will be able to make the difference. I’m thinking of offshore windfarms and especially the floating windfarms enabling us to catch the wind far out to sea, where it is strongest, without disturbing coastal activities. I’m thinking of wave energy and the energy from currents. I’m thinking of the thermal energy of the sea, so well suited to our vast tropical and equatorial waters in Overseas France. I’m thinking too of marine biomass.

France’s capital equipment effort in marine energy must at last take off. The Grenelle implementing bill currently going through Parliament will bring essential simplifications to the task of equipment installation. Everyone will have to mobilize to carry out this major investment project, to produce over 6,000 MW, the equivalent of 4 EPRs. By early next year I’d like to see a strategic plan defining the areas of deployment in order to ensure the security of the projects and facilitate connection with the network.


We must base this renewable energy capital investment strategy, which emerged from the Grenelle Environment Forum, on a genuine industrial policy so that, taking our national needs as the starting point, we can develop high-performance sectors which will subsequently export our technologies throughout the world. I know that French firms are ready to play an active part in this.

This is why I’d like a major marine energy technology platform to be set up, led by IFREMER [French research establishment for marine resources]. In a location to be decided, which I envisage being in a coastal region, the aim will be to concentrate the public- and private-sector research capabilities and capitalize on innovations for the benefit of both large and small French firms. I expect this unique technology platform, which may be the first in the world, to be set up by the end of this year.


The second strategic guideline I think crucial is the development of an integrated industrial policy for maritime jobs. Maritime activities – including building ships, sailing them, working in ports and breaking up vessels at the end of their lives, are sources of jobs which we must not only safeguard but also turn to good account.

In France we have two great shipbuilders, the Chantiers de l’Atlantique and DCNS, and we have the world’s leading pleasure-craft builders. This is a substantial skills pool, today threatened by the violent economic crisis. Since 2004, I have been striving to safeguard the incomparable Chantiers de l’Atlantique company. Tomorrow, I’ll be putting the same energy into mobilizing all the sectors’ stakeholders in our country in support of an ambitious industrial progamme to design and build the safer and more energy-saving ships of the future. Against a background of permanently high energy prices, strong pressure to cut CO2 emissions and stringent environmental impact limits, merchant navies all round the world are going to have radically to adapt. We have here a strategic competitive position which our companies can capture. It’s also the State’s job to create the conditions for the success of such an undertaking.


Finally, I believe that France won’t be able to remain a maritime power without seafarers, without these courageous men and women who are passionate about the sea and make it their job. Fishermen, merchant- and regular-Navy sailors, customs officers, captains, pilots, mechanics and oceanographers, we need you, we need your commitment, your skills and your love of the sea.

To keep these vocations, we must continue training people for these maritime jobs and keep on raising the level of qualifications. Is our country fated to continue spreading itself too thinly and compartmentalizing its effort to train people for maritime jobs in four merchant navy colleges and one maritime affairs college? I firmly believe that France has to have a higher maritime training institution offering access to a high-level diploma, a marine engineer diploma, which doesn’t exist at the moment and will lend positive value to these difficult and extremely necessary specialities.


Finally, in the face of the multiple threats hanging over the seas, to ensure maximum security for seafarers, the strong presence of States on the world’s oceans and seas is more necessary than ever. So my third strategic guideline will be resolutely to beef up the action of States at sea. There are few places where this is more essential.

The current [legal] framework for the State’s action at sea goes back to the aftermath of the Amoco-Cadiz disaster in 1978. It remains, I believe, well tailored to times of crisis and rescue missions. Nevertheless, the cooperation between the National Navy, Customs, Gendarmerie and Maritime Affairs Service, which all operate at sea, could be substantially improved so that they can more effectively carry out missions which are today becoming increasingly important: combating pollution, fighting illegal fishing, ensuring the safety of maritime transport, fighting illegal immigration overseas and countering narcotics trafficking.

Coming here, Monsieur le Préfet maritime (4), I ascertained that at your disposal, for the Channel and North Sea, you had 27 ships of all types from 5 different State services, not counting the 50 or so dinghies of the SNSM, [Société nationale de sauvetage en mer – French national sea rescue society]. I also ascertained that the last interministerial order setting out the State’s tasks at sea listed no fewer than 41. I would like us to strengthen still further the action of the State at sea by creating a body with a “coastguard” remit to organize the pooling of the manpower and and equipment resources of all the State services operating at sea and on the coast on the basis of clearly identified priorities, answerable to the préfets maritimes in metropolitan France and the defence area préfets (5) overseas.

Let’s be clear about this, the aim here is not to start pooling these different services. Each has its specificity and know-how. But what has worked in the field of domestic security for the GIR (6) – where the aim was also to get all the government services, which had previously been ignoring each other, to work together – has to be organized in this extremely specific and demanding area of the sea. Naval and air capabilities are essential, but terribly costly for the taxpayer. By pooling the equipment and manpower, we will be able to give ourselves some scope to strengthen in depth the total State effort with respect to coastal and maritime surveillance.


Quite obviously, some missions demand greater investment. First of all, I want the fight against pollution to become an absolute priority for the work of the new “coastguard” body. Because she is located on the edge of the world’s most heavily used sea lanes, France is more threatened by the risk of environmental disasters and oil spills. History has, alas, taught us this on several occasions.

Under the French European Union presidency we got the adoption of the so-called “Erika III package” which increases the obligations vis-à-vis security and more responsible action not only on ship owners but also on the States which grant them their flag. To complement this, I intend our country to take a new initiative with respect to those whom President Jacques Chirac very rightly described as the “gangsters of the sea”. As the Grenelle Maritime Forum has proposed, I want us to develop the research on the technology for tagging oil cargoes which would allow us to end the polluters’ impunity.

I would also like the future “coastguard operations” to target more actively illegal fishing both at sea and when the catch is landed. Ensuring compliance with fishery rules is crucial for our country’s international credibility. It’s also and above all, as I can understand, a genuine matter of confidence both for fishermen and environmentalists. When the rules are stringent for everyone, it is even less tolerable that some manage to escape them. There will be no weakness vis-à-vis the illegal fishing plundering our oceans.

For all these reasons, France must extend her ability to operate at sea well beyond our coasts and territorial waters by pushing back the boundaries of knowledge and maritime surveillance. To do this, I’m asking for our country to develop an ambitious policy of open, secure information sharing, especially with our European partners, a task I applied myself to during the French European Union presidency.


At the end of the day, implementing our maritime ambition requires action at every level. The Union for the Mediterranean, launched a little over a year ago, is the appropriate regional forum for dealing with one of the hotspots of marine biodiversity: the Mediterranean. We want to make it the cleanest sea in the world, we want to protect its sea bed, we want to develop marine motorways there and strengthen maritime security. On 25 June 2009 at the UfM ministerial meeting we identified over 100 projects to reduce pollution in the Mediterranean. On the model of what we’ll be doing with the French maritime strategy’s “Blue Paper”, we’ve now got to frame an integrated Mediterranean maritime strategy. To make headway on this, France will call for a meeting of UfM marine affairs ministers in 2010.


More broadly, the oceans are a perfect example of a common good for mankind, which we’ll be able to manage sustainably only in a strengthened global [legal] framework. The high seas are an area of freedom, but can’t be an area where no law applies. Freedom of the high seas can’t justify piracy, floating dustbins or illegal fishing. France must now ensure that her presence in the international maritime bodies is commensurate with her responsibilities and her maritime area, rather than leaving the discussion and decision-making solely to those defending flags of convenience and systematic deregulation. So I want France, at last, to have an ambassador in the International Maritime Organization. It’s really astonishing that the IMO is the only international organization where we haven’t got one. The first task I’ll assign to this ambassador will be to raise the issue of establishing a force to police international waters with the aim of guaranteeing compliance with the rules essential for safeguarding this universal heritage, the oceans.

“Homme libre, toujours tu chériras la mer!

La mer est ton miroir, tu contemples ton âme.”

[“Free man, you will always cherish the sea!

The sea is your mirror; you contemplate your soul.”]

Charles Baudelaire understood it well, the sea always brings us face to face with our contradictions, our consciences and our responsibilities. My responsibility today is to pick up the threads of France’s rich, turbulent, age-old history and relationship with the oceans. To chart France’s future through a major maritime policy at the same time as safeguarding the future of the world’s seas. This is the crucial challenge of the new maritime strategy I want for our country. I’ll need each and every one of you in order to affirm and implement it./.

(1) Réseau Ferré de France is a Public Establishment of an Industrial and Commercial nature created in 1997. The company owns and manages the French rail network, and is responsible for upgrading, developing, and enhancing the network whilst guaranteeing its overall coherence.

(2) direct scheduled links between two ports provided by permanent rotations of fast boats on which lorries can be embarked.

(3) Grenelle de la mer – Conference on France’s maritime and sustainable fisheries policies, bringing together all the relevant stakeholders.

(4) a special préfet (high-ranking civil servant who represents the State at the level of the department or region) in charge of France’s coastal waters, who is responsible for policing, coastal defence, environmental protection, and the general administration of coastal waters.

(5) France is divided into zones militaries de défense. Her crisis-response resources are coordinated at defence-area level.

(6) Groupe d’intervention regional – regional “interministerial” operational group, able to act at the police, tax, customs and administrative levels.

Published on 30/07/2009

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