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Photo: Service d'Information du Gouvernement (SIG) - Gouvernement.fr

As part of the government reshuffle undertaken by French President Emmanuel Macron, the new Prime Minister Jean Castex has set up a ministry for the sea (Ministère de la Mer). Annick Girardin, former minister for overseas territories, was entrusted with the management of the ministry, which last existed in 1991. A General Secretariat for the Sea (Secrétariat Général de la Mer) was set up in 1995, but Maritimes was otherwise dealt with in other departments - economy, environment, culture, defense, education and research, agriculture, tourism. This was not only increasingly perceived by the lobbyists as an anomaly. The tasks in this sector in terms of economy, employment and the environment are so extensive that in his speech on June 14, President Macron focused on a strategy for maritime issues on economic recovery after the Covid-19 crisis.

A broader understanding of the maritime sector has been emerging for a long time. Emmanuel Macron suggested the importance of a maritime strategy to business representatives as early as 2019. He called for a stronger focus on the maritime: "The 21st century is maritime - it couldn't be otherwise," he called to his listeners. At the G7 summit in Biarritz in August 2019, maritime affairs were already on the agenda.

With its overseas departments and territories in the world's oceans (DOM-TOM), France has the second largest economic zone after the United States (EEZ - Economic Exclusive Zone). This often leads to unusual neighborhoods for the EU, for example with South Africa (South African Prince Edwards Islands as a neighbor of the French archipelago Crozet) or with Australia and New Zealand.

The establishment of the Ministry of Maritime Affairs has been widely recognized in France, as there is broad agreement on the need for greater coordination in this area. The task now is to transfer the corresponding responsibilities from the other departments and to define a budget. Because a ministry alone is not enough. “A ministry is good, but we now have to put all central administrations under its responsibility with human and financial resources. And we need a minister who has real political influence, ”said Olivier Le Nézet, chairman of the Regional Committee for Marine Fisheries and Management of Brittany.

Based on the considerations made public to date, the portfolio should include all 'blue' activities, from the shipbuilding industry to ports and shipowners, fishing and aquaculture to tourism, marine energy, offshore, biotechnology and all related services. French media are trying to use Brexit as a reason for this focus. Britain's exit from the European Union changes the foundations for mutual access to waters shared between British and French fishermen, as well as the Common European Fisheries Policy.

The new French approach goes beyond a maritime coordinator appointed by the German government. The expectations are high. They range from an efficient energy transition in shipping, its digitalization to the claim to bring momentum back into global maritime innovation. Paris has its sights set on the entire maritime ecosystem: shipowners, shipbuilders, research institutes, banks and insurers. You want to bundle more than just maritime efforts, you want to face the wave of progress.

In view of such expectations, the repeated attempts to form a 'maritime Airbus' across the Rhine, i.e. consolidations in European shipbuilding, could gain momentum.

In the light of this development, the networking of the maritime economy and maritime interests in Europe that the Federal Government's Maritime Coordinator is aiming for for the German EU Council Presidency needs to be reassessed.

Hans Uwe Mergener