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Hans Uwe Mergener

In the course of President Emmanuel Macron’s government reshuffle, the new Prime Minister Jean Castex has set up a Ministry of the Sea (Ministére de la Mer). Annick Girardin, former Minister for the Overseas Territories, has been entrusted with the leadership of the Ministry, which last appeared in 1991. President Macron has made maritime strategy a key priority as in December  2019, he used an appearance before business representatives to point out the importance of a maritime strategy and called for a greater focus on the maritime. “The 21st century is maritime – or it isn’t,” he declared. Maritime affairs were already on the agenda at the G7 summit in Biarritz in August 2019.

Thanks to its overseas departments and its territories in the oceans (DOM-TOM), France has the second largest Economic Exclusive Zone after the United States. This fact, ignored by many, creates unusual neighbourhoods for the EU such as those with South Africa (South African Prince Edwards Islands as a neighbour of the French archipelago Crozet) or with Australia and New Zealand.

While the establishment of the ministry was widely recognised in France, as there is broad agreement on the need for greater coordination in this area, it will now be a question of transferring the appropriate responsibilities from the other departments and setting a budget.  From the considerations made public to date, the portfolio will cover all ‘blue’ activities, from the shipbuilding industry to ports and shipowners, fisheries and aquaculture, tourism, marine energy, offshore, biotechnology and all related services. There also seems to be a broad understanding that the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union threatens the reciprocal access to waters shared between British and French fishermen as well as the common European fisheries policy.

European level

Ultimately, it will also be about differentiating from the General Secretariat of the Sea – or its integration. Established in 1995 and under the authority of the Prime Minister, this organisation is responsible for monitoring and evaluating French maritime policy, coordinating and implementing all decisions relating to maritime affairs and the tasks of the coastguard. The French approach goes further than the German solution of a maritime coordinator as it is more than just combining maritime responsibilities and efforts, France sees itself as setting the pace of maritime progress.

In view of such expectations, France’s repeated approaches to the creation of a ‘maritime Airbus’ with consolidations in European shipbuilding, could gain new momentum. In light of this development, the establishment of a maritime economy network and maritime interests within Europe, which the German Government’s Maritime Coordinator is seeking for the German EU Council-Presidency, must be reassessed. Likewise, question marks may now be raised whether a European top body for Maritime Affairs as intended by the German Government could be institutionalised.