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MEIG Highlights, Latest News 29 novembre 2022

Highlight 50/2022 – Ocean Governance Challenges for France

Jérémy Aron, 29 November 2022

The oceans play a fundamental role in the balance of our planet. Comprising more than 71% of the earth’s surface, they are responsible for major climatic variations. Capable of absorbing 30% of our greenhouse gas emissions, they are also home to an incredible biodiversity with more than 300,000 species listed. They are the main players in globalisation thanks to maritime industry, which accounts for 90% of all world trade, and to the undersea cables through which almost all of the planet’s data transit. 

However, the challenges are considerable: loss of biodiversity, ocean acidification, pollution, territorial conflicts, trafficking (human, drugs, arms), rising sea levels. The oceans represent strategic interconnected spaces whose consequences directly impact human activity. France, which has the second largest maritime area in the world and has territories on all the oceans, has set up a specific governance system to try to meet these challenges.

French Ocean Governance is implemented by the General Secretariat for the Sea (SGMer), created in 1995 and placed under the direct authority of the Prime Minister. The SGMer coordinates France’s maritime policy, defined by the Ministry for an Ecological and Solidary Transition, with 4 long-term objectives: ecological transition for the sea and coastline, development of the sustainable blue economy, preservation of the marine environment and France’s influence in maritime domain.

To achieve these objectives, France has created the concept of State Action at Sea, which includes administrative, management, police and sometimes military missions within the maritime environment. This governance, implemented by the SGMer, is based on seven main themes: maritime safety (safety of life at sea, biodiversity protection, safety navigation), maritime security (police and military), the fight against accidental and deliberate pollution, fisheries control, the fight against illicit trafficking (drugs, arms, human smuggling) and the delimitation of maritime territories and zones. Thus, the State’s action at sea requires the coordination by the SGMer of resources from  eight ministries: the Ministry of the Armed Forces, the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Ecology, the Ministry of Overseas France and the Ministry of Culture.

Despite numerous initiatives and projects, the French Ocean Governance has some limitations. A 2013 report by the Economic, Social and Environmental Council (CESE) highlighted the structural weaknesses of a coordinating body such as the SGMer, particularly in terms of budgets. The EESC recommended the creation of a Ministry of the Sea, which would both ensure the sustainability of the institution in charge of governance and provide a political dimension to the role given to the head of the institution. However, this proposal comes up against the refusal to transfer competences from certain administrations, a reform that is nevertheless essential to ensure effective French governance of its maritime space.

Thus, France has succeeded in setting up a governance system specific to maritime issues in order to deal with the extent of its oceanic territory. This country, which has a rather continental tradition, has managed to identify the challenges and opportunities that the maritime domain could offer. Pursuing an ambitious policy of developing its space and controlling it, France must nevertheless strengthen the coordination of its resources around a Ministry of the Sea in order to give itself the means to overcome the difficulties of ocean governance. By serving as a model, it could consolidate its ambition to become a leader in the implementation of maritime policies at both European and global levels, giving to France a new legitimacy at international level.

Jérémy Aron, Highlight 50/2022 – Ocean Governance Challenges for France, 29 November 2022, available at www.meig.ch

The views expressed in the MEIG Highlights are personal to the author and neither reflect the positions of the MEIG Programme nor those of the University of Geneva.

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