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Zagreb, Croatia (UPI) Dec 5, 2012
The European Union's "blue economy" maritime strategy to promote sustainable growth has been adopted for the Adriatic and Ionian seas, the European Commission says.
Its introduction will come Friday at a conference in Croatia, where EU Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Maria Damanaki will gather opinions from the region's leaders on how to implement its wide-ranging goals.
She noted that given likely future increases in shipping and passenger travel in the Adriatic and Ionian -- as well as the economic development goals of the European Union's Blue Growth strategy -- Brussels is seeking cross-border partnerships in the Balkans to help realize its goals of economic development and environmental protection.
That may prove challenging as Croatia and Slovenia continue to dispute the placement of a seaside border between them and its effect on Adriatic fishing rights.
Hailing it as the first initiative of this kind in the Mediterranean Sea basin, Damanaki said the strategy "underlines the need to step up cooperation" and is designed to spur "local, regional and national actors toward common objectives."
The commission says the Adriatic-Ionian effort is meant to lay the foundations for economic growth by supporting "long-term, sustainable and responsible fishing activities, good environmental status of the marine environment and a safer and more secure maritime space."
It will focus on adapting the region's commercial maritime industries such as fishing, tourist cruises and ferry connections "to the impact of climate change," which in turn will "foster smart, sustainable and inclusive growth of the maritime economy."
Damanaki, however, warned meeting EU environmental goals on the busy seas will test the ability of the region's often fractious governments to work together on common goals.
"Preserving the marine habitats and ensuring the sustainable development of the region will be challenging -- and it is a challenge that we need to prepare for," she said.
Croatia, whose EU accession had been held up by its border and fishing disputes with Slovenia, has long struggled with the requirements of the EU Common Fisheries Policy, which it fears will open the waters of its Adriatic fisheries protection zone to competition from Slovenian, Italian and Greek fleets.
Brussels has insisted that foreign fleets be exempted from the unilaterally declared zone as a precondition for its scheduled 2013 accession as the European Union's 28th member but progress on the issue has been delayed by the border disagreement.
Slovenia eventually reached an agreement with the European Union on $2.6 million in compensation for its fishermen in return for them abandoning the right to fish in Croatian waters until the border is determined, the Slovenian press agency STA reported.
The two countries in January agreed to an arbitration panel as they try to resolve the decades-old border dispute over Piran Bay, an 8-square mile body of water that Slovenia highly values as one of the few outlets to international waters along its 29-mile Adriatic seacoast.
Croatia maintains the international border should placed down the center of the bay but Slovenia said such a move wouldn't leave it enough room for direct access to international shipping lanes for its sea traffic.
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