Blue Growth and the North Sea: a vision for 2030

Symposium "The North Sea: past, present and future"
Amsterdam, 2 November 2012

Commissioner Maria Damanaki presented her views about the future of the North Sea at the Symposium organised by the Amsterdam Royal Palace Foundation.


Your Majesty, Professors, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I want to thank her Majesty the Queen, and the Amsterdam Royal Palace Foundation on behalf of the European Commission for giving the North Sea momentum, with this landmark event, in this beautiful venue. As the name of your beautiful country says, we are here in the "Lage Landen", the Low Countries. So this has always worked, struggled and lived with the remarkable body of water which we call the North Sea.

It is a great honour for me to participate in this discussion which happens in a very timely and positive period for the European Union sea policy, the Integrated Maritime Policy.

Less than a month ago in Limassol, European Ministers – the Netherlands were there too – participated with President Barroso and myself in a Ministerial meeting on Europe's maritime future.

This Ministerial meeting was exceptional because the support for our joint work on Blue Growth and Maritime Policy was unanimous. It showed that we all share the same goals: ensuring coastal development; fuelling Europe's green energy revolution; fostering innovation and technology; and developing sustainable aquaculture and tourism.

All these issues are highly relevant for the North Sea.

And this is really my subject tonight: what is our perspective, or how do we envision the future of this sea basin in 2030?

Let me refer to our present first.

The North Sea is one of Europe's most prosperous maritime areas. Europe's largest ports are North Sea ports.  Dutch ports, for example, handled close to 15% of the total tonnage of goods in EU ports in 2010. 

And the area is home to some of Europe's foremost marine research institutes such as the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research. The North Sea coast bristles with maritime clusters and technology incubators and boasts a number of top-quality aquaculture producers. Wind energy drives lots of developments, including the conversion of existing equipment into supply and maintenance gear for offshore work. And of course fishing belongs to the North Sea as much as any other activity – actually the North Sea has historically been among the most productive seas.

So, the North Sea is very intensively used: for transport, mineral extraction, tourism and fishing. It is shallow, and its environment needs careful handling. Sea levels are themselves a challenge, and even more so now due to climate change. And, of course, there is no place where this is more of an issue than here in the "low countries"…How are we handling this complexity?

We cannot be happy of course for the way we exploit natural resources. This is always a great challenge for the European Union. But let me focus on some positive messages today.

Well, we have achieved a lot in the last decade. Let me refer to the way we fish for example. We have discovered the need to fish above maximum sustainable yield. This is the biological level at which the fishermen can take a maximum out of this sea while still allowing fish to reproduce for future years. Now, a number of fish stocks, such as plaice, haddock, herring and saithe are all fished in accordance with the maximum sustainable yield. All of these stocks are shared with Norway, and the fact that they are doing well clearly illustrates also the benefits of good international cooperation. I am very proud because during the last two years Norway and EU have built a strong alliance in North Sea.

I am also proud because though in 2009 we had only 5 stocks fished at MSY in European Union, today we have 27. Only last year we have given to our North Sea fishermen an additional income of 125 million Euros, increasing their fishing quotas for some healthy stocks. Sustainability pays off! The Dutch fleet knows from its one experience that transparent and targeted management of the resource, as was developed under the flatfish plan for the North Sea, does indeed deliver: more stability, healthier stocks, higher catches.

There is another success story that deserves special mention in the fisheries domain, and that is the creation of the Regional Advisory Councils, or RACs as they are widely known. In the RAC that covers the North Sea we have witnessed a very positive experience of stakeholders' contribution to the debates on policy-making.

My intention is to build on this good work – and to further reinforce it.

There is long and positive experience in other maritime domains as well: the Voordelta policy plan project and the extension of the protected nature reserve Maasvlakt are the result of centuries of applied research. The Netherlands' spatial planning framework for your area of the North Sea is another good example of this invaluable know-how.

In fact, North Sea Member States are among the worlds most advanced on the application of Maritime Spatial Planning and cross-border cooperation; The Commission supported this by financing the MASPNOSE project in the maritime waters of Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark. This project facilitates concrete, cross-border cooperation among European countries on ecosystem-based Maritime Spatial Planning.

I am referring to all these positive experiences to explain why I am not here, before you, to tell you what to do. The European Union's Maritime Policy is not about telling Member States or coastal regions what to do.

The Commission wants to give support to those who want to work more closely together across sea basins and bring up benefits from harmonising policies.

If we harmonise sea policies across Europe there will be room for more growth and jobs and sustainable development in the future for the North Sea. How we are going to achieve that? Let me refer to some keywords:

First,  INTEGRATION. What I see is that for centuries the North Sea has been a uniting factor for the countries surrounding it. In 2030 we can see the North Sea as a shared space with:
• an established network of Marine Protected Areas, fully in line with the basic principle of sustainability.
• a dense network of cross-border energy grids and communication links,
• a shared use of resources but also shared assets, such as research vessels, surveillance equipment, data collection equipment and old plants converted into offshore installations.

Second, INNOVATION FOR NEW OPPORTUNITIES. My vision of the North Sea in 2030 is of a place where the Member States have jointly achieved the optimal combination of growth and innovation by interconnecting businesses and researchers of various countries to create innovation in maritime transport, marine energy, blue biotech, tourism, fisheries and aquaculture

There is a huge potential in many fields. Some examples:
• In the North Sea the interest in wind farms is much higher than in other European sea basins. Offshore wind energy is taking off at quick speed; there are 28 operational wind farms in the UK, Germany, Belgium, Denmark and The Netherlands with nearly 2000 MW total capacity. In each of these countries a substantial addition of parks is being prepared: I know that the Dutch government has expressed the aspiration to build 6,000 MW of offshore wind power by 2020.
• Tourism is growing. Since the 1990s, the total number of tourists visiting the North Sea Regions has increased steadily, growing from around 52 million in 1998 to around 80 million in 2007
• Joint work on protecting the environment and maritime heritage is being pioneered in the Wadden Sea. This can be accomplished by other similar projects.
• Coastal protection and management in the light of climate change will bring about new benefits for cooperation and technology.
• A new fisheries policy will be in place.

Thirty years of common fisheries policy, but we are still facing difficulties achieving sustainability. This reform, which I am working hard to see it through, aims to put in place the conditions for a better future for fish and fishermen alike. Fishing all stocks above MSY is our first target.

We also must stop the wasteful practices, discarding, of throwing overboard unwanted fish. We have to achieve this by fishing more selectively. The support offered by European Union funds in the future must be reoriented towards selectivity and innovation for sustainability.

This new policy will help to improve the reputation of the industry with the public. World demand for fish protein is increasing exponentially, and if we want to increase food security for ourselves and our children we have to manage the resource without wasting it. We also need to do more to promote sustainable aquaculture in the Union. This makes perfect business sense, as we know that we cannot sustain our internal demand through capture fisheries alone.

Our proposals are now with the Parliament and the Council of Ministers, and we hope that we can achieve a good and effective agreement in the coming year. I count very much on the Netherlands for their support to the Commission's proposals.


Your Majesty, Professors, Ladies and Gentlemen,

To conclude, this is a defining period for the EU. We face economic difficulties, and we need to answer genuine concerns of our citizens about the future. Maritime Policy must play its part in this; and more than ever it must prove its added economic value. To overcome the crisis we need fresh thoughts. We have to move forward. Looking to the previous decades means nothing. This is not possible anyway. We need a new vision for European competiveness in a globalized world. In this vein, my vision for the North Sea is that of a sea basin, which has already stepped into the 21st century, but which is ready to go even further and take full ownership of our present and our future.

The European Union Member States and Coastal regions surrounding the North Sea know very well what the challenges are. They also have good ideas on how to turn these challenges into opportunities. The point now is to make sure that, all the means and tools that are available to make this happen, are used as effectively as possible.

Europe's Maritime Policy is there to help us achieve our goal of Blue Growth; to help us get the most out of our interaction with the sea, to ensure sustainability, and to deal with all the challenges we are faced with in the North Sea – and beyond.

Thank you.

Last update: 17/04/2013 |  Top