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Speech by Lowri Evans at the 41st General Assembly and 40th Anniversary of the CPMR, Saint Malo, France, 27 September 2013

Madam Chair, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

As water and land becomes more scarce we are going to have to turn to our seas and oceans to provide more of our basic needs. This process has been slow so far but the pieces are now in place for it to accelerate. Technology developed mostly in the oil industry now allows us to work in deeper and in more hostile environments. There is a revolution underway in the understanding of the form and function of genetic material that points to how the huge diversity of life in the sea can deliver food, energy and medicines for future generations.

Offshore wind is already there. In 2012, offshore wind represented 10% of the annual wind capacity installed, and employed 58,000 people directly and indirectly across Europe. The European Wind Energy Association reckons that the proportion of wind power offshore will reach 30% of the annual wind installed capacity by 2020. That means 191,000 jobs by 2020, growing to 318,000 by 2030.

This success can be repeated by other industries. The stakes are high. If we succeed we can create interesting and sustainable jobs for our young people. If we don't, then the revolution will move on elsewhere in the world, but the EU will not be leading the way in the new blue economy.

The European Commission has developed a two-pronged approach to help bring forward more maritime growth and jobs in the EU. First we want to make best use of existing instruments - research and regional funding being the main ones. We need specific sea-basin strategies and we suggest to target key maritime sectors. We are also putting forward specific maritime policy measures to create better structural conditions – spatial planning, marine knowledge and maritime surveillance.

These underpinning measures are intended to remove barriers to growth. First, we have proposed a Directive obliging Member States to set up a spatial planning process for their seas and coastal zones, and encouraging them to talk to their neighbours. Clear process will reduce business uncertainty and give business more confidence to invest.

Second, we are stepping up from a pilot to an operational phase of our marine knowledge initiative. More than 100 organisations in Europe have now signed up to deliver, free of any restrictions, previously inaccessible data on our seas and coasts to businesses, public authorities, researchers and civil society.

Third, we are beginning to move towards a more efficient way of monitoring activity on the oceans. Our recent public consultation on maritime surveillance shows that authorities are well aware that better sharing of information between themselves will lead to safer navigation and better policing of human and drug trafficking, and illegal fishing. And at less cost.

The policy challenge is to help growth and jobs. So the Commission’s main focus right now is on how to facilitate maritime investment through the EU structural and research instruments.

For research, where decisions on priorities are taken at EU level, Commissioners Damanaki and Geoghegan-Quinn are working closely together to make sure that the needs identified from our dialogue with stakeholders are covered. For instance we can ensure that the ocean energy industry's need for anti-corrosive materials are reflected in EU research programmes. For the first time, part of the research work programme will be devoted to "blue growth". The call for proposals will be published towards the end of this year.

The Commission has chosen biotechnology, seabed mining, aquaculture, ocean energy and coastal tourism for special attention. In these areas a little extra attention over and above what is already being done can make a big difference.

Coastal tourism may seem at first sight a strange choice for a target sector amongst those high technology industries but our studies show that - even in colder and wetter parts of Europe - it is one of the largest providers of coastal jobs. And there can be many more jobs. I expect that the Commission will be adopting its proposals on this at the end of this year.

A common concern across all possible sector development is environmental impact. Local communities are naturally worried that emerging activities such as offshore aquaculture or seabed mining could damage ecosystems or affect other established industries. It is no use saying that these concerns are not real. We need to look at the issues in a transparent way and engage stakeholders from the outset. The Marine Strategy Framework Directive is very helpful here and it provides an inclusive process for monitoring and reporting the state of the marine environment.

* * * * *

Unlike research, decisions on structural funding are largely taken at a national or regional level. We start a new financial framework in 2014 and we want to make sure that all national and regional authorities are aware of the possibilities to support the blue economy.

The networking of maritime academies in the Baltic, for example, shows how regions can work together to offer a broader maritime education than they can on their own. We have also identified sea-basins where particular industries have the potential to grow – ocean energy in the Atlantic, aquaculture in the Adriatic Ionian for instance – and now we need to encourage the specific investment that will crystallise this extra potential.

We are now working with the Member States to ensure that investments in the blue economy are eligible for funding under the Partnership Agreements. These will set out the strategy and rationale for deploying the structural and investment funds, and are now at an advanced stage. We believe that issues identified as priorities in our discussions with stakeholders will all be covered. And cross-cutting issues like skills development and support for small businesses are highlighted as well.

It is now over to you. The strategies outlined in the Partnership Agreements will be reflected in the Operational Programmes of the different funds – the European Social Fund, the European Regional Development Fund, the Cohesion Fund, the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development Funds and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund.

You need to ensure that the opportunities offered in the Partnership Agreements are reflected in these Operational Programmes. And then you need to mobilise the small businesses, the educational establishments and the local authorities to submit the projects that will deliver more growth and jobs. You need to tell them about the opportunities to combine the different funds. You need to tell them as well that the European Investment Bank is very keen to get involved. They are also standing ready to invest in the blue economy.

Our joint challenge now is to make sure that we all help to accelerate investment. The conditions at EU level have never been better. For sure our citizens need the jobs, and the sooner the better.

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