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Major EU conference pushes co-operation on the seas

European Research Commissioner Janez Potočnik called for a holistic approach to marine and maritime research at the first European Maritime Research Policy conference in Brussels on 18 October 2007. Co-operation is key, he said, in order to achieve a balance between the competitiveness of businesses and the sustainability of seas and oceans.

© Peter Gutierrez
Maritime transport

With efforts to develop the first integrated EU-wide maritime policy ongoing, Potočnik underlined the importance of research to all operators in the sector and said it would be at the heart of the EU’s future maritime policy.

A consultation ended in July and the results have fed into an action plan released on 10 October. It outlines the vision of an integrated policy on the seas and oceans, with a number of specific actions proposed. These include a network of marine clusters, a strategy to mitigate the effects of climate change on coastal regions and the creation of networks for observation and surveillance.

 

Janez Potočnik
Janez Potočnik

“The proposals target the relationships between European policies on transport, fisheries, agriculture, enterprise and industry, energy, environment, the regions, employment, security and, not least, research,” said Potočnik. “The vital contribution of research is an underlying theme.”

Movement on EU Maritime Policy

The Commission has also released additional documents dealing with different aspects of the maritime sector, from logistics to port policy, motorways of the sea and common maritime space.

Still expected is a new strategy dealing specifically with marine and maritime research in 2008, added Potočnik. “It will focus on three areas – greater integration of marine science and technology, closer co-operation between different EU member states and a stronger connection between research and policy-making.”

Luisa Prista, Head of DG Research’s Surface Transport Unit, said it was time to look at the oceans and seas in a different way and to resolve conflicting objectives and interests. She called for a research agenda that goes beyond the current framework programmes, “from multi-disciplinary research to cross-cutting research, from fragmentation to coordination.”

The October 2007 maritime
transport conference

Prista underlined the importance of developing a pan-European network of marine clusters that pools resources. At the moment, national clusters are operating in Member States and the aim is for them to work much more closely together in the future.

More co-operation

Speakers from various maritime-related industries underlined the importance of research to their businesses and expressed support for greater co-operation in the sector. Michael Vom Baur from international shipbuilders Aker Yards said, “Almost all inventions and product innovation in shipbuilding are created in Europe.” He added that greater research is paramount to maintaiing this position, in the face of increasing competition from countries such as China and India.

“EU shipyards spend 10% of their turnover on research, development and innovation,” he said, “but public support is still essential because of the nature of the sector, with research projects large-scale, and therefore high-risk.

Emmanuelle Decorte from Belgian shipping company Exmar said more funding is not the most important thing for the sector. “What we really need is a framework for research,” he said, “creating regulations and environments where we can develop new technologies. We need a stable situation.”

A number of speakers cited the importance of reducing lead-time in getting innovations to market. Concern was also expressed over intellectual property rights and the need for adequate protection to enable companies to work together.

Adding value

The importance of the maritime sector for Europe is immense. It accounts for over 90% of the EU’s external trade, 40% of its internal trade and a turnover of over €137 billion. Yet the sector suffers from a lack of visibility as ships operate on remote seas and ports are separated from day-to-day activities. Jean Trestour from DG TREN said much more needs to be done to defend sea-faring professions and the maritime industry.

“We need to valorise much more the maritime sector,” he said, adding that, by 2009, policies would be developed to strengthen employment and research in the maritime sector. “Another area where action is needed is in cutting down the administrative checks on inter-EU shipping,” he said. “This is an anomaly we will want to correct in 2008.”

Recognising researchers of the future

The conference also recognised the efforts of young maritime researchers with the presentation of the Visions 2020 awards. A team from London College took first prize for their proposal for a floating gas processing vessel able to exploit small gas reserves. Second place went to students from NTU Trondheim for an idea for a floating power generation vessel. Newcastle University students came third with their in-port ballast water treatment barge.

Presenting the prizes, Commissioner Potočnik said, “All the ideals and policies for coordination and application of research are useless without researchers. Career choices are often made at an early stage, so demonstrating the fascination of research and rewarding curiosity can be life-changing actions.”

The event was hosted by two organisations that bring together companies, researchers and national authorities working in the maritime sector – the Waterborne technology platform and the MARE Forum. The platform was launched in 2005 to represent the needs of all European waterborne industries – ship builders, universities, equipment providers, research centres, leisure craft, inland crafts, ship inspectors and oil and gas companies. Through its Vision 2020 project it has developed a long-term research agenda and implementation plan.

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