Good morning distinguished Minister(s),
Ladies and Gentlemen.
Following on after fellow Commissioner Moedas, it is a great opportunity for me to address this important Conference, and to add the perspectives of my own portfolio – Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries.
When I think of research and the sea, the first thing that comes to my mind is the research vessel "Calypso". Remember?
It was a former minesweeper that Jacques Cousteau bought in Malta, where I come from, in 1950.
Over the next decades, some 150 television ocean documentaries brought the excitement of the bottom of the sea and the creatures living there, right into our living rooms all over the world.
I like to think that this fascination for the ocean, generated by Cousteau and those that followed him, has helped bring us to this point today.
Cousteau's message was always one of universality. The oceans belong to us all, and by definition, their protection becomes our shared responsibility.
What is so encouraging about today's conference, is that it shows how much greater our capacity is to deliver on that responsibility.
This afternoon and tomorrow, following on from this welcome session, you will be hearing from our American and Canadian partners about their perspectives and the projects that will implement the Galway Statement.
So, in the time allotted to me I would like to draw your attention to the many ramifications of your research for each of the policy areas I cover.
I will only touch on fisheries and the blue economy, marine litter, coastal tourism and Arctic protection.
I am extremely motivated to ensure that our cooperation becomes a global ‘gold standard’.
Ocean Governance will be high on my agenda throughout 2015 and beyond. I will consult widely with actors in the sector from right across the EU.
I hope that, together, we will identify how to progress and move forward.
The World Ocean Summit in Lisbon in June will be a major milestone in this process.
Through the activities we have planned, I think we can build an impressive track record. I am confident that when I attend next October’s conference on ‘Our Oceans’ in Chile, we will be closer to a model that can be of inspiration to other actors across other oceans.
And here let me add, that more importantly, we stand ready to assist any efforts to turn inspiration into action.
The Galway Statement perfectly complements the Commission's maritime strategy in the Atlantic area.
Regarding fisheries, we have made science the basis of all our management decisions.
Similarly, our environmental objective of good water status by 2020 cannot be achieved without science.
And one cannot talk of science without linking it to research. There is no doubt that Science and Research contribute in a fundamental way to the work of both my portfolios.
But for the years ahead I see a need for research to do even more. It not only has to be mainstreamed into policy-making: it has to come upstream of policy making.
The earlier we get the relevant information and identify the emerging trends, the more informed our policy making will be.
It is only through a science-based approach that we can best respond to some of the global challenges.
- How do we stop overfishing? Can we find a technology that gives an accurate check on where the boats go and what they catch? Can this be done in an unobtrusive and cheap way?
- How can we further develop sustainable practices in aquaculture?
- And how can we optimise machinery to work in saltwater so as to bring the costs down for tidal or wave power?
- For 30 years straight, the cost of solar energy each year has come down by 10% and wind by 5%. Can we do the same with ocean energy?
We are looking to science to answer these and many more questions, in areas such as ocean governance, biodiversity, and in the fight against ocean pollution and the decline in fish stocks - and not only in the Atlantic.
Also, the blue economy is developing fast. Of course development is fastest where stability and certainty are strongest. Unfortunately, with ocean energy, some investors have hesitated because that stability was lacking.
Industry leaders cannot afford to wait indefinitely to be able to take strategic decisions. Investors expect the best business environment.
Scientists need to look for potential markets and speak to companies that can turn their ideas into new services and products.
If research works in this manner, it will not only facilitate the opportunities for blue and green growth, but will also ensure its own long-term sustainability.
Apart from opportunities, oceans also present us with problems of our own creation. One of the biggest ocean challenges of our time is how to resolve the problem of marine litter.
Every year, millions and millions of tonnes of marine litter, largely plastics, pose all sorts of risks to our oceans and their biodiversity.
This is an urgent matter that research can focus on.
And now is a good time as ever, because the renewed EU Circular Economy Initiative will also address the reduction of marine litter.
And hopefully this will in turn stimulate action plans against litter within the Regional Sea Conventions.
But hand in hand with this effort on reduction, we need research to throw some light as to how the already existing litter can be effectively dealt with.
Boyan Slat, whom Carlos (Moedas) mentioned just now, has proposed a machine for catching the plastic in the ocean. Will Boyan's machine work? These are the kind of ideas we need to know.
Again, I would like to go back to the word stability. The circular economy initiative will provide the needed legislative stability to encourage investors who see the economic potential of tackling this problem.
Another area that impacts on my portfolio is coastal Tourism. This is a sector that has been relatively resilient during the crisis years and is responsible for about half the sea-related jobs in coastal areas. We are still counting but it is certainly more than one and a half million jobs.
UNESCO reckons that 40% of tourism is nature and culture driven. We need to do what we can to maintain and increase the attraction of our coasts.
Research can help here too in a number of ways. For instance by helping us to map, preserve, and present the ocean terrain, Not to mention the valuable archaeological remains that have been submerged by a sea that has risen about one hundred and twenty metres since the last ice age.
We also urgently need to know more about ocean warming and acidification linked to climate change.
It was very wise to include in the remit of the Galway Statement the critical interlink between the Atlantic Ocean and the portion of it bordering the Arctic. The coupled 'North Atlantic – Arctic' systems are crucial for the future of Europe and North America.
In conclusion, ladies and gentlemen,
Research into how the Atlantic is developing, and how we can use its potential, needs cooperation from both East and West.
Since the signing of the Galway Statement, just two years ago, the Transatlantic Ocean Research Alliance has already proved its worth in delivering practical and concrete scientific cooperation.
I was impressed to hear that the Alliance has influenced the US Atlantic research agenda and that several US agencies, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, have drawn up an International Science Plan.
This will help to have a budget focus on Atlantic research in the US and allow for alignment with our Horizon 2020 agenda.
I am equally impressed by the coordination effort underway in Canada via the Galway Marine Working Group, which should also give better alignment.
What I would wish for in the coming years, is that we continue to foster ways that best help research to tackle a number of challenges, some of which I have outlined.
Right now, in celebrating symbolically the second birthday of the Galway Statement a few weeks from now, I wish all involved a very successful conference.
We are thinking and acting strategically and in a spirit of real cooperation. I am proud of our position as global leaders. I look forward to 2015 being a year where we continue to develop and lead.
I fervently hope than our actions and our cooperation in the Atlantic, will soon be extended further into other regions and other areas on the EU's borders and around the globe.
This, I think, should be an objective to start working on straight away. After all, our responsibility does not stop at the Atlantic, but extends to all oceans and all seas.