Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a pleasure for me to be here in Cork. There is no better place to celebrate Ireland's achievements in putting blue growth into action. Your city is home to one of the oldest sailing clubs in Europe and to some of your great maritime institutions: the Naval Service and the Irish Maritime College, as well as very dynamic University College with a strong focus on the maritime economy.
I am delighted to be able to talk to you about the European Union vision for Ocean Governance. Before I do please permit me a couple of minutes to speak generally on Ireland.
Ireland's economy has been performing impressively. For the past two years, it has topped Europe's growth charts. What you have done in your country to get this economic recovery off the ground is deeply impressive. You have made many sacrifices. And today, you have the highest growth rates in the EU, you have dynamic exports, and unemployment rates are falling below the EU average. Ireland's recovery is underway.
Your numbers are even better for the maritime economy, which is growing nearly twice as fast as the overall economy: by 9 % between 2010 and 2012 and by over 8 % for 2012 to 2014, with a turnover of about 4.5 billion euro a year.
What that means is that there are a lot more young people getting jobs, and not being forced to leave the country.
This has not come about by chance. You had a very clear vision and a very clear goal in mind when you put in place the 'Harnessing Our Ocean Wealth' strategy back in 2012. With that clear vision, you have been able to take the right decisions. The 241 million euro investment package for the seafood sector, which you launched in March, was such a decision. It shows that Ireland is grasping the potential of its maritime economy.
But Ireland's strength is not only to have developed a national strategy. No, you have made a deliberate choice to go beyond that and be part of our joint European blue growth initiative. And indeed the EU's blue growth strategy owes a lot to Ireland. And I hope that Ireland has also benefitted from the EU support that has been given. The ocean is the heart of our planet. We know it makes up 70 % of the earth's surface, and yet we know only 5% of its depth. So research is essential. Over the period 2007-2013 some 111 Irish research groups, including many small firms, participated in 210 EU-funded marine projects. They received more than € 70 million in grants to facilitate invaluable marine research
Ladies and gentlemen,
During my mandate as Commissioner I want to ensure that there is a similar vision of our Oceans across the European Union, as the one that already exists here in Ireland.
It is my deep conviction that Europe must make better use of the extraordinary potential of our seas and coasts.
Last month I was attended the World Ocean Summit in Cascais Portugal. I used the occasion to launch an international public consultation on Ocean Governance.
As part of this consultation I am currently conducting a "listening tour" to hear what global experts think. "Harnessing our Ocean Wealth" is an important stop on this tour. We would be grateful to receive contributions from as many different actors as possible by our deadline of 15 September.
We will use this exercise to publish a Communication early next year to indicate how the EU thinks our oceans can be best managed. Most importantly, that publication will indicate how best we think the EU can contribute.
Europe’s maritime economy, from fisheries to shipping and coastal tourism, employs around 5 million jobs and contributes with around 550 billion euros to our wealth.
If we were to compare Europe’s maritime economy to a national economy, then it would be the seventh biggest economy in the European Union. Europe’s maritime economy employs more people than, for instance, the entire population of Belgium, Hungary or Sweden.
And the ocean economy is resilient: some maritime sectors, like the offshore wind sector, continued to grow throughout the recent economic crisis.
There is much more potential in our ocean economy than those figures tell us. We are witnessing a remarkable rise of new, innovative industries. Ireland has had the courage and the vision to support ventures that are seen as too risky elsewhere – I am thinking in particular of ocean energy. A number of testing facilities are available to technology developers in Ireland, and the sector is making fast progress: I heard that a wave energy company, Resolute Marine Energy, won this year's Maritime Industry Award! And an EU-supported wave energy project should be installed in County Clare within the next three years.
As ever, the economic opportunities, be they established fields such as tourism, growing sectors like aquaculture, or new pastures like bio-technology, must be constantly measured by our environmental responsibilities. Our Consultation and our listening tour are designed together to help us make those measurements.
As you know my mandate is a duel one. I am responsible for the environment, as well as maritime affairs and fisheries. And I am very happy that they are combined as it allows us build a truly strategic approach to our consultation.
Your input can help inform us how the oceans regulate the climate, how their phytoplankton produces oxygen, how their wetlands and dunes protect our coasts. The WWF recently valued such ecosystem services at $ 24 trillion worldwide – a conservative estimate.
I fundamentally believe that if our oceans are not healthy, our economy will be sick.
This common objective of economic development and environmental protection is at the core of my political mandate. It is at the core of Europe’s Ocean Governance and Blue Growth agenda.
I would like to take that vision further. So I would like to set out today three intentions, three ambitions that I will pursue in the coming weeks and months.
First and foremost, I am convinced that we need to create a true global ocean governance project. Healthy oceans are the basis to sustain the well-being and indeed the survival of a world population of 8 billion or more. They are one of the pre-conditions for limiting the impacts of climate change. They can be the key for shifting the world's economy towards a healthier, more sustainable model.
Our oceans are a global resource. But many tell me that the current international ocean governance framework is not effective enough. Europe has a firm place in global fisheries and it has a large maritime economy. The size of our Exclusive Economic Zone alone, gives us the responsibility to play a global role.
So I believe that the European Union should lead this project by engaging with our international organizations and partners. And by making all the necessary connections with other policies – security, development, trade.
I launched our public consultation in order to collect ideas and suggestions on how Europe could best play a role in shaping the international governance of oceans. I invite you all to participate in this and make your voice heard – I hope that today's discussions will bring up new ideas and proposals. This is a great opportunity for Ireland to export some of the good practices in marine resource management further afield.
My second ambition is to invest in better qualifications, in better training and in new skills for the maritime economy.
Today 23 million people are out of work in the European Union. And yet hundreds of maritime firms are looking for staff with the right qualifications and experience.
A recent Irish study on skills requirements for the marine economy shows that maritime careers fail to attract young people – either because the jobs seem unappealing or because career opportunities are not visible enough.
The study's recommendations should inspire us: one of them is to put in place a programme to support schools in organising presentations of those professions. The second one is that we should organize maritime qualification upgrades for people with a generalist background and make them employable here, at the sea.
We are therefore preparing for 2016 a training and education programme for 'blue careers' –for maritime jobs.
My third priority is to help satisfy the enormous need for investments.
In 2014, for instance, nearly half of the final investment decisions for wind farms were billion-euro projects. This can challenge the liquidity even of large power producers. But such projects are candidates for the European Fund for Strategic Investments launched last year by Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. It is my ambition to help make sure that maritime projects obtain an important share of the Juncker fund.
But such large projects are only one side of the story. Many maritime businesses – and most of the youngest and most innovative companies – are SMEs. We can support them through dedicated funding instruments – including a specific section of up to 5 billion euros of the Juncker Plan.
And we have already directed extra funding to maritime research, under Europe’s new ‘Horizon 2020’ funding instrument. This year's round of funding will include for example 20 million dedicated to a joint initiative with the United States and Canada on the preservation and exploitation of the Atlantic marine ecosystems, and 7 million for support to innovation in all maritime sectors – especially for small firms.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I will end by quoting the very vision statement that you issued when Ireland published its 'Our Ocean Wealth' strategy back in 2012. This is what you stated: “Our ocean wealth will be a key element of our economic recovery and sustainable growth, generating benefits for all our citizens…”
For a country as rich in ocean resources as yours, for a country like Ireland that owns true ocean wealth, this was the right goal to set yourself and the right thing to do.
I have already said that Europe is your partner in this endeavour. I believe that together, we have an opportunity to change the way we manage our seas and our oceans. It is time that we expand our vision for a ‘blue economy’ by doing what we can to ensure good ocean goverance. I have mentioned my "Listening tour" many times in my speech, now it is time to practice what I preach.
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