Ministers, Governor, ladies and gentlemen, a very warm welcome from my side as well and a big thank-you to our Ukrainian friends for hosting us here today.

Let me start by saying that beautiful Odessa is truly a pearl of the Black Sea. It is also one of the Black Sea's most important ports, with a yearly traffic capacity of 40 million tonnes. And of course Odessa is just one in an entire string of pearls. Whether Istanbul [Turkey], Varna [Bulgaria], Sochi [Russia], Batumi [Georgia], Constanța [Romania] – they all show us the economic importance of the Black Sea: as a trade hub, a transport corridor, and a tourist destination.

We know that we need to polish those precious pearls if we do not want them to lose their lustre.

Today, I want to tell you how the European Union is willing to help you do that. With technical assistance. With financial support. And above all with our own experience of what it means to pursue "sustainable blue growth".

In the EU, the maritime – or 'blue' – economy generates a gross added value of almost €500 billion a year. It represents over 5 million jobs – more than 160,000 in Bulgaria and Romania alone. Most of those jobs are created by traditional maritime sectors: shipping, shipbuilding and tourism.

The picture in Ukraine is similar. Shipbuilding alone provides more than 60,000 jobs. Ferry lines connect the region, transporting 120,000 passengers in 2012.

But we know that there is more potential, in the EU and in the region as a whole. Tourism is one of the most promising areas for investment. I myself recently visited Turkey with representatives from the cruise industry and I could sense the strong interest from their side to do business there.

But I also heard their concerns, for instance a lack of port infrastructure or the fact that they need to comply with standards different than in the EU. The same goes for other Black Sea destinations.

If we want the blue economy to grow in the region, we need to address those concerns. We need to provide business certainty  but we also need to equip people with the necessary skills, boost research and innovation and increase our knowledge base. All while preserving our marine environment for generations to come.

That is what we mean when we speak about a sustainable blue economy.

You will hear plenty of examples from the Black Sea today, but let me just give you a flavour of what the European Union is doing.

  • We are in the final phase of creating a digital sea bed map of the Black Sea – a joint effort by 10 partners from all Black Sea countries.
  • Last year, we launched a call for proposals to stimulate innovative maritime partnerships and a network of maritime clusters. Two of the winning projects have partners in the Black Sea.
  • We launched a pan-European and a regional Dialogue for Cruise last year. And we will explore the feasibility of opening this dialogue to neighbouring countries like Ukraine or Turkey.
  • We have launched a pilot project on joint marine spatial planning between Bulgaria and Romania, which remains open to other countries willing to join.
  • We have created a fishery Advisory Council for the Black Sea, to boost sustainable fisheries and give stakeholders a say in the policy-making process.
  • And just a few weeks ago, scientists from Ukraine, Georgia and the EU set out on board the EU's largest marine research vessel here in Odessa, to study the Black Sea's marine environment and pave the way for better environmental protection.
  • Indeed, we will continue to work with stakeholders around the Black Sea to see where there are still gaps in our respective marine research agendas. We will look at areas where we can streamline funding, also from the European Union's structural funds and our research programme Horizon 2020.

You will notice that all these examples include an element of cooperation. That is no coincidence.

Because I am convinced that the challenges we face need to be tackled in an integrated way. They need to be tackled both collectively and at all levels. In a more uncertain and interconnected world, we will only get ahead if we are ready to talk to others and cooperate – not least when it comes to science.

One of my main priorities is to improve the way we manage our oceans internationally. We can to do this mostly by better implementing the rules we have and by improving coordination. I would like to see this happen in the Black Sea as well. And that is why we have to work closely with regional organisations like the Black Sea Economic Cooperation. That is why we have to use our Black Sea Synergy, which was launched here, in Ukraine, in 2008, and remains the EU's key policy framework for the region.

In the EU we have already adopted an integrated approach to maritime policy – one that takes the full "sea system" into account.

I'll be honest: it's not always easy. It requires different sectors to cooperate. It requires various levels – from the local level all the way up to the supranational, sea-basin level – to talk to one another.

But our experience in the Baltic, the Atlantic, the Adriatic and the Ionian seas shows that it works. If you first agree to cooperate in a few, pragmatic areas, and if you then create a structured way to cooperate, you create more regional business certainty for maritime investors. And with this come investment, jobs, economic growth.

I know that setting out on this blue growth journey can seem daunting. Some of you might be unsure where and how to begin. So we are working on a technical assistance project to make sure you get all the support you need.

On top of this technical assistance, the EU will also continue to support sustainable blue growth in the region with dedicated financial instruments.

I already talked about those instruments last year, so I will not run through them again. In any case, you will hear plenty of examples during today's conference.

But allow me to remark that, when we met last year, many of those instruments had just been adopted. Now I am pleased to say that they are up and running.

Bulgaria and Romania are set to receive 250 million euros under our new European Maritime and Fisheries Fund alone.

Between 2014 and 2020, the EU is spending 49 million euros for cross-border cooperation in the Black Sea – an increase of 40%.

Our Horizon 2020 programme provides an additional 3 billion euros to support small companies and start-ups with highly innovative ideas, including those from the region.

And last, but certainly not least, the European Fund for Strategic Investments can mobilise up to 315 billion euros worth of investments, including in cross-border investments with the EU's neighbouring countries.

And there is one thing that many of these financial instruments have in common: they are designed in such a way that they can develop integrated approaches and foster maritime cooperation. And many of them are open to all Black Sea countries.

So I urge you all to be proactive and use them to drive the blue economy forward.

And I hope that this cooperation will become our stepping stone for a shared maritime agenda.

Ladies and gentlemen,

you know this region far better than I do. This is your sea basin – shaping its future lies in your hands. The EU is there to support you. So today, tell us how we can advance cooperation and boost the blue economy. Together, let's polish those Black Sea pearls until they shine.

Thank you.




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