EMD 2015 – Keynote speech at EMD Conference

Dear Ministers,

Dear Mayor,

Ms Meissner,

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure for me to be here today. Let me start by expressing my heartfelt thanks to our Greek partners for hosting this event in Piraeus – where we opened European Maritime Day with Mayor Moralis this morning – and here, in Athens.

I have to say, I’m quite excited. This is my very first European Maritime Day as European Commissioner.

I had the privilege to address the maritime community two years ago, in Valletta, when I was Minister of Tourism – some of you were there.

European Maritime Day is truly special. It brings us all together: politicians and policy-makers; corporate people and investors; seafarers and fishermen; marine planners and port operators; researchers, nature scientists and engineers; and many more.

And it does so for a reason.

We have in common the conviction that our seas and coasts hold the key to our future. We are discussing here today and tomorrow – and in 25 other cities in Europe – what that future should look like.

Let me contribute to that discussion. Let me share with you how I see that future.

I see potential and I see opportunities.

 

[Our assets]

Europe's seas are a bountiful source of nutritious food, medicine, minerals and renewable energy. They also contribute towards one of Europe's main sector – tourism + cruising.

They provide a variety of ecosystem services, from producing oxygen, through absorbing CO2 emissions to regulating the climate.

Our seas carry almost 90% of the EU’s external trade and 37% of its internal trade through ports just like the one in Piraeus. Indeed Greece's merchant fleet is a very good example, being one of the biggest in the world.

We mentioned tourism. In Greece, healthy seas are also the basis for sustainable maritime tourism, making up double digit percentages of the overall Greek economy.

The EU's maritime economy represents a gross value added of over 500 billion euro per year.

It already provides between 3.5 to almost 5 million jobs and is growing dynamically. The cruise tourism sector keeps adding an extra 3% of jobs year-on-year. Employment in offshore wind energy is increasing by a whopping 30% every 12 months!

 

[Opportunities and how to seize them]

The potential for blue growth is enormous. A recent report by WWF says that the value of the world’s ocean resources is around 21 trillion euro.

So how should Europe seize this opportunity?

Europe needs to do five things: protect, innovate, invest, train and reach out. You will be discussing each of these at this conference.

 

[Protect]

We need to protect our resource base.

This is not a balancing exercise between the environment and the economy. They are two sides of the same coin: if our oceans are not healthy, our maritime economy also falls sick. If we are eroding our seas, we are eroding our own growth base. And that is why an integrated strategy is the key.

I am therefore very happy that tomorrow we will have a dedicated workshop to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Barcelona Convention and the Mediterranean Action Plan.

These are embodiments of that integrated strategy.

 

[Innovate]

Sustainable management of resources is not only the result of regulation. Innovation has a huge role to play as well.

For example, we need to look at innovative solutions that nature itself offers us: dunes as coastal protection, wetlands as pollution filters or fish nurseries.

We have also seen fascinating technological developments in shipping, aquaculture and deep sea technologies. These allow us to use the ocean's resources with minimal or reduced impact on marine ecosystems. European companies and technology developers are among the world's best in this field.

In March I visited the GEOMAR institute in Kiel, Germany,  and I literally saw the future of marine exploration. Their mapping technology was cutting edge.

I'm turning to you for additional ideas, in particular to reduce the amount of waste ending up in the sea, and improve the way it is managed. We already heard some interesting suggestions on how to reduce marine litter at one of the workshops this morning. Last week we had a very good launch of our EU wide bathing water report. This is a positive story, for Europe's coasts and for the EU itself. Tackling marine litter is paramount in our strategy on land and at sea.

Of course, innovation does not only help greening traditional blue economies. It also opens up brand new business opportunities.

A Spanish company, for instance, recently developed an anti-tumor drug hundreds to thousands of times more powerful than any cancer potion now in use, from sea squirts living on the sea floor. You have also heard some excellent examples of innovation in ports this morning. And you will hear about floating windfarms and innovative aquaculture feed later today and tomorrow.

A key challenge remains bringing good ideas to the market. I am therefore happy to announce that we will be launching the European Business and Science Forum at this conference later today. The Forum will speed up cooperation between science and industry and help focus innovation on key areas of the blue economy.

 [Invest]

I have good news for you. The money is there to boost the EU's maritime economy.

More than 300 billion euros worth of investment will become available when President Juncker's European Fund for Strategic Investments becomes operational. Blue business will be very well placed to apply and I encourage you to apply.

Just last week, the EIB approved financing for the construction of new offshore windfarms, as part of President Juncker's Investment Plan.

And there are many other good candidates. Around one fifth – nearly 500 – of the first batch of projects submitted under the Investment Plan could support the blue economy and generate blue growth. They are worth nearly 300 bn euros.

Our Maritime Fund, the Regional Development Fund and Horizon 2020 provide even more financing options for you.

Look for instance at West Wales, where regional authorities have earmarked an amount of €100 million under the Regional Funds for the development of ocean energy. Their advances formed the cornerstone of our discussion at the Ocean Energy event we had in April.

I encourage you to look further and see how blue growth projects could best benefit from the available funds.

I intend to organise a high-level conference later this year dedicated to discussing the funding possibilities for the maritime economy.

 

[Train]

Ideas and money are not enough if there are no skilled people to put them into motion.

We know that the skills and qualifications of employees often do not match the needs of maritime business. Let's work together and find out what is missing the most. Specialised engineers for the marine renewable energy industry? Technicians to maintain offshore installations? Biologists for aquaculture?

And once we have these answers, how can we fill the gap? How could the maritime economy better forecast its labour market needs? How should we promote practical cooperation between industry and education?

I am very much looking forward to tomorrow's dedicated session on this.

 

[Reach out]

Our efforts to promote sustainable blue growth should not stop at the EU's outer limits.

Oceans are coming under increased pressure from population growth, global competition for raw materials, food demand, water scarcity, maritime security threats, climate change and marine pollution.

Many international institutions, rules and processes are in place to address these pressures. Still, only a few people would say that they have been effective in ensuring that oceans and their resources are used sustainably.

Therefore, we need to reach out to our partners and see what more can be done together to improve the governance of oceans.

As a first step I will launch within the next days a listening tour on oceans and their governance. I will be asking for stakeholders' views on what is missing or not functioning well and what role the EU should play in changing that. I hope you will all take part. Your views matter. A lot.

I will launch this at the World Ocean Summit in Lisbon next week. Please help me bring your ideas to the table. The EU is rightly recognised as a global leader on Ocean management. Let's develop that reputation even further.

 

[Conclusion]

Protect, innovate, invest, train and reach out. That's my vision for seizing the opportunities that blue growth offers to Europe.

I am very much looking forward to the discussions today and tomorrow around these and other topics.

I wish you good wind and a very successful conference.

I would like to thank you all, especially our Greek friends, for the organisation, hospitality, and support.

Thank you all