Minister Mallia, Ministers, MEP Meissner, Dear colleagues, good morning and a very warm welcome to Malta also from my side.
And my sincere thanks to Emanuel and the Maltese Presidency for making the blue economy a key part of their Presidency programme, and for inviting me to co-chair this event.
The blue economy can be a driver for welfare and prosperity. That was the message of the Blue Growth Strategy adopted by the Commission 5 years ago, and endorsed by ministers in Limassol that same year.
This message may seem obvious today. But at the time it was little short of utopian. Europe was still reeling from the financial crisis of 2008. Member States' economies showed few, fragile signs of growth. Unemployment remained stubbornly high.
Today, we are on the road to recovery. Manufacturing growth in the Eurozone is at its highest since 2011. More people are now in work than at any time since the financial crisis began. Joblessness in the EU has fallen to less than 10% - the lowest since 2009.
But as you know very well, this recovery has been uneven and remains fragile.
So our message on the blue economy as a creator of growth and jobs is still valid today. Even more so as we are in the middle of a broader reflection process. A reflection on the future of Europe, and the added value the European Union can bring to our citizens.
Today, the blue economy is no longer a utopia. It's reality. The output of the world’s blue economy is currently worth 1.3 trillion euros. By 2030 it could more than double. The OECD predicts that, on the criteria of job creation, by 2030 many ocean-based industries could outperform the global economy as a whole.
We in the European Union have made it clear that we want to be part of that story.
And over the past five years the European Commission has developed a substantial track record on blue growth.
We have streamlined our research efforts and invested heavily in research and innovation – more than 800 million euros over the past three years.
We have moved from the European Fisheries Fund to a new European Maritime and Fisheries Fund – the EMFF, ring-fencing around 275 million euros for pure maritime policy projects.
We have put in place new macro-regional strategies and sea basin initiatives with a focus on blue growth.
We have set up stakeholder-led groups like the Ocean Energy Forum and the Blue Economy Business and Science Forum. For the first time, businesses, scientists, civil society and public authorities are discussing how they can put blue growth in motion, together.
But we have also come to recognise that strong blue growth will depend on keeping our oceans, our coastlines, our marine ecosystems healthy. We cannot erode the very assets of our blue economy, our marine resources.
Instead, we need to do blue growth the European way. A way that is environmentally sustainable, that guarantees good living and working conditions and high social standards.
That way, the blue economy can become a real European success story – a reason for our citizens to be proud.
And we already have plenty to be proud of.
Europe is the global leader in the development of ocean energy technologies. We host 52% of all tidal stream developers and 60% of all wave energy developers in the world.
In the last 10 years, EU research programmes have provided some 150 million euros to fund ocean energy research, development and innovation.
The value of aquaculture production in the EU is up by more than 40% compared to a decade ago. And this is high-quality sustainable aquaculture, produced in line with the world's strongest environmental, health, and safety standards.
20% of the EMFF are earmarked for sustainable aquaculture investments – like helping a Danish aquaculture farm triple their trout production while halving their water consumption.
Coastal tourism is booming. In Italy, 32 of 34 port structures created between 2000 and 2007 were for tourism. Europe is also the world's second largest cruise ship destination. And cruise tourism is growing fast: port-of-call passenger visits rose by 22% between 2009 and 2014.
And we are working to showcase Europe's maritime tourist attractions. EMFF funding is currently creating three routes highlighting underwater cultural heritage in the Mediterranean and Black Sea – from shipwrecks and ancient artefacts to underwater landscapes and artificial reefs.
Meanwhile, marine biotech research is bringing innovative products to the market: cosmetics, food supplements, antibiotics. Algal biofuel is increasingly seen as the next, environmentally-friendly generation of biofuels.
EU-funded researchers are travelling to some of the world's most remote regions to analyse newly discovered marine organisms – giving hope to Alzheimer and cancer patients alike.
These are just some of many examples of how the EU is already supporting the blue economy. New applications, new business opportunities await.
And the Commission is pushing to keep up the momentum. This month, we adopted three different blue economy papers: a report summarising our achievements of the past five years; a paper on nautical tourism; and a Communication targeting blue growth in the Western Mediterranean.
Together, they give us a clearer idea about what to focus on in the months and years to come.
Let me flag three areas where more needs to be done, and that I'd like to discuss with you today.
The first is access to finance. High-potential but risky ventures are still finding it difficult – too difficult – to obtain sufficient funding. The Investment Plan for Europe seeks to close the gap. But the needs are huge. Global investment needs for offshore renewables, for example, have been estimated at 690 billion euros by 2040.
The Ocean Energy Forum's Strategic Roadmap, presented in November, gives us a clear idea of what industry expects from Member States and the Commission: action to de-risk projects, finance start-up capital needs, and reduce red tape.
So one of our priorities must be to make money available to bring bright ideas to the market, support cutting-edge technology, and maintain European global leadership.
My second point is skills and qualifications. Today, there are more people working in offshore wind than there are fishermen. As new sectors emerge, we need to make sure that people have the right skills to take up the jobs that are being created. And we need to convince young people to choose a career in ocean-related fields. The Blue Careers Initiative we launched last year goes in exactly that direction.
Thirdly: regional cooperation.
Here in the Mediterranean, the BLUEMED Strategic Research and Innovation Agenda is a very good example of how working together allows countries to make the best use of EU funds. Thanks to BLUEMED, Mediterranean countries have secured 46 million euros under Horizon 2020 for marine research for 2016 and 2017.
Looking beyond research, we've put in place sea basin wide strategies in the Atlantic, the Baltic and the Adriatic-Ionian, and now in the western Mediterranean as well. Regional approaches have also been established in the Arctic, and we intend to develop a similar approach in the Black Sea.
Meanwhile, in the North Sea, countries have formally decided to work together and better coordinate ocean energy projects. I am convinced that this is the way forward.
[The EU as a global role model]
Let me close by reminding you that a successful blue economy will not just depend on our action here at home. Keeping our oceans healthy, creating the right conditions for blue growth, is a shared task. It is a task that crosses borders, and, particularly here in the Mediterranean, a task that is not confined to the EU and its Member States.
The Rio+20 Summit put the conservation and sustainable use of the oceans high on the agenda. This translated into Sustainable Development Goal 14. The Commission is determined to turn these commitments into action.
That is why in November, the Commission and the High Representative launched a Joint Communication on international ocean governance. We proposed 50 actions to improve ocean management, reduce human pressure on the marine environment, and invest in ocean research and data sharing.
This approach was endorsed by Ministers at the beginning of the month, and I would like to thank the Maltese Presidency for putting ocean governance so prominently on the agenda, and for confirming the European Union's leadership on this issue.
But better ocean governance is not only crucial to make sure our maritime resources are healthy and safe. It also makes eminent business sense.
When I travel outside of Europe, many congratulate the European Union on its work and admire what we have achieved.
They appreciate that we don't just tell others to keep the world's oceans healthy. But that we lead by example and practise what we preach. That is our strength. It's what makes us a real, credible ocean power.
I am personally very proud of our success so far – and I am grateful for all your hard work and support in making them happen. I am very much looking forward to our discussions today. Tell us what more the European Commission can do to help you make blue growth work!
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