Mr President / Dear Ossi, Distinguished Members,
Ladies and gentlemen, I am very pleased to be here today. And I would like to thank the Committee of the Regions for putting the oceans so high on your agenda.
"Ocean meets Regions": this is all the more true after the successful Our Ocean Conference, which the European Union hosted in Malta last month.
What we achieved there is unprecedented.
For the first time in history, the public and the private sector came together to form a true "ocean community". We acted together, as one, for one shared objective: better managing 70% of the planet – our oceans.
The results speak for themselves. Over 400 new commitments were made for the health of our oceans – 100 pledges by the business community alone.
Pledges worth more than seven billion euros – exceeding even our most optimistic expectations.
Let me also take a moment to congratulate my fellow panellist from the European Investment Bank for the pledges the EIB made during the Our Ocean conference. Your support is valuable and valued.
Our Ocean 2017 sent a clear message to the world: the European Union is serious about advancing the global ocean agenda.
We announced 36 tangible commitments worth over 550 million euros in all six conference areas of action.
To give you a small flavour:
- Following on from the Medfish4Ever Declaration in March, the European Union pledged 5.7 million euros for healthier fish stocks in the Mediterranean Sea.
- On marine protection, we put forward a proposal for a marine protected area, the first of its kind, in the international waters of the Adriatic Sea. A proposal that has now been adopted by the GFCM, the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean.
- We committed over 12 million euros to tackle one of the humanity's biggest challenges: climate change.
- We will also set aside more than 5 million euros for projects that prevent marine pollution – not least the damaging effects of plastic on marine life. To tackle this scourge, we will soon put forward a new Plastics Strategy to prevent plastic from reaching the sea. And the European Commission is leading by example. By the end of this year, we will phase out all single-use plastic cups in water fountains and vending machines in all our buildings.
- The European Union also committed 80 million euros to increase maritime security, for instance by beefing up our satellite monitoring or fighting piracy off the East African coast.
- And we will make available over 400 million euros to promote a sustainable blue economy. In fact, I launched our latest call for blue economy projects just two weeks ago – so please do spread the word back home.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Our Ocean 2017 shows that, when it comes to our oceans and our oceans' health, the European Union means business.
Bit by bit, we are putting into practice the agenda for better international ocean governance that High Representative Mogherini and the Commission adopted one year ago.
But we are still at the beginning. Making promises is the easy bit. Now we need to deliver.
And that is why I am so pleased to be with you here today.
Because regions have a central role to play in this huge, shared endeavour. You are the ones that will determine our ultimate level of success.
And as members of this Committee, you are the voice of our regions. You know better than anybody else which challenges people back home are facing – economic, environmental, social – but also which opportunities lie ahead.
And here I am thinking in particular about the blue economy.
Since adopting our Blue Growth Strategy in 2012, the European Commission has consistently continued our work to put "blue growth" on the map. This year alone we launched three more initiatives – on blue growth, on nautical tourism and on the sustainable development of the blue economy in the western Mediterranean.
Because we know that a dynamic, sustainable blue economy brings prosperity to coastal communities and maritime regions alike.
It breathes new life into old coastal towns. It brings jobs and opportunities that convince young people to stay.
In short, in keeping our oceans healthy, we are keeping our coastal communities healthy.
And I am grateful for the strong support we are receiving from the Member States, the European Parliament and, of course, the Committee of the Regions itself.
We are on the right path. But we can still do more, in particular when it comes to boosting innovation and entrepreneurship.
As you say yourselves, there is considerable opportunity to bring together the different regional and local initiatives and their promoters. I cannot agree more.
New synergies are needed: between public authorities, local communities, researchers, private businesses, and investors.
And later this morning Haitze Siemers from DG MARE will be telling you more about how the Commission is supporting this.
So I will just briefly give you two examples.
First: we all know that many interesting blue economy initiatives, most of them at regional level, need external funding to move from technological readiness to the market. This was an issue for wind energy in the past, and is currently the case for ocean energy and others.
So we are working to set up a "blue-green investment platform". This platform would channel private and public money to blue economy projects that promise both economic profit and environmental gains, but that are generally too small or too risky to rely on the financial markets alone.
Think of renewables, biotechnology, circular economy businesses, sustainable tourism, ports re-positioning themselves as blue economy hubs.
This platform will cut across different funds, countries, policies and blue economy sectors. It will require a concerted effort to be successful – and I count on your support.
We are also currently creating a pipeline of projects looking for investors. Whether it's early-stage projects from researchers who want to take their product or service further. Or start-ups who need extra money for further development, marketing, testing, certification or upscaling.
Second: we must engage with the financial community. And when I say "we", I mean all of us in this room. Project developers, public authorities, and investors need to talk to each other.
The Commission is making sure such dialogue takes place. And it works! On the one side, investors are gaining a far better understanding of what the blue economy actually is and how much potential it represents. On the other side, budding entrepreneurs are becoming far more aware of the different financing options for their particular project.
Ladies and gentlemen,
As big as it may be, the ocean – as an ecosystem, as an economic powerhouse – unfortunately is not "too big to fail".
And when the oceans suffer, so do we.
Keeping our oceans and seas healthy is in our own interest. We in Europe have learned this lesson, although we have sometimes learned it the hard way.
Environmental gains equal economic gains. Preserving our oceans will not lose us money, it will gain us money.
The Our Ocean conference was a declaration of intent. An intent that I reaffirmed some days ago at the COP23 meeting in Bonn.
Now it's time to follow through, all of us, together.
For strong healthy oceans. For a strong healthy blue economy. And for strong healthy regions.
I hope I can continue to count on you in this endeavour.
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