As the European and global economies continue to navigate themselves out of dangerous waters, the world has to face up to twin challenges. How do we provide the economic opportunities to lift people out of poverty bearing in mind that there will be at least another billion of us on the planet in the next decade or so? And how do we address environmental risks that, if left unmitigated, could lead to a catastrophe in which we do not have the resources to provide the energy or food we need to live?
Both questions need to be tackled without delay if we are to ward off disaster for the next generation. So unsurprisingly the European Union's focus is on supporting those areas which can address both the need for economic growth and the need to preserve our planet.
This is why we are turning to the blue economy. Our recently adopted strategy, Blue Growth, is where these twin challenges meet - it is all about prioritising the use of ocean resources sustainably as a driver for growth and jobs in Europe.
Every year half the planet’s sunlight falls on seas and oceans and half the organic matter is created there. The wind, the tides and waves offer energy that does not contribute to global warming. Every year a higher proportion of new wind farms are already built offshore whilst fish and shellfish, increasingly from fish farms, are the fastest growing source of animal protein worldwide.
Closer to home, Bremen is a leading light with its high-performance shipping companies and enterprises operating in the maritime, cargo handling and wind energy sectors. That's why Bremen was the host city of European Maritime Day 2014 (19 & 20 May). Over two days ministers, industry experts, policy makers, and many others went to the Congress Centre of Bremen, debated and swapped ideas as to how the different sectors in the maritime economy can work together catalyse the investment and innovation needed for sustained growth.
The blue economy is already creating new jobs in Europe but we have only scratched the surface of its potential. We have been thinking about how to build on existing progress and how we can benefit from new research insights to ensure that this blue economy can continue to generate jobs across Europe.
The European Maritime Day Conference in Bremen was a big part of that thinking and the timing was ideal, coming as it took place only two weeks after we unveiled our action plan to drive innovation in the maritime economy. If we are to exploit our waters in a sustainable way, a number of challenges need to be overcome.
For instance our knowledge about the sea is still limited and maritime research in different countries is not linked up. Unsurprisingly access to finance is also a recurring theme heard when out and about talking to researchers and entrepreneurs alike. We are doing what we can to cut red tape and incentivise investment across all industries.
But we have also identified three issues that are particular to the blue economy – poor marine knowledge, fragmented marine research and shortage of skills. We will address those by reducing bottlenecks in accessing marine data, creating a multi-resolution seabed map of European waters and by making sure that we have the people with the right skills in place to fill the new jobs we hope to create.
We don't just need to develop innovative products but also ensure that we continue to develop the skills and technology needed for the longer term. That's why we are extending programmes like Erasmus to include fostering cooperation in education and training and why, through our dedicated research and innovation fund, we will equip Europe's best scientists and innovators with the tools they need to do their work.
The costs of cutting-edge research is greater than ever before, and even with our investment are often too large for individual organisations so we will encourage and incentivise co-operation and results sharing. Bremen has a track record of success in this area and was the perfect host for EMD which is all about coming together to share insights and best practice.
Our seas and oceans, just like all other natural resources, are not infinitely substitutable and global environmental and economic challenges are on an unprecedented scale. The way we respond to them will require greater levels of ingenuity and innovation than ever before. I am glad for having picked the brains of Europe's brightest minds in Bremen's European Maritime Day and seen the maritime sector to share ideas on how sustainable growth from the seas can bring Europe's economy back to safer waters and ensure that we leave a legacy of opportunity to tomorrow's Europeans.