Voices 28/02/2015

New maritime and water policy in Europe

This is a crucial moment for your business. It's a crucial moment for the blue economy.

From your sector, the maritime economy, we can hope for a real push to help our economic recovery and to create the jobs of the future.

Already approximately 3.6 million people work in the mainstream maritime sectors, like tourism, fisheries and fish processing, transport or shipbuilding.

And if we play our cards right, these numbers could grow by millions by 2020.

But then there's also all the new sectors coming up. They might not all have spectacular figures now, but they could be the key to improving the job prospects of many young people and establishing the European Union as a world leader in some technologies. I'm thinking here of marine biotechnology, marine renewable energies or seabed mining, to mention but a few.

Do not think we are light years away from their commercial stage. Yes, new developments take time at first, but then they can go very fast all of a sudden. Moving quickly now can become a major competitive advantage later.

And it's any moment now. Europe is doing its homework and the pieces are now in place for the process to accelerate.

Some of that homework has been putting in place the financial elements for these sectors to take off. And between Horizon 2020, the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund and the new Investment Plan for Europe, the prerequisites are there.

A story worth a thousand words is that of ocean energy.

The potential here is tremendous. First of all, power generation would be constant. The tides never stop. Security of energy supply would be guaranteed.

Secondly, and most importantly, it is virtually unlimited. Wave energy alone has a potential that could cover two-thirds of the projected total energy consumption of the European Union in 2030. Two-thirds!

According to some estimates, the global wave and tidal energy market could be worth up to 535 billion euro between 2010 and 2050.

Long-term economic viability of exploitation will depend on many factors, including the level of subsidies for ocean energy and its competitors. However, there is certainly a case for nurturing it and letting it grow NOW.

France, for example, has faith in ocean energy and has started to set up pilot projects along the Atlantic coast and in its overseas departments.

Meanwhile in Brussels, my team is working hard to identify the key bottlenecks that could prevent this industry from blossoming: things like access to capital, to technology and to space, or red tape and licensing.

We are preparing an action plan that will tackle these problems head-on by 2016, so that one day ocean energy can repeat the commercial success story of offshore wind.

Offshore wind is expected to grow to a capacity of 40 gigawatts by 2020. In 2012 it employed 58,000 people across Europe, but the European Wind Energy Association expects this to reach almost 200,000 by 2020 and to go over 300,000 by 2030.

That is in line with my commitment, as Commissioner for maritime affairs, and with the commitment of the rest of the College of Commissioners, to get Europe growing again.

Indeed, President Juncker takes the economic challenge for Europe extremely seriously. And our work programme for 2015 is truly an agenda for change.

We don’t just need to rekindle the economy. Thinking that would be simplistic. We have to do it without sacrificing our social model or our environment – that is the real challenge.

And this is why the first thing we did, in our first month of office, was tabling an Investment Plan worth 315 billion.

We want to create a pipeline of mature projects that are economically viable, have European added value and are consistent with our social and environmental priorities – so this is certainly the right time for you to get your green projects going.

Another sector that has great potential for us is aquaculture.

All over the world people eat more and more fish. But our stocks are in dire straits – not just in Europe: everywhere. What better way to bridge the gap between supply and demand than to farm it and to farm it in a sustainable way?

Aquaculture is truly the goose with the golden eggs.

But like ocean energy, it is being held back.

For example small aquaculture farms are being stifled by red tape – so we intend to make life easier for SMEs from now on.

The industry also needs us to sponsor research on disease prevention.

European aquaculture is among the best in the world in terms of health and consumer protection. We want to keep it that way.

Through Horizon 2020, over 40 million will go to this kind of research between 2014 and 2015.

And it is also time the public realized how good our produce is. So since December we have new labelling rules that will help consumers see this.

I wanted to give you these examples to show how Europe has a real chance to become a true world leader in the increasingly competitive blue economy of tomorrow. For that, we need to start working today.

One of the next steps is to join the Blue Economy Business and Science Forum that the European Commission is setting up.

The Forum will be made up of businesses, scientists and NGOs that are willing to share ideas and results and to help shape up the blue economy of the future.

We will launch it in May at the European Maritime Day, in Piraeus, Greece. As industry leaders in the maritime sector, I warmly invite you to join us there. In addition to launching the Blue Economy Business and Science Forum, we will also be discussing the role of ports as innovation hubs in the blue economy and maritime skills.

I think it is clear to all of us now that our seas and oceans are a huge asset for our economy.

But it should be equally clear that our attitude towards them must change radically.

Traditional ways of exploiting maritime resources are reaching their limits.

At the same time, demand for resources is ever growing. Our population hit 7 billion in 2011 and will reach 8 billion before 2030.

In addition, the hundreds of millions of people that are climbing out of poverty, cannot possibly consume fewer resources – less food or less energy – than they do now.

Maybe we can consume less and maybe we should. But they certainly can’t.

So, ladies and gentlemen, the only conclusion we can draw is that we have to do things differently. Whatever we do, we will have to do it sustainably.

There will be no strong economy for Europe without a strong and sustainable maritime sector.

So this is the moment for you to think ahead, innovate and push new projects.

We count on you too to create new jobs. Green, sustainable jobs in a booming blue economy.

di Karmenu Vella