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European Commission


Brussels, 8 May 2014

Questions and Answers on innovation in the blue economy

Why do we need innovation in the blue economy?

The blue economy is already vast with over 5 million people employed in blue sectors such as coastal and maritime tourism, shipbuilding and fisheries, and it could grow further and employ 7 million by 2020. But as fresh water and land are running scarce in the face of a growing world population, we will have to turn more and more to our oceans for our food, medicine and energy needs. The blue economy has the potential of creating more jobs and further our economic growth. However, our activities have to be sustainable so that future generations can enjoy the same healthy and vibrant oceans that we enjoy in our lifetime.

Innovation across all sectors of the blue economy is therefore crucial to realise the growth and jobs potential and can also bring environmental benefits.

Why do we need this Communication?

The 2010 Innovation Union, the over-arching EU strategy on how innovation can contribute to create smart, sustainable and exclusive growth by 2020, already identified a number of weaknesses to tackle barriers to innovation: under-investment in knowledge, poor access to finance, the high cost of intellectual property rights, slow progress towards interoperable standards, ineffective use of public procurement and duplications in research. A number of these issues are already being tackled at the appropriate levels of administration, but some barriers are specific to the blue economy and will need further complementary action:

  1. gaps in knowledge and data about the state of our oceans, seabed resources, marine life and risks to habitats and ecosystems;

  2. diffuse research efforts in marine and maritime science that hinders inter-disciplinary learning and slows the progress of technological breakthroughs in key technologies and innovative business sectors;

  3. lack of scientists, engineers and skilled workers able to apply new technologies in the marine environment.

What does this Communication propose?

The Communication sets out a course of action from now until 2020 to tackle these barriers. The concrete actions it proposes are as follows:



Establishing a sustainable process ensuring that marine data is easily accessible, interoperable and free of restrictions of use (built around EMODnet, the Data Collection Framework, Copernicus and WISE-Marine)

From 2014 onwards

Delivery of a multi-resolution map of the entire seabed of European waters

January 2020

Creation of an information platform on marine research across the whole Horizon 2020 programme as well as information on nationally- funded marine research projects.

Before 31 December 2015

Creation of a Blue Economy Business and Science Forum

First meeting on European Maritime Day 2015

Encourage the development of a marine Sector Skills Alliance


Figure 11 Percentage of selected European sea basins that have not been surveyed


Furthermore, data from those parts of the seafloor that have been surveyed are not easily accessible. Different sets of marine data are held by many different organisations. Finding out who holds data and obtaining authorisation to use them can be time-consuming and expensive.

It is estimated that making high-quality marine data held by public bodies in the EU widely available would improve productivity by over €1 billion a year. It would stimulate innovation in the blue economy by making information on the behaviour of the sea and the geology of the seabed more readily available. The benefits of increased innovation could be of the order of €200 - €300 million a year. The ultimate goal is therefore to have a multi-resolution seabed map in place by 2020.

Why do we need an information platform on marine research?

Launched in January with a budget of nearly €80 billion over seven years, Horizon 2020 is the EU's largest ever research and innovation programme. While blue growth is a "focus area" in the programme, with a €145 million budget for 2014-2015, there are also further opportunities in areas such as food security (i.e. aquaculture), energy (i.e. ocean energy and offshore wind), transport (i.e. shipping), information technology (underwater cables and navigation) and research infrastructure (i.e. deep sea exploration) and these areas may not always be on the radar screens of researchers and industry with a marine and maritime focus.

Also, Member States together spend around €1.3 billion a year on their own national marine research projects. Working with the Commission, Member States are undertaking efforts to avoid duplication, e.g. through the Joint Programming Initiative 'Healthy and productive seas and oceans' and the Article 185-based initiative on the Baltic Sea BONUS, but researchers and policymakers may not always be aware of work going on elsewhere.

The objective is to make these research opportunities more insightful and to increase synergies between different programmes, which can accelerate the uptake of new ideas by industry and will help ensure that public research funding pays off through innovation by business.

What is the EU already doing in the area of marine research?

Between 2007 and 2013, the European Commission contributed an average of €350 million a year towards marine and maritime research through the seventh framework programme for research and technological development. In 2010-13, a large part of this funding was allocated under the cross-cutting "Ocean of Tomorrow" calls, details of which can be found here. The "European Strategy for Marine and Maritime Research", adopted in 2008, is an integral part of the EU's overall maritime policy. For further examples of EU marine and maritime research see MEMO/14/337

Does the Communication affect international cooperation in this area?

No. The oceans are a global concern and the Commission remains committed to pursuing international marine research cooperation. The measures set out in the Communication should, for example, strengthen the European Union's position in international efforts, such as the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS). The European Commission this week also agreed to award Euro-Argo the status of a European Research Infrastructure Consortium. This will coordinate Europe's contribution to the international Argo programme of ocean floats and sensors. The Commission is also building on other initiatives, notably the Trans-Atlantic Ocean Research Alliance with the United States and Canada launched last year in Galway, Ireland.

Why a Blue Economy Business and Science Forum?

The Commission is already in regular touch with sector-specific initiatives to formulate research needs under Horizon 2020, such as the Waterborne Platform, Leadership 2020 and the European Sustainable Shipping Platform for shipping and the Aquaculture Platform.

However, ideas developed in one maritime sector could be of tremendous benefit to other maritime sectors. Following years of research, the European shipping industry has developed anti-corrosive propellers to keep leisure and commercial vessels free from fouling. The very same technology could be used for the turbines used in the nascent ocean energy industry.

There is a clear need for further cross-fertilisation of ideas and research results and this is why the Commission is calling for an over-arching platform that combines representatives from science, industry and NGOs.

How can the skills gap be closed?

The blue economy of tomorrow will also need an appropriately skilled workforce that is able to apply the latest technologies in engineering and other disciplines.

In order to tackle this gap effectively, the EU has already put the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) in place. These are to support the career development and training of researchers – with a focus on innovation skills – in all scientific disciplines through worldwide and cross-sector mobility. The MSCA provide grants at all stages of researchers' careers, from PhD candidates to highly experienced researchers, and encourages transnational, inter-sectoral and interdisciplinary mobility. MSCA also encourage researchers to take up experience in businesses (including SMEs) from an early stage of their career. MSCA are bottom-up in their nature and do not predetermine a specific scientific field and is to become the main EU programme for doctoral training, funding some 25 000 PhDs.

Furthermore, other avenues for supporting the development of skills are:

  1. The Sector Skills Alliance (SSA): In 2013, four pilot SSAs were supported by the EU to foster dialogue between industrial sectors and bodies involved in designing, accrediting, implementing and evaluating education and training systems. SSAs aim to design and deliver joint curricula and methods which provide learners with the skills required by the labour market. The Commission encourages stakeholders in the blue economy to apply for a Knowledge Alliance and marine Sector Skills Alliance

  2. Knowledge and Innovation Communities (KIC): under the responsibility of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), the Knowledge and Innovation Communities (KIC) bring together major players from higher education, research and business to stimulate innovation. Three KICs have so far been set up: climate change, sustainable energy and ICT-related challenges. Five more KICs are planned under Horizon 2020 in the areas of innovation, healthy living and active ageing, raw materials, food for the future, added value manufacturing and urban mobility. The Commission will also examine whether the creation of a specific KIC for the blue economy after 2020 could be of value.

How does this relate to other Commission initiatives in the field of innovation?

The Innovation Union is the overarching EU Flagship as part of delivering smart, sustainable and exclusive growth by 2020 ("Europe 2020"). The Blue Innovation Communication is to further propose additional measures to tackle the current barriers to innovation that hold the blue economy still aback.

How will the Commission make sure that “blue growth” will not endanger the ecosystem of the oceans?

The Commission’s Blue Growth agenda does not prioritise growth over sustainability, but rather prioritises sustainable growth. In many cases sustainability is a actually a pre-requisite for growth: cleaner water allows shellfish from aquaculture to be sold for a higher price, healthy fish stocks will ensure a sustainable future for our fishermen for generations to come, whilst offshore energy can provide a sustainable solution to our energy needs as well as creating jobs and growth across Europe.

The Commission is explicit that the blue economy must develop in such a way that it is compatible with wider ecosystem management and the preservation of the marine environment for future generations. Key to this is the Marine Strategy Framework Directive. This Directive, which EU Member States had to transpose into national law in 2010, sets a target of good environmental status in European seas by 2020. Human activities which do not compromise this aim will therefore be allowed. The only way to understand the possible environmental impact of the blue economy is to continue to monitor and observe the sea, and increase our overall marine knowledge. The Commission will continue to support this research.

Today's announcement is another step towards the development of a sustainable blue economy. Driving innovation forward can also bring about significant environmental benefits. This can be through "eco-innovations", such as reducing sulphur emissions from ships through improved on-board exhaust gas cleaning systems, cleaner traditional fuels or alternative fuel sources. Innovation can also help to develop cost-effective marine protection measures that can contribute to reaching the 2020 environmental targets for European seas.

Is blue growth compatible with protecting our oceans and seas?

It can be, if we act in a responsible manner, if we have sufficient information to see the whole picture, and if we do not repeat the mistakes made in exploiting resources on the land. The EU's Marine Strategy Framework Directive has set the target of good environmental status in European Seas by 2020 so human activities will be allowed that do not compromise this aim. In fact there are many win-win options.

Cleaner water and better organic aquaculture technologies allow more fish from aquaculture to be sold, thereby protecting wild fish stocks. Healthy fish stocks are good for fishermen as well as for the ecosystem.

Support for wind energy platforms not only helps mankind to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  Such platforms can also be designed to host suitable habitats for bottom-dwelling ocean species.

Are these empty words?  What is the EU's track record?

These are not just promises, the EU has a track record of taking the lead when it comes to protection our seas and oceans.  Three examples:

  1. The recent reform of the EU fisheries policy makes the EU the first global player to make sustainable fishing (MSY = maximum sustainable yield) a legally binding objective for all fishermen all the oceans and seas around Europe.

  2. The EU has proposed the most ambitious law to regulate and constrain harmful fishing techniques that risk damaging unique deep sea habitats – by banning as deep sea bottom trawling.  This is the first and most ambitious such regulation of deep sea fishing world-wide.

  3. The EU has adopted a roadmap for the development on a large scale of "blue" marine energy – energy from the waves, currents and tides in the sea.  This is a green and renewable energy sources with a huge potential that can help reduce considerably the burning of fossil fuels in the decades to come.  This roadmap for marine energy is the most ambitious one world-wide.

More information

IP/14/536: EU eyes oceans innovation as source of sustainable growth

MEMO/14/337: Blue Economy Innovation: examples of EU marine research

Innovation in the Blue Economy: Realising the potential of our seas and oceans for jobs and growth:

Studies on Blue Growth per sea basin:



1 :

Source: Preparatory Actions for European Marine Observation and Data Network. Service Contract No. "MARE/2009/07 – Seabed Mapping – SI2.563144" Based on 6000 seabed surveys of which approximately 1000 were high-resolution multi-beam surveys.

2 :

Staff Working Document accompanying this Communication

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