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Dr Joe Borg

Member of the European Commission
Responsible for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs

"Towards a Future Maritime Policy for the Union"

Irish Maritime Policy Conference
Dublin, 6th March 2007

This is an opportune time for me to be in Ireland seeing as your national consultation on the Maritime Policy Green Paper has been launched so recently.

I am particularly pleased because the initiative you are taking today is an excellent example of the integrated approach we hope that others too will take, namely: a discussion of issues that have been raised by interested parties with a view to fashioning a national position. The methodology you have chosen closely matches our own wishes to listen to the widest possible range of views in order to ensure we have the best possible outcome for an EU-wide maritime policy – a policy that truly adds value.

Ireland has much to contribute to our deliberations.

Being an island nation you fully understand the role of the sea as a link to the outside world both in terms of communication and trade. You have a strong marine food sector including fisheries, aquaculture, seaweed production and seafood processing. You have also chosen to orient your energies towards research and development in the maritime sector, which makes us particularly eager to hear your thinking on how to maintain Europe's position at the cutting edge of innovation.

Ireland is consistently cited in global benchmarking studies as a model for best practice in innovation in the knowledge economy. Ireland is also an invaluable contributor to the debates on European science policy. Peter Hefernan of the Marine Institute here has only just recently chaired an important EU scientific conference.

The "Sea Change" strategy for marine sector development over the next seven years that was launched only last month by Minister Dempsey is also a most praiseworthy initiative. This ambitious strategy from the Marine Institute in Oranmore, in County Galway, aims to drive the development of the marine sector as a dynamic element of Ireland’s knowledge economy. We welcome its exploration of the marine sector's potential as much more than simply a source of fish, and the emphasis it has made on more market-led business opportunities in sustainable energy, functional food products, transport, technology and environmental well-being.

We completely share your aim to strengthen the competitiveness and environmental sustainability of the marine sector, (in part through) by encouraging greater co-operation between industry, the public sector and education providers. We also welcome your ambition to make Ireland a world-leader in renewable energy, functional foods and health products. It is also very encouraging to see that your words are already matched with actions - the recent commissioning of an offshore wind farm at Arklow being one such example.

Some elements of your strategy have particularly caught my attention, because they share much common ground with our Green Paper, particularly in the link between competitiveness and research.

We believe that:

• By laying a path to competitiveness and new opportunities, you are supporting research into the natural sciences, engineering and commerce, as well as applied research initiatives in the marine food industries, offshore oil and gas, shipping and transport.

  • You are building on state investment in marine research to improve your understanding of new areas for development - areas such as marine bio-discovery and biotechnology, marine technology, marine functional foods, renewable ocean energy and rapid climate change.

• You are conscious of the role of research to inform public policy, governance and the regulation of the marine sector and to help decision makers – both public and private – apply the knowledge derived from research and monitoring of the environment. As our Green Paper also underlines, better data and information on maritime activities are critical for a better understanding by maritime economic operators.

• The support you have pledged for research into crucial knowledge and information management systems is also pivotal. Not only do these include tools for exercises such as seabed and resource mapping, ocean and coastal monitoring, robotic platforms and test facilities for offshore energy, they also have a sharp eye for results. This is therefore not solely about research. You have also included programmes for bringing knowledge products successfully to the market.

Co-operative efforts based on cutting-edge knowledge, entrepreneurship, innovation and stakeholder participation can promote the introduction of new technology to ensure environmental sustainability in shipping, ship-building and offshore energy, creating both business and export opportunities. This awareness is important since, in the highly competitive environment of the global economy, the EU's leading position in the world's maritime sector cannot be taken for granted. Challenges from economies on the other side of the world and from the constant shifts that technology brings, demand an integrated policy response at EU level to retain Europe's competitive edge.

I believe that a coherent maritime policy can bring together the distinct elements on which innovation and competitiveness depend.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Given the Commission's central aim to ensure coherence in maritime policy, I have been impressed by the range and stature of the supervisory arrangements you have put in place for your programme. I highly commend your efforts to bring together government departments, state agencies for energy, environment and education, industry representatives and other stakeholders. I believe you have found the recipe for success.

It is therefore no wonder that you confidently predict hundreds of jobs and hundreds of millions of euros in sales for ocean energy systems over the coming decade.

Your plans to establish competence in key areas (such as model-testing and performance validation, mooring design, hydrodynamics, wave forecasting and power take-off technologies) show you mean business. So too, do the projects you have in the pipeline for two full-scale, prototype ocean energy devices, to operate as pre-production models able to meet the challenges of wave forecasting, power intermittency management and energy storage. Ireland looks also set to be a key player in the development of European-North Atlantic climate change modelling, predication and scenario development, with the use of sophisticated climate prediction models and by extracting data from actual ocean and coastal monitoring stations to prepare reliable local climate impact predictions.

And yet all this cutting-edge technological development does not appear to be taking place at the expense of more traditional sectors. You are still looking towards developing an economically viable and sustainable fishing industry, contributing to the prosperity of coastal communities. You have planned for finfish and shellfish aquaculture to benefit from science-based management systems. And you have planned for your indigenous seaweed sector to evolve from wild harvesting into a sector with sustainable, scientifically based harvesting of kelp, fucoids and coralline maërl.

So, much of what you are doing, what you have done, and what you are aiming to do coincides with our own thinking on the future EU maritime policy - in which marine science and research have also been identified as key components. This is recognised both in the Green Paper and in the overall strategic objectives for 2005-2009, where the Commission notes that an "all-encompassing maritime policy should be supported by excellence in marine scientific research, technology and innovation".

The European Union has played a major role in supporting marine research – initially through the Marine Science and Technology programmes, launched in 1989, which helped establish a strong and highly effective European marine research community, tackling clearly identifiable European research issues where a co-ordinated and cohesive European approach was required.

Subsequent EU Research Framework Programmes have consolidated this process. We now have, in Europe, a science and technology community which is completely transformed compared to that in existence 20 years ago. It is more competitive, better recognised in the global arena and better organised in delivering information to stakeholders and policy makers. The 7th, and current, Research Framework Programme with its specific thematic programmes are key to continuing this trend. The Programme has recently entered into force.

FP7 is central to the Lisbon Strategy's goal of building a Europe of knowledge. The principle is to stimulate, organise and exploit all forms of co-operation in research, including the common development of European infrastructures.

The work programmes for FP7 are the result of an intense consultation process and, in the context of maritime research, are a result of the particularly relevant input obtained from the 2004 EurOceans Conference which led to the Galway declaration.

It is entirely appropriate that Ireland should have been the host for the agreement of the Galway Declaration, with its emphasis on collective work among the marine scientific community on the role of the oceans vis a vis life on Earth. Above all, it spells out the contribution that maritime industries can make to the Lisbon Agenda of growth and jobs - and puts equal emphasis on economic achievement and harmony with the environment.

In FP7, the Commission makes specific reference to the marine sciences. Reflecting their inter-disciplinary nature, marine issues are addressed in thematic areas: fisheries and aquaculture are promoted within the theme "Biotechnologies, Agriculture and Food"; and sustainable management of the marine environments and the role of the oceans in climate change are addressed under the heading of "Environment".

Special attention will be paid to ensuring there is effective co-ordination between the thematic areas and the priority scientific cross-cutting areas in order to ensure coherence.

The European Strategy Forum for Research Infrastructure has also made interesting recommendations for integrating marine science in Europe, calling for better use of existing research mechanisms and the co-ordination of research infrastructures. It has recommended investment in joint large-scale research infrastructure facilities like the European Seafloor Observatory (EMSO), the European Component of the Global Ocean Observing system (EURO ARGO), the Aurora Borealis research vessel and LIFE WATCH for biodiversity.

Our ongoing support for the debate on maritime policy will include the organisation of a EurOcean conference in Aberdeen at the end of June, where the focus will be on the consultation and analysis of the Green Paper on a future Maritime Policy for the EU and the central role of research in ensuring competitiveness and economic growth.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

While I have highly praised much of what has already been done in the research arena, there is always more that can be done.

I believe, for example, that we still need to commit more resources to promote multi-sectoral research, i.e. focusing on natural and socio-economic sciences, both in the public and private sector. European expertise - in pollution control and clean engineering, in renewable marine resources, in sustainable offshore exploitation of hydrocarbons, or in coastal engineering - has to be fed into an integrated maritime policy for the EU, and has to be continually sustained and developed through research and investment. Europe's technological lead is a major asset to Europe's economy, generating growing high-value exports and it is a lead that we must strive to maintain.

I also think that we need to make the most of the multiple, and often parallel, research efforts underway in the whole of the maritime arena. We need to coordinate, to streamline and to eliminate wasteful duplication of identical, or almost identical, research activities. We also need to examine what gaps there are in the data collected, whether data collection can be better managed, what analytical capabilities we should be developing, and what data is required in which timeframes and for whom. Finally, we must aim to put an end to today's reality where data collections are scattered, stored in heterogeneous formats, different users have different access rights and monitoring is sporadic. The potential of an integrated data network for policy makers, industry and research is, I believe, huge.

Allow me, therefore, to invite the scientific community to take up the challenges that lie ahead of us, both by taking an active part in contributing to the Green Paper for an EU Maritime Policy, and in ensuring that maximum benefit is derived from the 7th Framework Programme in respect of marine science and technology.

The maritime policy presents a great opportunity for Ireland.

I urge you therefore to grab this bull by the horns and to make it work for you. I would also ask you to make the important steps you have taken to date, more widely known. This is particularly critical over the coming months as the process gains momentum during both the German and Portuguese Presidencies. A large stakeholder conference to be held in Bremen in May will further fuel the consultation process and will set the scene for its winding up at the end of June 2007. We will then present an Action Plan on the way forward which will be considered by the European Council in December.

This action plan will be built on the basis of the input from stakeholders during this unprecedented one-year long consultation period. It will also carve out a clearer picture of where a maritime policy for the Union can add value.

I augur that you will see the merits of this approach and I look forward to receiving the contribution of Ireland – a contribution that I have every confidence will be of the highest standard.

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