Member of the European Commission
Responsible for fisheries and maritime affairs
Conference and Workshop on Maritime Clusters in Landlocked
Prague, 27 April 2009
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am particularly pleased that the Czech Presidency, together with the European Commission, has organised an event that focuses on the maritime sectors and clusters in landlocked countries. The reason is very simple: whenever the EU's Integrated Maritime Policy is discussed, there often is a tendency to focus on coastal Member States and their regions, thereby overlooking the substantial and vital interests of landlocked countries and regions.
The great interest in today's event however puts an end to all of that. It proves that the appeal of the Integrated Maritime Policy is clearly not limited to solely coastal Member States or regions.
European landlocked countries and regions are highly integrated in the European maritime economy and are engaged in a number of maritime-related activities, such as shipbuilding, the production of maritime equipment, research and innovation, the provision and training of seafaring personnel, aquaculture production and transport on inland waterways. I will come back to these activities and their importance to the European economy in a moment. But first, allow me to outline to you where we stand with the Integrated Maritime Policy.
The EU's Integrated Maritime Policy sets out our objectives for a sustainable future for the oceans and seas, and aims to establish a common policy framework for all EU policies relating to the marine domain and maritime sectors.
Until recently, our policies on, for example, shipping, maritime industrial production, marine environment protection, marine and maritime research, fisheries, offshore energy and so on, were developed sector by sector, without any holistic or systematic approach. Given the strong links that exist between, and the interdependence of, one maritime activity with another, the old way of doing things was not optimal to say the least.
By optimal I mean something that on the one hand, creates synergy and, on the other hand, avoids creating contradictions or even conflict situations between different maritime interests and activities. It was also felt important to avoid the deterioration in the marine environment that could well result from an uncoordinated expansion in maritime activities.
This is what the European Integrated Maritime Policy seeks to redress. It does not set out to replace sectoral policies, but rather to ensure that they are coherent and can work side-by-side with each other so that any unintended negative consequences can be kept to a bare minimum.
We have been working hard to achieve these objectives ever since the current Commission took office.
The Green Paper adopted in 2006 launched a one-year consultation with stakeholders. This led to the adoption by the Commission in October 2007 of a Blue Paper on Maritime Policy which outlined the aims and framework of an Integrated Maritime Policy and launched an Action Plan to be implemented in 2008-2009. This package was welcomed by the European Parliament and endorsed by the EU Heads of State and Government.
Of course, the adoption of the Blue Paper and the Action Plan was just one decision – albeit a very important one – within the overall context of a dynamic process. It was not, by any means, the end of the task of establishing the new and integrated maritime policy.
Our work has been focusing on implementing the Action Plan, while at the same time developing partnerships and generating real momentum in all maritime-related public policies. I think it fair to say that the Blue Paper has made Europe's decision-makers more acutely aware of the economic clout of Maritime Europe. This applies to all levels of government, be they European, national or regional.
The Integrated Maritime Policy has also allowed us to take a longer-term perspective of our maritime industries, with a view to reaping the maximum benefits in a sustainable manner.
This autumn we will deliver a progress report on the Integrated Maritime Policy to the Heads of State and Government meeting within the European Council. We will set out our achievements under the Integrated Maritime Policy so far and outline how we intend to move forward. Needless to say, the importance of the maritime economy for Europe's jobs, growth, competitiveness and innovation will be one of the major elements to be addressed in this context.
This brings us straight back to the topic of today: maritime clusters and the role of landlocked countries in the maritime economy.
Clusters, as we know, are essential for building a knowledge-based industry. Europe's industry can only compete through better and more innovative products as price is not an area in which we can hope to gain any competitive advantage.
I therefore believe that this reinforces the argument for European industries to work together in a cluster. Companies, research partners, public bodies and others, stand a far better chance of boosting their competitive performance than if they all operated individually. By, for example, sharing knowledge, carrying out joint research and innovation, pooling education and training, or engaging in common promotional activities, including marketing and advertising, many savings can be made in costs and in resource allocation.
Aside from these more obvious advantages, by organising our work in clusters we can also build-in a measure of protection to prevent the re-location of Europe's maritime industries. One can easily relocate an industrial unit from one day to another to a different part of the world, but it is, by definition, far more difficult to relocate an entire cluster!
Clusters also have a specific role to play with regard to one of the key areas in which Europe has a leading edge. I am referring here to maritime jobs and the overall profile of Europe's maritime industries that helps to supply these jobs.
In order to keep a highly skilled maritime workforce there is a need to offer real career opportunities to young people by offering them lifelong maritime employment opportunities. And in what better context could such ambitions be realised than in a maritime cluster, where people will have the option, if they so desire, to switch between different jobs – be they land or sea-based - according to their particular circumstances at any given time?
Opting to forge a career within a maritime cluster also means that people can not only have flexibility and long-term job prospects, they can also develop a wide range of qualifications and skills that will equip them to cope with the increasingly high-tech demands of the maritime industries.
Maritime industries are among the most knowledge-driven industries of all and, as we know, technology is progressing constantly in our rapidly-changing world. One needs to keep abreast of developments if one is to remain readily employable.
European employers, in turn, stand to benefit from having a pool of well-trained, potential employees. This allows their enterprises to become more responsive to ongoing trends and therefore to become more profitable. It also serves to strengthen their ability to raise standards. The final beneficiary is then Europe’s entire maritime industry as becomes more and more competitive on world markets.
The cluster concept has already been successfully implemented within a number of EU Member States, and is being developed in a number of others. Several initiatives are underway to tighten cluster links at a European level too, notably through the Maritime Industries Forum and the European Maritime Cluster Network. Best practices can be spread by connecting the existing maritime clusters in Europe and developing them into networks of maritime excellence, covering the full range of maritime industries, both those which are production-based and those which are more service-oriented.
In tangible terms, this means that we will be depending on you, the key players in the industry, to bring this about. For its part, the EU can, and will, provide a framework to facilitate this. Indeed, the Integrated Maritime Policy already goes a long way to achieving this by creating the right conditions for maritime clusters to flourish. Through its co-ordinated approach, the aim is to help maritime industries to become engines of value creation and prosperity.
We are backing this up by making actions on maritime clusters one of the integral parts of our maritime policy. We are also supporting maritime clusters through our regional and research policies. In parallel, we have also invested in an external consultant to produce a study on the role of maritime clusters. This study gives us a better basis on which to elaborate any appropriate further policy development and to support action at an EU level.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Many clusters are concentrated in coastal areas. However, as we have already seen, the maritime economy stretches beyond coastal regions. Connections with players, in regions distant from the coast, therefore need to be established too.
I would like to highlight a few examples in this context.
Shipbuilding and offshore engineering are complex tasks which require many sophisticated sub-systems. The industrial know-how is often not located on the coasts, but in Europe's industrial heartlands and in landlocked countries. Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg together account for almost 40% of the German marine equipment production, for example. More often than not, the knowledge base in this field is often to be found within small and medium-sized enterprises.
We need to activate this potential, especially in landlocked Member States by exploring existing industrial capabilities, establishing networks between the various industrial stakeholders and supporting them through available Community instruments. We have a number of policies on small and medium-sized enterprises, on regional development and on innovation support, which Mr. Durvy from the Commission's Directorate-General for Enterprise and Industry, will present later this morning.
Today, strengthening the competitiveness of the EU's maritime industries is more important than ever.
It is true that the economic crisis is hitting maritime industries hard. But it is also true that the crisis also offers opportunities, such as re-focusing portfolios towards energy-efficient and climate-friendly products. The marine equipment industry holds the key to the greening of the maritime transport sector and to providing an adequate response to the challenges from climate change. To this end we need new and improved products and new links between actors in the maritime supply chain. Landlocked Member States form an important part of this. The development of integrated technological master plans for maritime clusters as launched in some regions in Europe can contribute to turning the present crisis into an excellent opportunity for new growth and job creation.
Another important sector in this respect is inland navigation. This is an area which offers an environmental advantage compared to road and rail transport. Inland shipping needs to be further developed as it provides the connection for the landlocked countries to deep-sea shipping and thus to world trade.
It is beyond any doubt that landlocked countries and regions are important players in a Maritime Europe. They too, like other more commonly perceived partners, have a significant role to play in the continued development of the Integrated Maritime Policy at a Europe-wide level.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Today's conference and workshop bring together a number of maritime industry stakeholders, including equipment producers, researchers and innovation managers. I hope that by the end of the day new contacts will have been made and new perspectives developed. I also trust that we will have put the landlocked countries and their vast industrial capabilities on the maritime map.
I would like to congratulate the organisers of this event, in particular the Czech Presidency of the Union for pressing ahead with this idea. I would also like to express my gratitude to AMEM, the Austrian Marine Equipment Manufacturers Association, for having provided substantial input and experience for this event. As a member of the European Marine Equipment Council, AMEM is a well-known actor in Brussels. It not only contains some of the world's market leaders, it has also shown that a global marketing platform can be built when there is commitment.
I would like to conclude by re-stating the fact that landlocked countries are maritime nations just like any other thanks to the important contribution they make to Europe's maritime industrial fabric and economic success.
I wish you all a successful and creative day here in Prague.