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European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries
Marine research as pillar of the Integrated Maritime Policy of the European Union
EurOCEAN 2010 Conference
Oostende, 12 October 2010
Mister Chairman, Minister Lieten, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I'd like to thank you for your invitation. I am really delighted to have the opportunity to open this timely and important conference and to speak to the European Research Community.
I would like to commend your indispensable and so valuable contribution to the European Integrated Maritime Policy for which I am responsible for in the European Commission. Thanks to this contribution the new policy has already proven its added value, creating linkages and facilitating Investments in different maritime sectors: transport, tourism, fisheries, energy and research. We now focus on unleashing the untapped potential of growth, the blue growth and create new jobs, the blue jobs.
The Maritime Research Community has always been a fundamental support for us and we definitely need your continuous input. I hope that the Oostende declaration will help us a lot.
Building a Maritime policy without a strong maritime research is like building a sand castle when the tide is coming in.
This is why the European Commission adopted in 2008 the Communication on "the European Marine and Maritime research strategy " which fixed a coherent European Research Area framework in support of a sustainable use of oceans and seas.
I would like to reaffirm today that I am ready and willing to act together with my fellow colleague Maire Geoghegan Quinn Commissioner for Research and Innovation. The Commission has already announced the launching of a new research programme for seas and oceans of 45 million € for 2011.
This Communication is an answer to the Declaration issued at the last EurOCEAN conference in Aberdeen in 2007 which called for a "new deal" for Marine and Maritime Science.
Many issues were raised in this Call and you will discuss them over the next two days.
But I want to focus on one : knowledge. I would like to attract your attention to our recent initiative through a Communication for "Marine Knowledge 2020". Why do we focus on that?
You yourselves correctly point out that knowledge of the oceans can help industry provide services and products, help public authorities protect their coastlines or manage their resources and help researchers forecast future scenarios.
Now where do we get this knowledge from? Not from the classic scientific method of controlled experiments to be sure. We don't have two planet Earths.
We can't run an experiment to see what would have happened if we hadn't pumped carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, or if we hadn't driven the European sturgeon almost to extinction or if we hadn't drained our coastal wetlands.
Rather we develop an understanding of what might happen in the future by observing what is happening now and what has happened in the past.
We observe the changes in temperatures of the oceans, we observe the age and size of fish caught in our nets; we observe the wind, tide and waves and we observe their impact on our coastlines. I don't need to tell you that without observation there is no marine science.
This is why observation features so heavily in our recent Communication "marine knowledge 2020". To achieve the goals of the EU's agenda 2020 of smart and sustainable growth in the marine and maritime economy we need knowledge of the seas and oceans. And to create marine knowledge we need marine observations; these observations for example made possible the recent publication of the Census of Marine Life Report.
Those outside this room might ask what the problem is. Europe is already making a heavy investment in observation. It is difficult to calculate exactly how much because so many different bodies make observations or distribute observations made by others - we counted over 50 in one country. Multiply that by the 22 coastal states of the EU and you get some idea of the scale of the problem.
However our best estimate is that European public bodies including research institutes, European, national and local agencies, maritime authorities and defence organisations, are spending about one and a half billion euro a year in marine observation and data collection. This does not include collection by private companies for their own purposes.
But we all know that the data collected through these observations can only generate knowledge and innovation if Europe's engineers and scientists are able to find, access, assemble and apply them efficiently and rapidly. At present this is not the case.
In a survey of professionals, from both the public sector and industry, whose day to day work involves processing marine data, we found that only a tiny minority were happy with the present situation. 97%of them agreed that only the EU has the cross-border legitimacy and the financial and legislative muscle to improve matters.
Making data easy to find, easy to access and easy to process was therefore our first aim. Preparatory actions under the integrated maritime policy have therefore been exploring how consortia of laboratories could set up thematic assembly groups that would gather the data collected within one sea basin, process them and make them available for all stakeholders. For instance European national geological surveys have joined together to produce the first continuous seamless data layers of sea-floor sediments in the Baltic, North Sea and Celtic Seas. Another consortium is using this information to set up the first consolidated coherent European map of sea-bed habitats. Later in the conference you will see progress in this project.
We believe this assembly of data can help in three ways.
First it will help those who need marine data to do their work – for instance to assess risks of coastal erosion or manage fish stocks. Engineers and scientists will not need to spend time looking for data hidden in a myriad of different archives or databases and they will not have to spend time processing them to make them coherent. This will not only save money but it can also help us to react quickly to the unexpected. If there is an emergency in the sea, an oil-spill is the obvious example that springs to mind at the moment, and then having the data readily at hand can help the emergency management services plan the appropriate reaction. Hours count in these situations.
Second it will promote innovation. Presently the only people able to provide certain added-value services are those who made the observations in the first place. Unlocking these data will allow small enterprises to develop new products that we could not have imagined beforehand. Researchers will be able to put their own observations into context. It will facilitate the growth of new opportunities – for instance in prospecting for new biological or mineral resources.
And lastly it will reduce uncertainty. If we could reduce the uncertainty in future sea-level rise by 25%, we reckon that we could save those in charge of protecting the vulnerable inhabitants of London, the Netherlands and Venice to the tune of 100 million euro per year.
Initial results are encouraging but this is not a short-term endeavour. We are not going to create this architecture overnight. It is technically complex. But not starting now would be a lost opportunity.
Now I know that many of you are asking why we talk so much about granting access to existing observations rather than encouraging new observations. It is a good question but we need to move step by step. First we need value for money from what we are already doing. The Member States of the EU do not have unlimited resources. Now that we are beginning to build up a picture of the existing observation network, it is becoming easier to see the gaps where further observation might be needed.
In order to identify these gaps better, our "marine knowledge 2020" initiative proposes setting up sea-basin checkpoints. There scientists and engineers providing the data would sit down together with stakeholders – fisheries managers, environmental protection agencies, energy companies, - to assess the current landscape and determine what the priorities are. Should the emphasis be on better monitoring of sea-level or contamination by microplastics? This will be different from sea-basin to sea-basin. And we also intend, in two years time, to assess what has been done and suggest options for the next steps. This sea-basin dialogue is the first step to achieve one of the European Commission's 2020 Strategy : we want to connect - in a more constant, steady and efficient way – the research and innovation with development, growth and employment. We want to have more applications of your scientific and research achievements in the industry – private and public. In new energy projects for example: for tidal or sea-thermal energy, for biofuels, for clean shipping, for aquaculture, for sustainable fisheries.
Charles Baudelaire in 1861 wrote:
"Oh sea, no one knows your intimate riches,
So jealous are you of guarding your secrets!"
We all know in this room how right these lines still are.
And we also all know how important, how vital it is for the future of Europe to see through these secrets.
This is precisely why Marine research is and will remain a pillar of the maritime policy of the European Union. We definitely need more and better knowledge for the complete achievement of our European Maritime policy.