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European Commissioner responsible for Research, Innovation and Science
The European bioeconomy – an economy for the 21st Century
Bioeconomy Conference organised by the Irish Presidency of the Council of the European Union / Dublin
14 February 2013
Minister Coveney, Mr Bartolozzi, Mr Beehan, ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to thank the Irish Presidency for organising this conference. It is an honour to address you on this important subject, and to do so in such historic surroundings here in Dublin Castle.
People sometimes ask me - what is the bioeconomy?
There are many valid answers; it can mean different things to different people. One country or region's bioeconomy may look very different to another's, with varying emphasis on forestry, agriculture, the marine, or waste for example, depending on existing practices and available resources.
But all of these sectors are part of the same European bioeconomy, an economy built on biological resources.
The bioeconomy is our daily bread and butter - literally.
It's the food on our plates, the water from our taps, the newspaper in our hands.
It can transform our waste into valuable resources.
And more and more it will be the fuel in our cars and the source of power for our workplaces and homes.
Right now, the bioeconomy in Europe is worth 2 trillion euro and provides 22 million jobs.
With its sheer size and scale of potential, can the bioeconomy save the world?
Well maybe that's simplifying matters somewhat, but the bioeconomy's employment potential can certainly kick-start economies and reinvigorate communities in some of our most peripheral and deprived areas – far-flung islands and coastal areas, agricultural and woodland regions.
To the non-expert, agriculture, fisheries or forestry represent traditional, centuries-old parts of the economy. So they may seem low-tech.
And that's what's really exciting about the bioeconomy. While it is rooted in tradition, it also points the way to the future.
An economy based on biological resources is the oldest economy there is: farming, fishing, forestry.
However, we have come full circle and an economy based on biological resources is also the newest economy. More than that, it is a crucible of new technology and innovation, leading the way in the application of information technology, biotechnology and the life sciences while in many cases blending these with existing knowledge and expertise.
It is a 21st century economy, and an economy with massive potential for Europe.
That's why we are here today, a year and a day since the European Commission adopted its political strategy for the bioeconomy: "Innovating for Sustainable Growth: A Bioeconomy for Europe".
Since then, the European Commission has been working closely with the Committee of the Regions and the European Parliament to implement this Strategy.
I'm delighted that the Strategy has been the subject of a positive vote by the Committee of the Regions and we co-organised last October's conference on Partnering for the bioeconomy in European Regions.
And I am looking forward to the report currently under preparation by the European Parliament – we will continue to work closely with you and your parliamentary colleagues Mr Bartolozzi.
We've also been very active within the European Commission.
The bioeconomy straddles several policy areas. Indeed the strategy was co-signed by five Commissioners – myself and my colleagues responsible for Industry and Entrepreneurship; Agriculture and Rural Development; Environment, and Maritime Affairs and Fisheries.
We have been working hard, together, to ensure a coherent approach to the bioeconomy through our different programmes and instruments including the Common Agricultural Policy, the Common Fisheries Policy, Horizon 2020, European environmental initiatives, the Blue Growth initiative for the marine sector and the upcoming European Innovation Partnership on Sustainable Agriculture.
We will continue to support the bioeconomy under Horizon 2020, Europe's new programme for research and innovation. Its challenge-based, cross-sectoral approach is ideal for such a broad movement as the bioeconomy.
To further reinforce that approach, we are in the process of establishing a Bioeconomy Panel that will help enhance synergies and coherence between policies, initiatives and the economic sectors related to the bioeconomy.
And I am delighted to announce that just this week, the European Commission has established the Bioeconomy Observatory promised in the Action Plan. The Observatory will work in close collaboration with existing information systems to regularly assess the progress and impact of the bioeconomy and to develop forward-looking analyses.
The Observatory will gather data to follow the evolution of bioeconomy markets, to map and monitor EU, national and regional bioeconomy policies, research and innovation capacities, activities and infrastructures, as well as public and private investments in the bioeconomy.
This Observatory will also support the development of regional and national bioeconomy strategies. It will help authorities responsible for rural and coastal development and Cohesion Policy in planning ahead and maximising the impact of existing funding mechanisms. For instance, the bioeconomy could be partly supported through 'Smart Specialisation Strategies' under the future Cohesion Policy.
Because it's in the Member States and regions that the greatest work must be done. And it is the Member States and Regions who must take the lead in successfully implementing the Action Plan.
Europe is very diverse, and it is up to the Member States and regions to design strategies and develop initiatives that are tailored to their own situations, their own resources and potential.
Several EU Member States have already developed, or are currently developing, national bioeconomy strategies. I strongly encourage them, and those who have not started yet, to move forward.
And I strongly encourage our regions to examine ways to work together, learn together and improve together.
For example, I know that North Rhine Westphalia, Germany's most populous region and one of the richest in Europe, is currently finalising a Regional Strategy (hopefully by the end of 2013), while other regions, such as South Holland, have started to develop their own. We will hear more about these developments during the Conference, and I hope this will inspire other regions to prepare their own strategies.
My Commission colleagues and I are keen to hear your views on this and the other issues on the agenda. That is what this stakeholder conference is all about.
In your discussions, please keep in mind the "five questions" that the conference sessions have been designed to address.
But I'd also like to underline the following issues:
First: workers and businesses must be supported in this fast-changing environment through re-skilling, skills upgrading and lifelong learning. So let's build on the results of last November's conference on New Skills for a European Bioeconomy, and prioritise investment in people, in their skills and knowledge. This will mean enabling closer collaboration between industry and the education sector and adapting higher education and vocational training to create a better match between the demand and supply of skills.
A long-term and cross disciplinary approach to skills will help future-proof the bioeconomy, ensuring that Europeans have the right skills to make full use of new and emerging opportunities.
And while it is vital to develop new skills, existing local-knowledge and best practice should not be forgotten.
Second: The Strategy calls on us to develop markets and improve our competitiveness to enable the maximum possible economic and societal impacts.
We have to keep working on demand-side activities to stimulate the long-term competitiveness of bioeconomy sectors, including the role of intellectual property and developing a new Public Private Partnership on bio-based industries. We are making progress on the PPP but there is still much to do.
I want green procurement of bio-based products to become a reality. To achieve this, we need action on three fronts: the development of labels, the creation of an initial European product information list and the organisation of targeted training for people in charge of public procurement.
We will also keep pushing forward on the other Innovation Union issues essential to an internal market for bio-based products, such as faster standard-setting, regulation where necessary and market incentives.
As regards standards, for example, the European Committee for Standardisation is already working on standardisation mandates for bio-fuels and bio-based products.
Third: While we have crucial work to do on establishing a European internal market for bio-based products, we cannot forget the global picture.
The challenges we face are global and joining forces is not an option – it's a necessity.
I want Europe to lead, not follow. But while Europe is at the cutting edge in many ways, the world is also on the move.
Canada and the United States have their own strategies, while China is moving fast towards sustainable agricultural production, intensification and diversification.
So, I am delighted that the conference is dedicating time to discussing the international aspects, and delighted to welcome partners from outside Europe that have come to Dublin to share ideas and join in our efforts towards a global bioeconomy.
I'm pleased that this international dimension is being taken seriously worldwide and there will be many other opportunities for international collaboration in the future.
For example there will be an Important EU-Latin American and Caribbean conference on the bioeconomy in Buenos Aires in March.
This global, holistic approach is essential to overcoming challenges and making the most of opportunities.
For me, policy coherence is essential to successful development of the bioeconomy. That is why, when designing this conference, we were keen to ensure a birds-eye, cross-sectoral view of the bioeconomy, while ensuring time for more technical discussions on specific areas. Perhaps that is a good blueprint for all our discussions on the bioeconomy!
We cannot just focus on individual sectoral priorities. We have to look at the broader picture and create a win-win environment for industries, investors and society. We have to be coherent.
As we all know for example, the use of biomass is subject to trade-offs, not only between food and fuel but also with feed, biochemicals, bioplastics and other biomaterials.
But the "Food versus Fuel" debate is too simplistic. We don't have to choose between them. With a fully functional bioeconomy, we can use our land and water resources more efficiently and sustainably to satisfy the need for both fuel and food.
That is a challenge that I know we can meet.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The bioeconomy is becoming a reality. We are seeing it take root, flourish and grow. We are now counting on it to bear fruit.
Thanks to the Irish Presidency and Minister Coveney, one year after the first Stakeholders' Conference in Copenhagen, this forum will not only strengthen dialogue and action at the highest political level, it will also strengthen the engagement of stakeholders and civil society.
In this way we are keeping the bioeconomy at the top of Europe's agenda, which is where it must be, since it promises us such a rich harvest.
I wish you an excellent conference and look forward to hearing the outcomes of your discussions.