Other available languages: EL
European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries
Reviving the Mediterranean blue economy through cooperation
12th Facility for Euro-Mediterranean Investment and Partnership Conference /Athens
18 April 2013
Prime Minister, Ministers, Vice-President de Fontaine Vive,
Assistant Secretary-General Winbow, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to thank you for the interest that you demonstrated in organising this important, for Mediterranean and European standards, Congress of Athens, on blue growth in the Mediterranean. Thank you and a warm welcome to everyone. The people who are here amongst us today are to a large extent leading personalities in the sector of shipping, entrepreneurship, sciences and activities that are related to the sea. With your participation you can effectively and positively influence the Euromediteranean Cooperation and Entrepreneurship.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We are living in difficult times. The economic crisis is a European reality. In particular the South, the Mediterranean part of Europe experiences this crisis in a painful way. The problems and the difficulties faced by the countries of Mediterranean that do not belong in the European Union are equally serious. Different, but serious. We are allliving in a fluid and uncertain context. There are no calm seas in these times. Of course as people of the sea, you know better than anyone that “In the calm seas, everyone is a captain”. But here we are faced with stormy seas. What do we do about this? If "no favourable wind is blowing, pull the paddle ", an old proverb says.
And this is what we have to do. In this fluid context, we must move forward. Besides, each crisis has always two aspects: Difficulties but also opportunities.
In the European Union we have agreed on a new way to manage sea. This is the Integrated Marine Policy.
Namely, we coordinate policy areas such as the energy, transport, environment, fisheries, research and we adapt them to the specificities of each sea basin. And in most cases we are working with partners across borders.
This new approach is gaining political traction and legitimacy.
In Limassol in November 2012, the European Union ministers agreed unanimously to support the Blue Economy in Europe, recognizing that the sea provides opportunities for growth and new jobs. It is obvious that there is a huge untapped potential in the Mediterranean. Potential for prosperity.
In order for this action to be effective it should include all the countries of the Mediterranean basin and not only the member states of the European Union. That is why in the European Union, we signed Partnership for Democracy with the Southern Mediterranean. We have already made progress in the context of this collaboration. We are partners and the Mediterranean unites us.
A few words on our region:
The Mediterranean coast is home to more than 150 million inhabitants. This number doubles during the tourist season. The ports of the Mediterranean welcome each year one million cruise tourists.
The Mediterranean is also an important transit corridor for shipping with 30% of the world seaborne trade channelled through it, including 20% of the world's seaborne oil traffic.
Half of EU's fleet is active in the Mediterranean, mostly small-sized and artisanal, together with an increasing aquaculture production.
Still, the Mediterranean is confronted with serious risks and threats in the field of maritime security such as illegal immigration, trans-national crime, drug trafficking, illegal fishing activities.
It also faces serious environmental challenges, because it is a closed sea. The Mediterranean ecosystems are influenced by the high pressure that they have from developing economic activities and multiple sources of pollution from both land and sea.
What are the activities related to the blue economy?
Shipping, passenger ferry services, fisheries, aquaculture, coastal protection, marine renewable energies, coastal, cruise and maritime tourism, yachting and marinas, offshore oil and gas, blue biotechnology, desalination, marine mineral mining, are all key components of the blue economy.
Some sectors might be less developed than others in the Mediterranean region but this should not halt efforts to look into their effective potential for growth and job creation.
These individual sectors are interdependent and rely on common skills and shared infrastructure, making the need for an integrated and synergetic approach to the development of the blue economy all the more relevant.
What are the obstacles that lie ahead?
I will refer only to the main ones:
The lack of access to finance and a shortage of suitably specialised workers. The attractiveness for a maritime is not corresponding to the real opportunities that exist, specifically for the young people that look for a job in such difficult economic period.
Moreover, there might be a proliferation of projects related to the sea in the Mediterranean. But there are too many sectoral initiatives and this can lead to fragmentation.
Finally, the attendance of social partners is still very low. Industry, Trade Unions, employer's representatives, civil society, academia and training institutes should be more engaged in the development of the maritime economy.
All these issues need to be tackled if we want to reach long-term sustainability for maritime activities and related jobs in the region.
What does the European Commission do about this? The European Commission is trying to set a good example for cooperation. With the European Investment Bank and the International Maritime Organization, we took the initiative to start working together for the Mediterranean Sea.
I am fully convinced that if we join our forces, we can move forward. This is because we bring together the European Commission's action in the Mediterranean, the European Investment Bank's long-term financing in the region and the International Maritime Organization's longstanding contribution to maritime safety.
The first steps of our joint work are already very promising.
Our initiative will be structured around three main pillars:
First, this can be done with the creation of maritime clusters in the Mediterranean.
Clusters are groupings of larger industries, smaller suppliers, educational establishments and training institutes all coming together to reinforce each other, understand each other's strengths and weaknesses and take advantage of their geographical proximity. Such networks already exist in some countries.
For example the French maritime cluster is looking at achieving excellence in sea-based technologies and deep-sea exploration. Closer to here, the port of Piraeus hosts a cluster that offers specialised maritime education to one of the largest fleets in the world; but which could nonetheless seek linkages with related and supporting industries.
Maritime tourism can make better use of existing infrastructure as well and be combined with other activities. With Commissioner Tajani, we announce a Communication and a funding program on Tourism by the end of 2013.
Clustering across borders has its advantages as well. At the EU level, the European Network of Maritime Clusters is investing on collecting data and identifying the key actors of the European maritime economy. In the coming months we intend to launch exploratory work on possible regional clusters of this kind for the Mediterranean and todays conference should define the interest for it.
I would also like to promote a Mediterranean network of maritime training establishments which will link research institutions, education and training. Maritime sectors very often rely on a set of common skills. Harmonising training and curricula, sharing experiences and exchanging best practices could give a much needed thrust to the labour market. More mobile maritime professions would be more appealing to young people in the region.
Second, maritime safety and surveillance.
The IMO is naturally best placed to promote and monitor a network of navigation routes in the Mediterranean.
We are ready to contribute with the tools and instruments that we, already, have in the European Union.
The SAFEMED project, now in its third phase, will continue assisting Mediterranean partners in implementing safety and surveillance measures. With the Irish Presidency, we decided the coordination of military and civil services in the European seas. This is definitely a major and difficult step.
Coastal States have their own role to play in this. I do not have to remind you of the seriousness of illegal immigration, with its heavy toll of lives and political tension; or how the Mediterranean is used to smuggle drugs into Europe.
I do believe that the Mediterranean Coast Guard Forum could be used as a platform for cooperation with other important actors, such as FRONTEX and the Barcelona Convention and the Regional Marine Pollution Emergency Response Centre for the Mediterranean.
Third, the creation of a database of common information accessible to everyone; government, individuals, investors from all countries. We already begun working in the creation of a Virtual Knowledge Centre - an electronic portal that gathers all existing information into one single place.
Such a portal will be extremely useful to find out which infrastructures, skills, policies for activities deserve attention or investment.
The maritime space is not unlimited. And for this reason, I already proposed a new directive on maritime spatial planning, implementing the Law of the Sea, which is being discussed now in the European Council and the European Parliament. We have secured major funding for research activities at sea. Since 2007 till 2012, we spent 640 million Euros. The next seven years we are aiming for more. Our goal is to map the entire European seabed by 2020 in order to facilitate the extractions of minerals and tap the energy potential found at the bottom of our seas.
I believe that the European Investment Bank will use this infrastructure in the best possible way.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Today's conference is a great opportunity to discuss how we can all together make the next steps forward.
Cooperation, opportunity, sustainability are key words here.
This is the launch of a common initiative. It is not the end of the journey. Because, as a great thinker of the sea, Jules Verne, wrote: "The sea is endless. It is an immense desert, where man is never lonely, for he feels life stirring on all sides. "