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European Commission

[Check Against Delivery]

Maria Damanaki

European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries

Blue economy for safe, secure and clear oceans

Health Safety and Environment Med Summit

Florence, 21 January 2014

Ministers, ladies and gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to be here and meet so many people who are all working for the prosperity of the Mediterranean Sea. This region has a lot to offer and I am happy that Greek and Italian governments holding the EU Presidency this year have declared 2014 the "Year of the Mediterranean".

The topic of today's discussions very much touches my ambition, as European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, to provide for safe, secure and clear seas and oceans. And create a secure investment climate for our blue economy.

The Blue economy is high on the Commission's political agenda. We believe the sea can help us out of the recession. The maritime sector already employs 5.4 million people across Europe, working in professions as diverse as shipbuilding, tourism and in the offshore sector. But it could employ 7 million by 2020. And that is where the opportunity for Europe lies in these challenging times. And the reason why we have devised our 'blue growth' policy.

The challenge is twofold. On the one hand we need to look at how to best facilitate sustainability and growth for existing maritime sectors. On the other hand we need to tap into the potential of emerging sectors.

The EU has a long history with oil and gas. Here in the Mediterranean, there are more than 200 active offshore platforms. And exploration and exploitation are still bound to rise.

This is why we, policy makers, need to keep working to create the best operational conditions for businesses; while the private sector needs to continue to push for innovation and move to more sustainable technologies.

At the same time both of us have to work on sustainable solutions. Diversifying our sources, improving the infrastructure and especially – especially – maximising safety. To protect our people and to protect the marine environment.

We all know what the effects can be of accidents occurring offshore and how this can damage the marine environment, impacting the marine ecosystem and the economic operators depending on it, like coastal tourism the fisheries and aquaculture sectors.

I know it is not possible to rule out all risks, when working offshore. But we have learnt from the past and are taking concrete action. To prevent accidents like the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico of ever happening again. But also to prevent smaller accidents like blowouts, explosions and structural failures which can strongly impact on the safety and environment.

We are all fully committed to ensure the highest standards of prevention, control and mitigation of mayor accident hazards.

A lot has already been done under the Barcelona Convention for the Mediterranean Sea and its Offshore Protocol which specifically addresses pollution from exploration and exploitation activities. Specific measures have been adopted internationally under MARPOL to address pollution from ships and the IMO has put a framework in place on the compensation victims on oil pollution.

At EU level, Member States have started the implementation of the EU Offshore Directive so that exploration will only be done by those operators that can demonstrate to have the technical and financial capacities to ensure the safety and environmental protection. Operators and authorities are taking up their responsibility and the transparency requirements will increase the information for our citizens.

Safety also comes from knowing our seas and proper planning of the activities taking place.

For the sake of the safety and security of our citizens, we need to make maritime surveillance across Europe more efficient and cost effective. For this we will come forward with a European Maritime security strategy for a common information strategy environment.

To manage the activities at sea and react to accidents, we need to further improve and share knowledge on environmental conditions and biological response in the Mediterranean Sea. And investing in science will remain a priority for the Commission.

For the effective and safe use of the maritime space in the Mediterranean, where several industries compete, planning is essential. The Commission's recent proposal for Maritime Spatial Planning to rationalize space use at sea and along the coasts is now being examined by the EU legislators, and it deserves your support. It will give your business legal certainty for any future investment; and it will reduce safety hazards.

And finally, there are also issues of jurisdiction and enforceability that still hamper investments at sea in parts of the Mediterranean – notably for offshore energy and oil and gas exploration. These activities are governed by the Continental Shelf regime of UNCLOS, but establishing an Exclusive Economic Zone would give coastal States a more stable framework for spatial and investment planning. It would also allow them to better coordinate and enforce existing safety and environmental protection legislation and to penalize those who violate them.

Ladies and gentlemen,

While working to make the working environment for the existing operations safe and secure, we also need to look forward and untap the potential of the emerging technologies. Under our Blue Growth Strategy we have singled out marine and ocean energy as one of the most promising sectors of the marine and maritime economy and as a driver for smart growth over the next few years, which can create new, 40,000 new high-quality jobs by 2035.

Just yesterday, together with Commissioner Oettinger, I presented a specific plan of action to help this sector develop and we proposed setting up an Ocean Energy Forum as a place where governments, industry, financers and stakeholders are able to meet and work together to discuss a strategic framework for the development of ocean energy sources. We are going to focus mainly on four problems: technology development, licensing arrangements, access to finance and environmental impacts. And by the end of 2016, this should result in a strategic roadmap for the sector, setting out clear targets for the industrial development of the sector as well as a timeframe for their achievement.

This is a train that also the oil and gas industry needs to catch. Your experience and expertise is essential and I have no doubt that the economic returns will be significant.

We are not just talking about growth and jobs; we are talking above all about securing a clean, prosperous, and healthy future for our children; about improving quality of life for everyone.

"Our Blue Future" is about building the wealth, jobs and clean environment of tomorrow it is up to all of us to live up to our responsibilities and make it happen!

Thank you for your attention.

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