EU has 'enormous potential' for blue growth

An integrated European approach to maritime policy will increase investment and make sure 'oceans are our future', says Gesine Meissner.

By Gesine Meissner

13 May 2014

A couple of months after I had taken office as an MEP in 2009, I came in touch with the EU's newly developed concept of an 'integrated maritime policy'. It was presented for the first time in 2007 and now, after only a few years, the European Union has become a pioneer in maritime policy.

One of the first steps for promoting this new policy area was the establishment of the European maritime day on 20 May 2008. This year it takes place in Bremen and will be devoted to the question of how innovation and maritime technologies can foster 'blue growth'. The conference brings together politicians and stakeholders to exchange ideas, experiences and the latest developments. This exchange is crucial to unlocking the potential of the 'blue economy' in Europe. Maritime and coastal policy is very complex and many different sectors and interests are involved. Hence, the EU's maritime policy needs to be developed together with the relevant stakeholders.

"If we succeed, 1.5 million new jobs could be created by 2020"

With its potential, the 'blue economy' can play a key role in strengthening the EU's competitiveness. Maritime and coastal tourism is booming. Already 90 per cent of the EU's trade with third countries is processed by ship. The example of the German 'energiewende' shows that a shift towards renewable energy can't be successful without investments in offshore energies, such as wind, wave or tidal energy. Thanks to technological developments deep sea mining is also becoming a more and more interesting field for accessing resources. However, the recent reform of the EU's common fisheries policy shows the need for a sustainable management of our oceans. Its biodiversity is incredibly rich but also complex and we still know little about it. Blue biotechnology is a very good example of how to combine sustainable development and economic activities. Instead of destroying the seabed through unsustainable activities like deep sea fishing, the richness of species can be used for medical research and cosmetic activities.

It is of crucial importance to find the right balance between sustainable development and economic growth. Therefore, the increase of maritime and marine activities needs to be well coordinated. Maritime spatial planning is a tool to manage the various interests in maritime space. Some of our seas such as the North Sea or the Baltic Sea are very busy and space is already short. The integration of new wind parks, or a grid or changes to fishing grounds or shipping lanes are challenges which need a proper planning procedure.

As parliament's rapporteur for the directive establishing a framework for maritime spatial planning, I stressed the importance that member states need to develop maritime spatial plans as soon as possible. So far, many member states distributed maritime space in an ad hoc manner. This 'first come, first served' method neither guarantees an efficient distribution nor encourages long-term investments. Offshore installations are costly and investors need planning certainty. A European approach towards maritime policy also facilitates the overcoming of national perspectives. Oceans, currents and fish stocks know no borders. If we want to foster blue growth we need member states working together. Cross-border cooperation is vital between member states, and also with third countries. The focus of the European maritime day in Bremen is well chosen. Innovation and maritime technologies are of key importance for growth in the blue economy. Research and development give the competitive edge to European companies in the maritime sector and politics must set the framework that ensures this advantage remains or even grows. Therefore, we need further investment in marine and maritime science and knowledge and also its accessibility. To facilitate the exchange of data will be one of the crucial tasks in the coming years.

If we succeed, 1.5 million new jobs could be created by 2020. This blue growth will, in particular, be a chance for countries like Greece, Spain, Italy or Portugal - countries which were hit very hard by the financial crisis in the last few years and are struggling with high unemployment rates. Their maritime economies could play a crucial role in attracting investments, reducing unemployment and increasing the competitiveness of those countries.

I am convinced that what we have seen in the last few years is the beginning of a success story. And to understand the enormous potential of an integrated maritime policy in Europe we need only to remember that there is actually more sea under EU jurisdiction than land. Therefore, I don't think it is carrying things too far to say that the oceans are our future.

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