Greek presidency to kick off 'year of the Mediterranean'

With Italy and Greece holding presidencies over 2014, coastal and maritime policy is set to dominate the agenda, writes Maria Damanaki.

By Maria Damanaki

07 Jan 2014

Marine and Maritime affairs: The blue economy means growth for the Mediterranean

From 2014 it will be the 'year of the Mediterranean' when it comes to EU maritime policy. That's because from January, Greece will assume the presidency of the council of the European Union and, six months later, will be followed by Italy. With its sprawling coastlines and numerous coastal communities, the maritime sector is of obvious and strategic interest to Greece. It is therefore of no surprise that maritime policy is one of the four thematic priorities recently announced by the Greek presidency.

We are all acutely aware that these are challenging times for the blue economy. But with challenge comes opportunity. This opportunity which presents itself to the Greek presidency, with its knowledge and expertise in the area, is to inject momentum into our blue growth agenda and ensure that our seas and oceans help Europe's recovery.

The maritime sector employs 5.4 million people across Europe working in professions as diverse as shipbuilding, fishing and tourism, in growth areas such as offshore wind, or in emerging sectors such marine-based pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. But it could employ seven million people by 2020 and that is where the opportunity for Europe lies in these challenging times.

To do this, the blue growth agenda focuses on those maritime sectors which hold the greatest potential for new jobs and growth which include marine renewable energy, aquaculture, blue biotechnology, coastal tourism, and sea bed mining. It also places an emphasis on getting the infrastructure right by focusing on support for research and marine knowledge, maritime training, cost-efficient cooperation on maritime surveillance, improved planning of maritime space and the further implementation of the marine strategy framework directive.

As you can see, this policy area is diverse and made up of many different sectors. If the EU is to continue the growth of the blue economy we need to bring together the different strands of EU maritime policy. All maritime sectors are interconnected, not only with each other, but also with the wider economy and society, as well as the environment which they operate in. So the real way to unlock this potential is to increase the visibility of maritime policy across horizontal EU policies and embed it within different initiatives across the EU. The integrated maritime policy (IMP), one of the Greek's presidency's priorities, aims at doing just that. For instance, we see that uncoordinated management of sea space in Europe is too often detrimental to investments in the blue economy. [pullquote]A European legislative framework for maritime spatial planning and integrated coastal management will boost sustainable maritime growth[/pullquote] by facilitating the spatial development of emerging sectors, such as renewable energy or aquaculture, whilst preserving the health of marine eco-systems.

With maritime planning, operators will have the certainty of what economic development is possible and where, as well as what procedures are necessary to get permits and licensing. This will help create an optimal investment climate for maritime sectors.

The next six months will hopefully have the reaching of agreement with the co-legislators towards the adoption of the Directive. I am delighted that the Greek Presidency will be working together with us, the Parliament, the member states and the other Institutions to make sure that we deliver on our commitments to the Blue Growth agenda.

In the next few months we will publish a number of Communications which will strengthen our commitment in the areas of ocean energy, coastal tourism, common information sharing and innovation in marine data and knowledge.

These Communications, all likely to be published during the Greek Presidency, are indicative of Europe's collective commitment to maximising the potential of the sea in a way which is sustainable in the long term economically, socially and environmentally. We will not stop here and we will work across of all the different maritime sectors and infrastructural issues which confront us to ensure that we can reach our 2020 ambitions for economic recovery.

What we have tried to achieve in the last year, and the plans we have for the next six months and beyond recognise that blue growth can play a central role in this sustainable European recovery. I look forward to working closely the Greek government across these areas and believe that with their support, knowledge and commitment we can make the Blue Economy a European success story in 2014 across the Mediterranean and beyond.

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