Monday, June 6, 2016

06/06/2016: European Maritime Day - taking Blue Growth to the next level
Turku (Image: Leo-setä)
Blue growth is here to stay, concluded the 1200 marine and maritime economy stakeholders who gathered in Turku, Finland, on 18-19 May to celebrate the 9th edition of the European Maritime Days.

“A sustainable marine economy is not a dream, it is a reality”, said Commissioner Karmenu Vella in the Opening Session of the conference.

“Across Europe, people are working hard on innovation and pushing boundaries”.

European Commission Vice-President Katainen listed a number of blue economy projects already selected for EFSI support, stressing the importance of new investments for all maritime innovations.

Since the launch of the Blue Growth Strategy by the European Commission in 2012, the maritime economy has been moving steadily forward, with various sectors striding decisively towards creating jobs and sustainable growth while safeguarding seas and oceans. The current 75,000 jobs in offshore wind energy are a case in point.

Investing in the Blue Economy was precisely the focus of the first 'Leadership Exchange' panel, and the best way to make investment happen is by working on the ground and mobilising bottom-up initiatives.

"Jobs will come from local activities,” said Committee of the Regions president Markku Markkula.

The environmental dimension was central to many of the leaders’ interventions: “Healthy marine ecosystems are the foundation of all we do” stated Lasse Gustavson, Oceana’s director for Europe.

Moreover, being at the cutting edge of sustainability gives Europe the competitive edge for export. As Bernard Meyer, CEO of Meyer Shipyards, put it: “The ocean is our market.”

But there is a crucial prerequisite, and that is good ocean governance. Not just the Law of the Sea, which has been in place for 4 centuries, but something more: an interplay, in the words of Irish vice-admiral Mark Mellet, between governments, law, institutions, civil society and industry. EU policies and strategies contribute to streamlining that interplay: for example to MEP Gesine Meissner “Maritime Spatial Planning is an important tool”.

“Now we need to move to the next level, and encourage blue growth more systematically”, said Commissioner Vella.

Within the conference some twenty workshops and five thematic sessions discussed a wide range of topics:  innovation, smart specialisation and sustainable solutions for blue growth, potential and challenges of sectors like cruise tourism and ocean energy, clean shipping and environmental technologies, the role of ocean governance, Maritime Spatial Planning and multiple uses of space, the importance of data and knowledge, marine litter, the importance of digitalisation and connectivity, and the role of business actors including SMEs and clusters.

On the second day findings were discussed and reported back to a second 'Leadership Exchange' panel which comprised, besides the European Commission, representatives from Member States and regional governments, industry, civil society and the European Parliament.

The key messages emerging from the two intense days of debate include:

  • Clusters are enablers that can connect good ideas – of SMEs and others – to industry partners and finance providers and help drive transitions to new blue growth activities
  • Sectors such as ocean energy provide massive opportunities for growth, jobs and global environmental gains; we should not be discouraged by the challenges that are still outstanding, but should tackle them gradually and keep a long term focus.
  • Ocean Energy also shows how important it is to prioritise strategic investments that provide returns not only in economic terms but also in terms of climate and environmental benefits.
  • Access to finance continues to be a challenge. Policy makers have a huge responsibility to strengthen risk guarantees, cut red tape and ensure stable regulatory environments.
  • Action at regional level has a huge role to play in boosting blue growth. The most advanced regions are systematically developing their transnational partnerships to maximise their potential and bundle strengths. This could be further facilitated through wider blue growth platforms that could turn the ambitions of these actors into concrete and joint investments.
  • If we are to get a return from all the investments in innovation and infrastructure, developing skills is critical. It is hard to predict what future jobs will entail, so it is important to educate also for the 'unknown'.
  • The element to emphasise when attracting capable and motivated young people to maritime careers is not just the purely technical interest of the profession but also the role of 'steward of the oceans'.
  • Blue Growth can only thrive within a strong and reliable international ocean governance system, for which intense cooperation and stricter implementation and enforcement globally are needed.
In a parallel action, the European Maritime Day this year has hosted the photo competition #MyPortofTurku, organised by DG MARE. The wide participation (almost 600 entries) and the exhibition of the 50 best photos generated a lot of interest for the participants and the stakeholders.

The Commission thanks participants for their insights and will follow up on these conclusions. The conference's leitmotif was that economic growth and sustainability are not in opposition, but go hand in hand. The integration of the two, through innovation and good ocean governance, will be the key to achieving healthy and prosperous oceans.

Visit the European Maritime Affairs page HERE.

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