Dear Ministers, Presidents, Mayor, Secretary-General, Ladies and Gentlemen,
On behalf of the European Commission, I warmly welcome you to European Maritime Day 2012.
Before saying a few words on the objectives of the day, I must express my special gratitude to our Swedish hosts. I am particularly grateful to our hosts, the City of Gothenburg and the Västra Götaland Region, for organizing an excellent event and for providing real inspiration by making their maritime economy work.
For the last year we have been working closely together and I have been able to see the extent of their commitment. If this European Maritime Day is a success, it will be largely thanks to them.
Last year, in Gdànsk, we saw that the Integrated Maritime Policy is starting to bring tangible benefits to European citizens. For instance, everyone acknowledged the success of the Baltic Sea Strategy: in less than 3 years, this new form of cooperation has produced undeniable added value simply by aligning existing funds onto the same objectives.
We have now launched a Maritime Strategy for the Atlantic region: we want to promote growth, innovation and new jobs in the Atlantic, but not at the cost of depleting natural resources. We have asked the Atlantic Forum to deliver an Action Plan early next year. Why so soon?
Because it is urgent.
We should not hesitate on account of the economic crisis: on the contrary, it is precisely to overcome it that we need to bet on the maritime economy. This will open the way for new products, services and jobs - and for new, dynamic entrepreneurs to grab the chance and drive the economy forward.
Obviously coastal regions are the ones immediately affected by maritime economic activities. It is here that over a third of Europeans live; it is also mainly here that marine economic activities produce a yearly gross value of around 500 billion euros.
But make no mistake: a healthy blue economy shapes the economy of the entire continent and can pull Europe out of the current crisis.
Another important step that we took in the past year is adopting a Financial Regulation for the Integrated Maritime Policy. This gives continuity to the ongoing projects but it also goes to support our customized strategies for the European sea basins.
So the Commission has worked with Member States to define the work programme for this period; but now we need input from you - the industry, academia, local authorities and citizens - if we are to make this policy grow.
The theme of this year's edition of European Maritime Day is "Sustainable Growth from Oceans, Seas and Coasts" - in short, Blue Growth. For now, let me remind you of the dual purpose of Blue Growth: creating new jobs in the maritime economy and letting maritime economy grow, but sustainably and inclusively.
At last year's edition, we explored the issue of employment and looked at how to make maritime careers more attractive. We now need to go a step further and think about careers that do not even exist yet: careers that will emerge if we grasp and materialize the blue economy.
The city of Gothenburg has gone quite a long way down this path and has brought about a modern and thriving local maritime economy. And I hope we can all learn something from the "Gothenburg experience" in the two days that we are here.
Like for Gothenburg, the way forward for Europe's maritime economy lies in a combination of tradition and innovation.
What we are doing is identifying those leading and promising maritime sectors and their respective value chains. Then, for each, we will look at both the assets that drive them forward and at the hurdles that hinder their growth. Policies have to reinforce the drivers and remove the bottlenecks.
Each of us must have a feeling of where the highest potential in the maritime economy lies. Offshore wind energy and other ocean renewables, blue biotech or short-sea shipping, tourism, spring to mind. However, let us not neglect the particular and unique strengths that certain European regions have.
Since we are in Sweden, let me highlight a couple of areas that are of particular importance to the Baltic Sea and the North Sea regions.
The Baltic Sea region is ideal for cruise shipping but is however, confined and a number of environmental challenges, from ship emissions to waste management, need to be addressed . This is where smart and innovative policies and regulations come into play: over a ten-year period, they could increase the number of passengers by a staggering 60 percent! This would in turn increase business activity onshore, which means more jobs in cities, ports, and regions.
My other example is ocean energy. The North Sea will certainly be the place from which we harvest a new clean and renewable energy. The systems needed, be they wind turbines, other energy converters or smart grids, are by their very nature high-tech. This means high-quality jobs in construction, maintenance and logistical support. In the offshore wind sector alone, employment numbers could potentially reach 170,000 by 2020, that is to say a fivefold increase over ten years.
These are just two examples of the immense wealth that can come from our oceans, seas and coasts. Added value in terms of sustainable jobs, innovative practices, and profitable enterprises is the name of the game for Blue Growth.
So what are the next steps to deliver Blue Growth?
For September, the Commission is preparing a Communication on Blue Growth. Soon, we will also be concluding a major study that looks at the growth and employment promise of a number of maritime and coastal economic activities.
In October, Member States will be able to carry on the 'maritime agenda for sustainable growth jobs and jobs 'during a Ministerial Conference on Integrated Maritime Policy that will be held by the Cyprus Presidency. New and existing maritime clusters will play a crucial role in this.
Specific recommendations and initiatives will follow next year, for instance one on maritime and coastal tourism, an area that carries strong growth, innovation and employment potential.
Moreover, we will organize a series of regional and trans-regional events to discuss the specific economic strengths of coastal regions; The Commission has also launched a call for tenders which will produce a set of concrete supporting measures for Blue Growth in the coming years.
But none of this can be done without you, the interested parties. Your role is indispensable.
To conclude, ladies and gentlemen,
Blue growth is the maritime dimension of the Europe 2020: obtaining smart, sustainable and inclusive growth by using the oceans, seas and coasts. It has to be at the heart of our joint efforts in the coming decade. Europe is the most maritime of all continents.
May our discussions and exchanges be a step forward in delivering Blue Growth for our citizens. May we have wind in our sails. Let our future be blue.
Thank you for your attention.