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Speech Geoghegan-Quinn: "Growing the European bioeconomy"

Met dank overgenomen van Europese Commissie (EC), gepubliceerd op woensdag 8 oktober 2014.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Eighteen months ago, when opening the second Bioeconomy Stakeholders' Conference in Dublin under the Irish Presidency, I felt obliged to begin my speech by asking what the bioeconomy was.

Today I don't need to do that - the concept of the bioeconomy is becoming mainstream. 16 EU Member States refer to the bioeconomy in their plans for the use of European structural and investment funds. The concept of the bioeconomy is clearly embedding itself in our policy-making and our collective vision of Europe's future.

This is one notable achievement of the Commission's ground-breaking Bioeconomy Strategy that we launched in 2012.

We have made good progress in implementing that strategy, and I'd like to take a few moments to mention some of the milestones so far.

Thanks to the support of the European Parliament and Member States, we have put together a package of over 4 billion euro for bioeconomy-related research and innovation under the Horizon 2020 programme - double the amount that was available under the 7th Framework Programme for Research.

Last December, we launched the first calls for proposals under Horizon 2020, and the first set of successful projects will kick-off within the next few months.

In July this year we launched the new Bio-based Industries Joint Technology Initiative - a public private partnership between the European Commission and over 50 companies. The Commission will put up 1 billion euro in EU funding, and this will leverage a further 2.7 billion euro from industry.

The biobased PPP represents a major step forward, with the EU supporting the development of a cutting edge bioeconomy for Europe. The PPP will result in the concrete development of new value chains based on lignocellulosic feedstocks and biomass from forests, from agriculture and from organic waste.

It will invest in the latest technologies for integrated bio-refineries, and help produce the next generation of bio-based fuels, chemicals and materials.

During the course of this conference, you will hear the latest thinking from the European Bioeconomy Panel - another initiative of the Bioeconomy Strategy, and of course you will hear from the much-respected Standing Committee on Agricultural Research.

We have also strengthened our strategic cooperation with international partners. Last year we signed a new agreement with China to cooperate on food, agriculture and biotech research - this should create opportunities for Europe to export sustainable solutions to the Chinese market.

And our Transatlantic Ocean Research Alliance with the United States and Canada is off to a flying start. I was in Canada three weeks ago and the US last week, and on both occasions, I witnessed at first hand the enthusiasm and commitment from all sides. The Alliance, building on the agreement enshrined in the 2013 Galway Statement, promises to drive forward our joint understanding of climate change and sustainable resource management in the Atlantic and Arctic oceans.

We have also encouraged authorities and organisations at regional level to explore the potential of the bioeconomy - not least by including a category on the bioeconomy in the 2014 Regiostars awards, a scheme that recognises excellence and innovation in regional development projects.

And today I’m delighted to announce that we are launching the Bioeconomy Observatory’s website - this will be a source of strategically important information for all stakeholders.

It will also be the springboard for the Commission's Joint Research Centre to publish a first annual "State of the Bioeconomy" report in 2015. And I am pleased to announce that the Joint Research Centre is beginning a new task. It will develop the Commission's own institutional capacity to provide authoritative data on the availability of sustainable biomass, with an initial report due next year. This information will be essential for well-balanced, forward-looking public policies in the field of the bioeconomy.

While much is being done at European level, we have said all along that the success of Europe's bioeconomy will ultimately depend on uptake by private and public players at national, regional and local level.

I wish to pay tribute to our hosts, including Minister Giannini and colleagues from the Piedmont region, for their work in ensuring that Italy is at the forefront of Europe's innovation-based bioeconomy.

Italy is home to many inspiring examples of how the bioeconomy can be built in practice.

It is here in Piedmont, with support from the regional authorities and from the EU, that an abandoned industrial area has been converted into a state-of-the-art biorefinery, producing advanced biofuels from agricultural residues and crops grown on marginal land.

The green chemistry cluster and the growth of the Italian bio-plastic sector is a case study in constructive cooperation between innovative industry and forward-looking public policy.

Famous Italian chefs have embraced the idea of serving sustainable seafood - and are even innovating in the use of jellyfish, potentially creating a new food source from the undesirable jelly fish invasions that can affect our seas.

So yes, we should be proud of what we have achieved so far. But we are only beginning.

Concepts and policies still need to be fully translated into tangible progress on the ground. We still hear from businesses that it can be more attractive to deploy new innovations outside Europe, even if those innovations are the result of excellent European research.

We must be loud advocates for policies that will enable our bioeconomy to thrive.

Don't underestimate the political power of the story we have to tell. If you look at the manifestos put forward by the European Council and by President-elect Jean-Claude Juncker this summer, it is obvious that the bioeconomy ticks some of the most important boxes on Europe's political agenda.

Take jobs. The Commission has estimated that the bioeconomy already employs 22 million people in Europe. The bio-based chemical industry could provide up to 90,000 new jobs by 2030. And the marine economy could provide 1.6 million new jobs by 2020.

Take economic growth and the re-industrialisation of Europe. The food and drink industry is already the single largest manufacturing sector in the EU, and SMEs account for 50% of this sector's economic activity. Innovation is central to the low-energy, low-water, low-waste food industry this sector needs for the future.

Bio-based chemical production could represent 30% of all European chemical production by 2030, up from just 2% in 2005. President-elect Juncker has rightly emphasised his ambition to raise industry’s share of the EU’s GDP back up from 16% today to 20% by 2020. That simply cannot be done without industries that use renewable biological resources as their raw materials.

Take energy security and climate change. We can't yet know the make-up of Europe's future energy mix, but as we adapt to new geo-political situations, we do know that bio-energy will be an important part of the answer. And the climate benefits of bio-energy will grow as innovations in the use of bio-waste and the production of second and third generation bio-fuels come to fruition.

Finally, consider citizen security, and specifically the question of food. In Europe we tend to take food security for granted. But we shouldn't. There is a saying that we are all just three meals away from social breakdown, and this is a challenge we are taking seriously at European level. Climate change, extreme weather, the world’s growing population and reduced access to critical nutrients such as phosphates - these are just some of the factors that significantly increase the risk of a major disruption to food supply that could directly threaten the well-being of people in Europe.

So food security - a central concern of the bioeconomy - must be an integral part of our thinking about the security of citizens in the EU and across the globe. Next year, the Commission will coordinate Member States’ participation in Expo 2015 in Milan, where the theme will be ‘Feeding the Planet - Energy for Life’.

I’ve just given you a taste of the real impact of the bioeconomy. In short, its importance to the future of Europe is beyond question: socially, economically, environmentally, and politically. Increasingly we all understand the concept. The biggest single challenge now, is turning that concept into reality as the title of this conference suggests.

I'd like to mention some of the elements that will be important in reaching that reality.

First, and most importantly, we need to keep a relentless focus on delivery. The new Bio-based Industries Joint Technology Initiative will give the sector a real boost - let’s take advantage of that and build the infrastructure and develop the new value chains and products that will make the bioeconomy a reality.

To ensure this can happen, policy-makers must keep the market and framework conditions under constant review. Policy needs to encourage and foster investment. That means, among other things, an intensification of our work on certification and standards that support innovation in the bioeconomy. It also means more work to embed the concept of the bioeconomy in the public consciousness - to address the challenges of consumer awareness and acceptance.

Second, the European bioeconomy must be fully inclusive. Policy-makers, business people and other stakeholders from all Member States must be on board.

I mentioned at the start of my speech that 16 out of 28 Member States refer to the bioeconomy in their plans for the use of EU Structural and Investment Funds. That's good, but not good enough. All Member States should get on board if they are to benefit from the bioeconomy. The elements of this conference focussing on the bioeconomy potential of the Mediterranean and Central and Eastern Europe have not been included randomly. Those sessions respond to a real political necessity.

I believe the bioeconomy is central to Europe’s economic future, and those Member States that embrace it will be at a huge advantage.

Third, we need to build the bioeconomy at regional level. It's often at a regional level that investments are best planned and where we see the positive impacts of value chains and new employment opportunities. We all need to work hard to ensure that the financial resources of Horizon 2020 and the resources of EU Structural and Investments Funds can be combined at regional level.

Fourth, we will use the power of Horizon 2020 to support large scale demonstrations of innovation in practice - new processing facilities of the kind that will be supported by the Joint Technology Initiative; demonstration farms that use new techniques to adapt to particular geographical circumstances and the challenges of climate change and investments in integrated marine technologies and infrastructure to better exploit the potential of our oceans in a sustainable and responsible way.

When Horizon 2020 was approved, it was a loan, not a gift. The European Commission, Member States and the European Parliament will all want to know what has been achieved, and you will have to be able to tell them. Large scale demonstration actions should be part of the answer.

I’d like to conclude by thanking you all for your enthusiastic engagement and cooperation over the course of my mandate as European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science. The progress we have made in the bioeconomy has been one of the highlights of my five years in office. I know that I can count on you all to carry on this critically important work, and I’m quite sure that I’ll see the bioeconomy take central stage in the European economic landscape over the coming years.

Thank you.

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