Conference on Research and Innovation by European Commissioner Maria Damanaki

EuroMediterranean Conference on Research and Innovation by European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Maria Damanaki

Barcelona, 3 April 2012


Boosting maritime innovation in the Mediterranean


Dear Ms Chairman, MEP Ayala Sender, authorities, ladies and gentlemen,

The Southern Mediterranean region is going through a time of profound change. The European Union is following this process of change with open eyes and ears.

We want to support this process of democratic transformation and institution building. We want to establish a good partnership that can lead to democracy and prosperity in the region.

To do that, we should not forget that the sea can be a powerful factor of convergence and source of wealth and opportunities.

As you know, the Commission is determined to promote sustainable growth and innovation in the marine economy. One of the ways it can do this is by unlocking the treasure of marine data that has been collected in surveys over the years. It is presently hidden in inaccessible archives of separate hydrographic offices, geological surveys, local authorities, environmental agencies, research institutes and universities. Finding out who holds the data has been a major challenge. Obtaining them can take weeks of negotiation. And putting them together to provide a complete picture can be a nightmare.

Through our integrated maritime policy, a consortium has managed to piece together surveys from 20 different institutions to provide a mapping of the slopes and valleys of the Mediterranean sea floor. By 2014 we intend to improve the resolution of this topographical mapping and add mappings of the sediments – sand, gravel and rock – as well as habitats for the whole of the Mediterranean.

These maps will be available to all who need them – private business, public authorities and researchers. We have estimated that moving from the present fragmented data system to a new one will improve their efficiency and competiveness by 300 million euro a year; it will catalyze the development of innovative new products and services for another 200 million euro a year. And this doesn't count the benefit of reduced uncertainty in the behavior of the marine world when we are planning new investments or protecting our coastlines.

What about the future?

At both sub-regional and regional level, the EU effort aims to develop standardized methods for data gathering in cooperation with non-EU countries. We believe it important to support the scientific communities and foster collaborative research and data collection with scientists and stakeholders.

Also, through a specific technical assistance project on Integrated Maritime Policy in the Mediterranean (IMP-MED), partner countries are working with us to define their own maritime vision and their own research needs.

Under our fisheries policy, we are focussing on sustainability and completely re-orienting our management system. On one hand we feel we need to safeguard the social structure and economic performance of several coastal fishing communities; on the other, we must preserve the biodiversity and functioning of marine ecosystems. This is our responsibility, as the conservation of marine biological resources is an exclusive competence of the European Union.

We will involve our Mediterranean partners closely in that process: after all we share the sea and its resources: it is important that we also move in the same direction - that we all play by the same rules. Otherwise the playing field won't be level and conservation efforts will fail.

Moreover, the European Investment Bank, the International Maritime Organisation and the European Commission have decided to put their heads together and come up with innovative ways to finance investments in three areas: maritime infrastructures, such as ports; working, living and training conditions for the labour force - fishermen, seafarers, dockworkers and so on; and maritime safety and surveillance. This is an initiative focusing to involve not only EU members but also neighbourhood Mediterranean countries. Eventually this could also open up new opportunities for investment in marine research in the region.

I will just mention two projects from the "Ocean of Tomorrow" call that we launched in 2010, because I think they will provide new insight and will contribute to economic development and sustainable exploitation along Mediterranean coasts.

- The PERSEUS project assesses and predicts the combined effects of natural and man-made pressures on the sea; it has a total envelope of 13 million euro.

- The COCONET project - 9 million euro - focuses on marine environment protection, with particular emphasis on the potential of offshore wind energy in the Mediterranean.

These and a few more promising initiatives are on track.

For each of these, our guiding framework is the Strategy for Marine and Maritime Research and the strategy on improving maritime governance in the Mediterranean.

On each of these, the public bodies, research institutes and stakeholders of our Mediterranean partners have been rising to the challenge.

And each of these I have will benefit the Mediterranean region in the end.

But I still want to make very clear that there is quite a lot to do before we can have a long-term strategic framework for scientific cooperation in the region, especially in the field of marine research. Regional cooperation on marine and maritime research cannot work without a solid national research basis - and regional funding cannot solve questions that belong to the national level.

For fisheries specifically, the Commission and some Mediterranean Member States have funded a number of FAO regional projects that support joint activities between EU and non-EU research institutes and scientists at sub-regional level. These projects proved useful for the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean, and have assisted non-EU countries in fulfilling their scientific, statistical and reporting obligations under the GFCM and ICCAT.

To conclude, ladies and gentlemen,

Through research and innovation, we can unlock the untapped potential of maritime sectors. In this climate of political and economic change, we must commit to cooperate further and ensure that the available financial support is streamlined and customized: tailored to the real needs of the region as a whole and of its single components.

It is important that this Conference brings us closer to these goals – so that one day, further down the road, we can aspire to making the Mediterranean a true region of excellence in marine and maritime research.

Boosting maritime innovation in the Mediterranean

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