Speaking at the Atlantic Conference at Malahide recently (Tuesday 7th February), Matthew King representing the EU's Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs, outlined the Commission's plans and indicative timetable for the Atlantic Forum to inform the EU Strategy for the Atlantic (EUSA). The Forum is not an entity, but rather a process or series of events to prepare an Action Plan for the EUSA. Timing is of the utmost priority as work on a new financial framework for the period 2014-2020 has already begun. Priority marine and maritime related projects need therefore to be positioned in the Partnership Contracts and Operational Programmes drawn up between Member States and the Commission in order to benefit from future EU co-funding, such as from structural, cohesion and regional development funding, which the Commission has proposed to be over €660 billion, for the period 2014-2020.
Mr King outlined an indicative timetable which is currently being discussed with Member States. This included an invitation from the Commission to Atlantic Member State Governments (Ireland, UK, France, Spain and Portugal) to identify a suite of strategic and large-scale co-funded flagship projects (by April 2012). Such projects must add value in terms of job creation, economic development and stewardship of our shared ocean resources. This input will inform a Consultation Document to be hosted on the Atlantic Forum website (https://webgate.ec.europa.eu/maritimeforum/category/555) circa June to July.
Member States will then be invited to organise a number of Regional Stakeholder Meetings (September-October) to be followed by the preparation of a draft Action Plan (circa November 2012). A closing event would be organised in Brussels in January 2013 and the Irish Government has signalled it would like the formal adoption of the Action Plan to take place during the Irish-EU Presidency (Jan-June 2013).
Addressing the Conference, Minister Simon Coveney, TD, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, described Ireland's oceans as an extraordinary natural resource and a key component of Ireland's future development strategy. He noted that the timing of the national consultation Our Ocean Wealth, launched by the government on 2nd February, was opportune and would not only define future government marine policy but would feed into the work of the Atlantic Forum.
Other speakers presented a range of innovative collaborative projects, co-funded under the INTERREG-IV Atlantic Arc Programme, in areas such as maritime transport, renewable ocean energy, maritime tourism, artisanal fisheries and coastal pollution response. Dr Peter Heffernan, CEO, Marine Institute, addressing the conference said that Ireland now had the research and innovation capacity, the specialised infrastructures and international linkages to be a major player in the Strategy for the Atlantic and the delivery of a thriving marine economy.
The Atlantic Conference, titled "The Marine Economy – A key component of the EU Integrated Strategy for the Atlantic Area" was organised by the Border, Midlands and Western Regional Assembly and the EU Atlantic Area INTERREG Programme. The Conference was attended by over 170 delegates from across the Atlantic Area representing public and private organisations, local and regional authorities, universities and research institutions.