On 28th November, Dr Peter Heffernan, CEO, Marine Institute, represented Minister Simon Coveney, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, at the launch of the European Union Strategy for the Atlantic in Lisbon, Portugal.
Other dignitaries included the EU Commissioner for Maritime Affairs, Maria Damanaki, the Portuguese President and Prime Minister and the Portuguese Minister for Agriculture, Sea, Environment and Spatial Planning. Also present were the Spanish Secretary of State for the European Union, the French Secretary of State for the Sea and the UK Ambassador to Portugal. In all, over 1,500 participants attended the Atlantic Conference.
In his statement at the opening session of the Conference, Dr Heffernan reaffirmed the Irish Government's commitment to the Atlantic Strategy and Ireland's active participation in the Atlantic Forum as well as the expectation that the Action Plan would be concluded during the Irish-EU Presidency in 2013. Dr Heffernan added that he was particularly pleased that the Strategy referenced the Irish SmartOcean project - a high-tech maritime cluster involving 50 companies, Irish-based multinational corporations and indigenous companies, focussed on the development and delivery of innovative marine ICT applications for global markets.
The establishment of Sea Basin strategies is one of the cornerstones of the Integrated Maritime Policy for the European Union (2007). It provides a local and regional focus on the opportunities and challenges in the region and takes stock of existing initiatives that can support growth and job creation through the sustainable development of our shared marine resources – in other words 'Blue Growth'.
Similar strategies have already been adopted for the Baltic Sea (2009), the Arctic Ocean (2008) and the Mediterranean Sea (2009).
In her opening remarks, Commissioner Damanaki, said: "Europe urgently needs new far-sighted strands of smart, sustainable and inclusive growth in a new low-carbon 'blue economy'. Emerging maritime industries have every chance to become one of the pillars of the Europe 2020 Strategy for growth and jobs. The collaborative platform offered through our Integrated Maritime Policy can help make the Atlantic region internationally renowned for its maritime excellence."
Indeed, a general consensus emerging from the Conference was that the western seaboard of the European Union should no longer be viewed as a peripheral area, but as 'centre stage' in the global maritime economy.
In an intervention on lessons to be learned from the Baltic Sea Strategy, Mr Dirk Ahner, EU Director General for Regional Policy, emphasised the importance of political commitment and the long-term sustainability of the Strategy and its Action Plan. He said it was also essential that the strategy was: embedded in the administrative structure; closely aligned to regional development policies and programmes for the post 2013 period; made use all funding streams (e.g. Structural, Regional, Research & Innovation Funds, etc); set priorities, milestones and targets as well as evaluation criteria and that it had a clear communications strategy.
To further progress the Strategy for the Atlantic, the Commission invites all stakeholders - national, regional and local authorities as well as industry and civil society, – to contribute their expertise and ideas to the Action Plan through the 'Atlantic Forum'. This will comprise a set of workshops focused on the challenges and opportunities outlined in the strategy and an online discussion forum. The Forum will be launched in 2012 and dissolved in 2013, after it will have contributed to the Action Plan which will be implemented through Commission and Member State co-financing in the period 2014 – 2020.
Closing the Conference, Mr Matthew King, Head of Unit for the Atlantic, Directorate General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, said that it was now time to turn our shared vision of the ocean as an asset for blue growth into reality. The Commission could contribute by providing legal certainty (e.g. Maritime Spatial Planning), Safety at Sea (shared information such as for example through the European Maritime Safety Agency) and providing open access to the extensive databases on marine resources accumulated by Member States and EU funded projects and programmes. Member State Governments, he said, also have a critical role to play in creating the conditions in which the private and public sectors operate.
Mr King indicated that the proposed Atlantic Forum is a mechanism to engage all stakeholders and a platform to identify a number of strategic and large-scale flagship projects which are commercially viable and feasible and will add value in terms of job creation, economic development and stewardship of the our shared ocean economy. He also expressed the hope that the key flagship projects would be identified by the end of 2012 for inclusion on the discussions on the financial perspectives for the period 2014-2020.
Commission Communication (COM2011 782 final (21.11.2011):
Developing a Maritime Strategy for the Atlantic Ocean Area
The Atlantic Ocean, which marks the western boundary of the EU, is the second largest of the world's oceans. This Communication responds to a request from the Council of the European Union (EU) and the European Parliament. It proposes a coherent and balanced approach that is consistent with the EU 2020 agenda and its flagship initiatives that promotes territorial cohesion and that takes into account the international dimension.
Whilst this proposed approach will largely focus on helping communities living and working on the Atlantic coast deal with new economic realities, it also recognises that the EU shares responsibility for stewardship of the world's oceans. Broadly speaking the strategy will cover the coasts, territorial and jurisdictional waters of the five EU Member States with an Atlantic coastline – France, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and the United Kingdom as well as international waters reaching westward to the Americas, eastward to Africa and the Indian Ocean, southward to the Southern Ocean and northward to the Arctic Ocean.
The challenges and opportunities facing the Atlantic Ocean area are grouped within five themes:
Implementing the ecosystem approach, including fisheries, aquaculture, maritime spatial planning, etc;
Reducing Europe's carbon footprint, including renewable ocean energy (offshore wind, wave and tidal), the greening of maritime transport, motorways of the sea, etc;
Sustainable exploitation of the Atlantic's seafloor natural resources, including raw materials – minerals, biodiversity and data;
Responding to threats and emergencies, including maritime safety, risk management, security, etc;
Socially inclusive growth, including training, the establishment of maritime clusters, marine tourism, etc.
The Atlantic strategy will not work only with action from the EU institutions. It requires engagement from Member States, regions, local authorities and private industry as well as think tanks. Developing the strategy for the Atlantic Ocean area is therefore based on the following methodology:
building on the active engagement and initiative of Atlantic Member States, regions and other stakeholders in designing and implementing actions;
promoting international cooperation;
adopting an Action Plan for the strategy by the end of 2013, indicating specific projects and actions recommended for support;
"Smart governance" to implement the strategy, building on current structures.