European Commission adopts Maritime Strategy for the Atlantic

The European Commission  has adopted (13th May 2013) an Action Plan to revitalise the marine and maritime economy in the Atlantic Ocean Area. The aim of the Action Plan is to help create sustainable growth in coastal regions and drive forward the "Blue Economy", which, according to the Commission, has the potential to provide 7 million jobs in Europe by 2020. At the same time the Plan aims to preserve the environmental and ecological stability of the Atlantic Ocean. The Action Plan, follows from the European Union Strategy for the Atlantic (2011), which is one of a number of sea basin strategies designed to implement the Integrated Maritime Policy for the European Union (2007).

The European Atlantic Action Plan complements the Integrated Marine Plan for Ireland“Harnessing Our Ocean Wealth” launched by An Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, T.D., in July 2012.

European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Maria Damanaki, said: “The Atlantic plays an important role in Europe's history and identity. Our Maritime Strategy for the Atlantic will explore its immense potential for the future sustainable development of Europe. Together with our Atlantic Members States, we will exploit the common challenges and opportunities the Atlantic offers us, from issues like coastal tourism and fisheries to renewable energy, mineral seabed exploration and marine biotechnology."

Further details of the Atlantic Action Plan (2014-2020) will be outlined by Commissioner Damanaki at the Irish-EU Presidency Event “The Atlantic – A Shared Resource” in Galway on 24th May.

Dr Peter Heffernan, CEO, Marine Institute, noted that Ireland, through the Inter-Department Marine Co-ordination Group, had played a significant role in shaping and defining the Atlantic Action Plan. The Irish marine community had also contributed greatly, he said, through the open consultation process and through participation in the five Regional Atlantic Fora organised to discuss the content of the Plan. The last of these Fora, focussing on research and Innovation and Implementation of the Action Plan, was held in Cork on 4th – 5th March 2013.

Implementation of the Action Plan is voluntary and depends on Member States including the Action Plan in the various EU –Member State Partnership Agreements for Structural, Regional, Research and Environmental Funds for the Financial Period 2014-2020 and in National Development and Research Programmes.

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Commission - Memo

Action Plan for the Atlantic Ocean area

What does the Action Plan contain?

The Action Plan contains four overarching priorities:

1. Promote entrepreneurship and innovation;

2. Protect, secure and enhance the marine and coastal environment;

3. Improve accessibility and connectivity;

4. Create a socially inclusive and sustainable model of regional development;

Each of these priorities contain a number of specific ideas, ranging from research cooperation, to investment in infrastructure and cooperation mechanisms - which Member States are invited to implement using EU funds, funding from the European Investment Bank (EIB) and private sector involvement in the period 2014-2020. Ideas include:

  • Improving educational and training measures for sea-related careers, including the creation of cross-border programmes and mutual recognition of national education and training programmes;
  • Carrying out research to improve the growth, productivity, competitiveness and environmental sustainability of aquaculture (including offshore aquaculture) and the industry's ability to respond to market needs. In 2010 aquaculture represented 10% of EU consumption. If this percentage could be raised by 1%, it could create 3000 to 4000 jobs.
  • Supporting initiatives to reinforce marine safety and security, including risk assessments and coordinated response mechanisms as well as investments in state-of-the-art equipment to respond to natural disasters or marine accidents;
  • Developing new instruments and platforms for ocean observation and monitoring of ecosystems (including seabed mapping) to lower the costs and accelerate the dissemination of data to users;
  • Encouraging cooperation between Member States on joint actions to restore ecosystems and achieve good environmental status in the Atlantic;
  • Developing a better understanding of the technical feasibility, economic viability and environmental impact of Mining for Minerals in the Atlantic Ocean, and develop and test innovative mining technologies;
  • Strengthening links between research and industry in order to develop biobanks and identify markets for innovative marine bioproducts (biomedicine, tissue engineering, pharmaceuticals, industrial enzymes) and focusing research into delivering industrial processes for manufacturing them;
  • Promoting research, development and demonstration of technologies for the construction and maintenance of renewable energy installations for offshore wind, wave, tidal and biomass energies. By 2020, the installed capacity of ocean energy is projected to reach 2 253MW, representing 0.5% of the total installed electricity capacity in the EU-27.Estimates vary, but the offshore renewable sector has potential to create thousands of jobs;
  • Facilitating the upgrade of infrastructure, such as ports, to improve connectivity with the hinterland, diversify activities such as maintenance of offshore renewable energy installations or tourism, enhance intermodality and promote fast turnaround of ships through measures such as provision of shore side electricity, equipping ports with liquefied natural gas refuelling capacity and tackling administrative bottlenecks;
  • identifying and promoting cultural and natural attractions such as the artisanal fishing, gastronomy and maritime heritage of the Atlantic coast.

Who participated in drawing up the Action Plan?

The plan is part of a so-called "sea-basin strategy", the Atlantic Strategy, in which countries and regions around a shared sea space work together. This means that the countries (Spain, Portugal, France, Ireland and the United Kingdom) and their regions are in the driving seat. The Commission organised five regional workshops which brought together all the regions at the Atlantic coast, with civil society and industry also participating, to discuss common challenges and come up with new ideas. This proved to be a very fruitful, "bottom-up" process.

The European Parliament has lent its special support to this initiative. Members of the European Parliament and also the European Committee of the Regions joined all the discussions.

What is the added value?

The consultation process enabled stakeholders to identify opportunities for growth in the blue economy and to suggest actions that might take advantage of them. This inclusive process meant increased the robustness of the actions and the confidence that they were the right ones. A number of them involve collaboration between different regions and Member States – either through joint projects or through the sharing of experiences in order to identify best practice in solving common problems.

How can the Action Plan be funded?

It is now up to the Member States concerned to decide whether the proposed actions could be funded using planned EU funding. EU funds that are managed by the Member States (the so-called structural funds: the European Maritime and Fisheries Funds, the European Fund for Regional Development, the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the European Social Funds) could be used to put some or all of these proposals into reality. With the start of new financial programmes for the period 2014-2020, the Action Plan should guide Member States and the Commission in planning their use of EU and national funds.

The five Member States are therefore encouraged to take the Action Plan into account in their discussions with the Commission on their respective Partnership Agreements on the structural funds.

Funding might also come directly from the EU budget, for instance through as the financing instrument for the environment (LIFE+), the EU's research and innovation funding programme (Horizon 2020) or the programme to assist enterprise and SMEs (COSME).

In addition, the European Investment Bank would stand ready to mobilise its financing tools and expertise in support of suitable projects in order to further the Action Plan's priorities. The European Investment Bank can extend support to both public and private sector activities in the form of lending, blending and technical advice and offers a variety of financing instruments. At the end of 2012, the EIB had a capital of 242 billion EUR and a lending capacity that same year of 52 billion EUR. Finally, Member States may also wish to approach the private sector to explore involvement and finance.

Is implementation mandatory?

Cooperation on the Action Plan remains voluntary.

How does this fit in with the Commission's sea basin strategies?

The EU's Integrated Maritime Policy promotes growth and development strategies that exploit the strengths and address the weaknesses of each large sea region in the EU. As each sea region is unique it prescribes a tailor-made strategy for each sea basin.

Sea basin strategies align funding from Member States and different European sources on commonly agreed objectives and targeted specific measures. They focus on goals like employment, accessibility and quality of life.

Apart from the Atlantic, good progress has also been made in other areas, notably in the Baltic and Adriatic and Ionian seas. The EU has also adopted a strategy for the Arctic region.

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