Commissioner Janez POTOCNIK: The importance of maritime research for sustainable competitiveness - Annual reception of CESA and EMEC

February 10, 2006

Brussels, 8 February 2006

Dear Members of the European Parliament,
Ladies and gentlemen;

It gives me great pleasure to be here this evening. In particular I would like to thank our hosts the Community of European Shipyard associations and the European Marine Equipment Council.

I am also pleased to be addressing a major European industry that has used research and innovation to transform itself into a knowledge based high technology sector.

Being an economist, I have of course heard that you are now, by value, the world&ndash™s largest ship builder and the leading global supplier of marine equipment with, for example, European engines powering the overwhelming majority of shipping across the world. In this case Europe has been smart! It is not the leader in terms of volume but in terms of value.

This is well in line with the expectations of the Lisbon process to make Europe the world&ndash™s most advanced knowledge based economy and society.

Indeed your continued engagement for research, innovation and implementation of this knowledge is essential to ensuring the future prosperity of your industry.

The &ndashœLeadership 2015&ndash™ initiative, and the Waterborne technology platform&ndash™s &ndashœVision 2020&ndash which is also published for the first time here today, clearly demonstrate your intentions as a knowledge based industry.

All too often in Europe we have the best ideas but we are less good at converting them into successful products.

Today I will address the role and rationale for R&D at EU level, the importance of maritime research for sustainable competitiveness, and in particular, the key role of the Waterborne Technology Platform to establish a European research agenda and to increase industrial research investment.

You will no doubt have noted the recent publication of the Aho Group Report &ndashœCreating an Innovative Europe&ndash. It contains several recommendations that are pertinent for us today and I will touch upon these as well. In particular, the report stresses the key role of Technology Platforms in the creation and exploitation of innovation-friendly markets.

Role of R&D for Europe&ndash™s future

To ensure the European Union&ndash™s position as a strong global partner, the European Commission has set priority goals for the EU to foster sustainable development, prosperity and solidarity.

How should we go about achieving it? The answer lies in investment in knowledge - and by knowledge I mean education, research and innovation.

As the Aho report reminds us, large scale action through Research and Innovation is necessary to maintain our way of life and model of society. We have allowed ourselves to become risk-averse and resistant to change. These are features that will not take us towards a culture of innovation unless they are reversed.

This is why we view the next Framework Programme, and all other efforts to improve investment in knowledge, as crucial drivers for our sustainable prosperity.

What is the rationale to act at the EU level?

But what is the rationale for performing research at EU level? I will mention three major factors:

  • Firstly, research across Europe is still much too fragmented. European research is a vehicle that streamlines R&D investment, adding value through coordination and the transfer of knowledge across frontiers;
  • Secondly, European Research fosters excellence through training, mobility, career development and competition at European level;
  • And thirdly, EU research has a real economic impact.
Moreover, there are complementarities between action at EU and national/regional level. Europe enjoys the most economic benefit when an increase in EU funding is complemented by substantially increased Member State research investment. In other words: R&D investments are clear drivers for growth and innovation.

But unfortunately we remain far away from such an advantageous situation.

At present, virtually all national Lisbon Programmes place R&D as a top priority, yet only half of them set national R&D investment targets that are inspired by the 3 % Barcelona target. But as underlined by the Aho report, the 3 % target can only be achieved if business also raises its share, from the current 55 % to two thirds of all R&D investment.

The importance of maritime research for competitiveness and sustainability

The maritime business is of strategic importance to all Europeans, since in economic terms, 90 % of the EU&ndash™s external trade and 40 % of internal trade is transported by sea. Most of the world&ndash™s shipping is owned by Europeans, and European turnover in the maritime transport sector is in excess of 137 billion euros.

Europe is now benefiting from a world boom in the global shipping market. As a consequence some European ship builders can now successfully concentrate on high value orders within the current market for construction of the world&ndash™s most advanced ships.

As we all know this is a cyclic industry. To maintain success, investment must continue against the background of increasingly sophisticated and expanding global competition.

What is today&ndash™s &ndashœstate of the art&ndash soon becomes the global industry standard. Constant research is needed to maintain an advantage through the development of new concepts, smarter production techniques, materials and methods.

This research must be relevant and be directed by industrial needs. Research must form the building block for improved prosperity and sustainable development.

EU level support can clearly only be a relatively small part of research investment and must be complemented by sufficient commitment and investment at national level and from the private sector. To this end CESA&ndash™s assurance that their members are now investing 1 billion euros in research and innovation each year is very encouraging.

Waterborne Technology Platform

The Waterborne Technology Platform that has been founded by you in the maritime transport industry has brought together key players: industry, universities, research institutes, Member States, regulators, European bodies and others. Creating the Platform has meant cutting across established structures to allow new linkages to be made. The Platforms play a key role in in providing an opportunity to combine market creation and technological development.

A collaborative process has been established that has resulted in your strategic Vision for Waterborne transport in 2020.

I realise how difficult this task has been and I would like to congratulate all of those who have contributed to the result. I look forward with interest to your next task of producing a strategic research agenda that will provide a realistic framework to convert this vision into reality.

Efforts such as this are vital to ensure the relevance and better coordination of European Research, not just within our Framework Programmes, but also across structural funds, national and industrial research as well.

Rest assured that the ideas set out in the Waterborne Platform will find their place in the work programmes for the 7th Framework Programme.

Future topics will continue to evolve. An integrated approach that considers all modes of transport within the logistics chain is required. I am sure that Waterborne will link with the other transport related platforms in this respect.

The necessary commitment to this vision must come from industry directly. After all it is their money that will be invested, and their profits and their employment that is at stake. I am sure that you will meet this challenge.

Waterborne Research in FP6

Waterborne transport was one of the first industries to coordinate its research at European level. The recent Leadership 2015 initiative is a prime example of cooperation between EU institutions and industry to highlight the need to achieve a prosperous shipbuilding industry in 2015.

Today, under FP6, the waterborne theme covers a diversity of projects with objectives directed towards ensuring European competitiveness, a sustainable environment, reinforcing safety, and encouraging more efficient transport of goods by water instead of road.

Waterborne Research in FP7

Looking ahead to FP7, Europe&ndash™s leaders have called for funding to be progressively increased so that from the end of FP6 the annual budget will increase progressively to be 75 % higher in real terms by 2013 than in 2006. However, since these figures will be far below what the Commission proposed for FP7, some cuts will be inevitable and not all themes within our proposals can be fully maintained as proposed.

If you look at the proposals for the 7th Framework Programme in detail, you will see that maritime RTD features prominently under several thematic areas:

Shipping, safety and maritime transport are addressed under the Transport theme. Fisheries and aquaculture are promoted under the Theme &ndashœFood, Agriculture and Biotechnology&ndash, whilst the sustainable management of marine resources and the role of oceans in climate change, are within the Environment theme.

I know that, when working within a particular sector, it is easy to become focused only on that objective and to pay less attention to the wider picture. However this is not how we want to see marine related research.

We see it as encompassing a hugely diverse range of activities, including all that moves upon, within, through, is produced by, looks upon or borders the sea.

Within our proposals for FP7 we have recognised the need for this coordination and identified maritime related research as a priority cross-cutting subject in the forthcoming Maritime policy green paper.


I would like to conclude today by quoting from your Vision 2020 document: &ndashœThe history of civilisation and of commerce cannot be separated from that of waterborne transport&ndash.

Your investment in and commitment to research and innovation is part of ensuring that this statement also holds for the future, to ensure a lasting and world-leading European Waterborne transport sector.

Thank you for your attention.

Item source: SPEECH/06/65 Date: 08/02/2006 Previous Item Back to Titles Print Item

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