Brussels, 17 October 2005
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you for your invitation to be here today. I am glad to participate in this conference which gives us the opportunity to discuss the perspectives for marine research in the years ahead. This is timely for two reasons. One is that the specific thematic programmes of the seventh Research Framework Programme are presently being defined. And the second is due to the fact that the Green Paper on a Maritime Policy for the Union, which is currently being drawn up within the Commission, stands to benefit greatly from your input and expertise. I would therefore like to thank both the organisers and Ms. Quisthoudt-Rowohl for taking the initiative to hold this event.
The marine scientific community has long been a promoter of maritime policy. For many years now, the marine board of the European Science Foundation has encouraged a more integrated approach to marine research across scientific themes and made the case for an integrated approach to sea-related affairs in general. Your publications on this topic and the Gallway declaration issued in May 2004 have been milestones in this respect. Furthermore, your work has contributed to two major principles in maritime policy namely that: this policy should be supported by excellence in marine science and that an integration of marine science across all scientific themes and areas is necessary in order to maximise the benefits from marine research.
Developing these principles a little further, allow me to first outline how far we have come in our work towards drawing up a Green Paper, or consultative document, on Maritime Policy. I will then delve into the importance of marine science and research as a key component of this future Maritime Policy – highlighting a number of the challenges that I see along the way to bringing research into a coherent framework. And finally, I will speak of the integration of marine science, research and techology in the Research Framework Programme and in the EU in general.
Allow me to start with the state of play regarding the drawing up of the Green Paper on the EU Maritime Policy.
This Green Paper, which seeks to bring together some of our preliminary ideas on an integrated maritime policy for the Union, will be the first tangible outcome of this process. It is to be published in the first semester of 2006 and will be the basis for a broad consultation of interested parties, a number of whom have already submitted their contributions. It is crucial for us to have the very active involvement of stakeholders at this stage, due to the fact that the Green Paper seeks to identify a number of complex economic, environmental, social as well as governance challenges to the maritime sector in a holistic manner.
The Commission has also intensified its dialogue with relevant bodies within the United Nations and other international organisations, as well as with third countries, such as Canada, Australia and the United States, in order to identify best practices relating to integrated ocean policies. These contacts are also instrumental in discovering new possibilities to strengthen international cooperation in this area.
The objective is to set out options for a maritime policy that optimises the benefits Europe draws from the oceans and seas. It also has particular importance in relation to the Lisbon strategy due to the maritime sector’s ability to contribute to the shared goals of stimulating employment and economic growth.
It is clear that whenever we talk of a maritime policy, we do so bearing in mind the necessity for an environmentally sustainable use of the oceans and seas. The Commission proposal, to be adopted this week, on a “Thematic Strategy on the Protection and Conservation of the Marine Environment” will constitute the major building block of this theme. Yet, both this and the maritime policy itself, will need to be supported by solid facts and empirical evidence. And it is here that the importance of excellence in marine science and research will come to bear.
Marine science and research have been identified by the Commission as a key component of the future Maritime Policy. This is recognised both in our recent Communication on Maritime Policy and in the overall strategic objectives for 2005-2009, where we have again noted that an all-encompassing maritime policy should be supported by excellence in marine scientific research, technology and innovation. In order to make this concept work properly, we clearly need to involve the scientific community in its development.
This has been the experience of countries, such as Canada, United States and Australia that have already devised their own integrated ocean policies.
In my capacity as Commissioner for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs, I am already aware of the benefits such a close association to science can bring. In the EU Common Fisheries Policy for example, there is a legal obligation for the decision-making process to be “based on sound scientific advice”. Thus, every year, we turn to scientists, in particular those based at the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, for scientific advice on the state of the stocks and their advice on what the total annual catch in the different fisheries should be. Without scientific advice, our common policy - simply put - would just not work.
In the maritime sphere, I believe the necessity of this is even more pressing. We need more science, more research and more knowledge to better understand the complex interactions at work in marine eco-systems and their resources. We need long-term data and, better observation and data collection capabilities, to provide the necessary input for science and policy-makers. We need more technology and more innovation to exploit the huge wealth that can be derived from ocean and sea related activities, in a sustainable manner. Placing Europe as a leader in marine science and technology is essential if we are to achieve the goals we have set for our maritime policy.
The 7th Research Framework Programme is naturally a key element in this process. And the two come together nicely in the Commission’s Communication entitled “Building the European Research Area of Knowledge for Growth” where marine science and technology have been identified as a priority cross-cutting scientific area. The legislative proposal for the 7th Framework programme also states that “special attention will be paid to the horizontal integration of priority scientific areas which cut across themes such as marine sciences and technologies”.
This emphasis on marine research as a basis for a sound all-embracing maritime policy must be seen in the overall context of the Commission proposal to substantially increase the research budget for the 7th Framework Programme, starting in 2007. Even though agreement between Member States has not yet been reached on these financial perspectives for the next budgetary period, I hope, and would assume, that in any future agreement, the funds dedicated to research and development will be substantially higher than at present.
As you are no doubt aware, it is now up to Member States and the European Parliament to decide on the financial perspectives and the 7th Framework Programme. I am sure that the European marine research and industrial community will carefully follow these discussions.
You are all certainly acutely aware of the competition that exists for resources across the different research themes. The identification of marine science and technology as a priority in both the Commission’s strategic objectives and in the 7th Framework Programme provides a basis for marine science and technology to obtain a fair share of its overall budget. I shall be doing my utmost to promote this in the Framework Programme and to ensure that this priority is well reflected in all thematic programmes. The support of the Parliament will also be of considerable importance in this process. Yet ultimately it is the quality of your research proposals that will determine how successful our efforts are. I am convinced that, with your excellence and the relations you have started to build among yourselves, you can be even more successful in the 7th framework programme than you have been in the 6th.
Having said this, I must underline that, however good the financial resources of the 7th framework programme turn out to be, they represent but a small fraction of the total research funds spent by Member States for marine research. Secondly, and this is something you know better than I do, fragmentation as well as a lack of cohesion and common vision are weaknesses currently being faced by European marine researchers today.
This is where therefore, I believe, efforts towards an integrated approach can play a useful role. The Communication on the 7th Research Framework Programme provides several tools for such an integrated approach and we must make the best use of them. I see a number of challenges in this respect.
The first challenge is to use the research framework funds to mobilise and coordinate marine research undertaken by different Member States. The 7th Framework Programme provides, together with the European Research Areas, networks for strengthened mechanisms to coordinate national and regional research programmes, and financing for a new research infrastructure. You have already used these with success in the 6th Framework Programme. I would urge you to use fully the opportunities offered in the 7th Framework Programme to create a European marine research area.
The second challenge relates to reinforcing the interaction between scientists on the one hand and technology developers and industry on the other. The establishment of European technological platforms - such as the waterborne platform within the transport sector - which bring key stakeholders, led by industry, to develop strategic research agendas, can play a very significant role in this respect. I would like to again urge you to use this tool to further strengthen your interaction with industry.
The third challenge of this integrated approach is the need to provide science that will address subjects in a holistic manner. This is particularly relevant in the case of an EU Maritime Policy as I indicated earlier. This means closer co-operation of different schools of science engaged in ocean affairs, ranging from coastal issues, shipbuilding, ship operations, oil and gas engineering to hydrology, meteorology, biology and space observation technology.
The Communication on the 7th Framework Programme provides for the possibility to set up, if necessary, appropriate mechanisms for the integration of research areas, like marine research, which cut across themes. This must be done in dialogue with the scientific community, in order to address relevant coordination needs.
All these challenges can only be addressed with the full involvement of the marine scientific community. This implies however that the scientific community must organise itself to be able to fully contribute to this integration process. The Commission is willing to help with this, in full respect of the independence and impartiality of science by, for example, setting up or further developing EU structures to support co-operation and cohesion within the scientific community. Another area where the EU could help is by taking a clear position internationally as regards the freedom of fundamental research in the high seas as well as within the Exclusive Economic Zones of our Partners. There is also the need to ensure that research output is disseminated in a way that is easy to understand and use, by policy-makers and the industry alike.
Returning to the case of the Common Fisheries Policy by way of illustration, ICES’ advice is valued by the Commission for its independence from specific Member States’ or industry interests, and for its high scientific quality. The challenge is now to produce the same kind of advice for an integrated Maritime Policy.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I have stressed the need to mobilise research and to establish ongoing dialogue between policy-makers, scientific communities and other stakeholders, such as industry and the civil society. I have also said that I believe our proposed Maritime Policy offers a unique opportunity to attain these objectives for the first time.
Allow me therefore to conclude by inviting the scientific community to take up the challenges that lie ahead of us both by taking an active part in contributing the Green Paper for an EU Maritime Policy and in ensuring that maximum benefit is derived from the 7th Framework Programme.
I would like to thank you all for being here today. I would also like to thank those members of the European Parliament who have hosted this important event. Your support to the project at hand will be instrumental in ensuring its success. I look forward to working with you all to this end.