EU environment commissioner punts ‘blue economy’ at conference in Sofia

EU environment commissioner punts ‘blue economy’ at conference in Sofia

Sofia, March 24, 2015/ Independent Balkan News Agency

By Clive Leviev-Sawyer of The Sofia Globe

In Bulgaria and Romania alone, the five largest sectors of the blue economy create a total of 160 000 jobs and a gross value added of more than 1.2 billion euro, a conference in Sofia has been told.

“One can only imagine the potential of the marine and maritime sectors in all littoral states of the Black Sea,” Karmenu Vella, European Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, told the second Black Sea Stakeholders conference on the blue economy, held in the Bulgarian capital on March 24.

The forum entitled “Smart and Blue – New Opportunities for the Blue Economy of the Black Sea”, was organised jointly with the European Commission.

“I believe the case for cooperation has never been stronger than today and the political circumstances have never been more pressing,” Vella said.

The size – and future job creation potential – of sectors such as coastal tourism, fisheries and shipping underline the importance of good relations.

“In a situation where interests often overlap, we need to look at each and every activity in a regional context. The big picture is what counts,” he said.

“Our shared challenge is to craft partnerships and processes that transcend all kinds of borders across the Black Sea region: across states and across sectors, so that we can instil an attitude of mutual benefit.”

Touching on the theme of maritime spatial planning, Vella said that a pilot project in the marine border area between Bulgaria and Romania would soon be produced, with a plan for the intelligent use of that maritime space and also recommendations for how to co-operate among countries.

“I would very much encourage all countries to set up similar projects, starting within their own national waters or even across borders. Competition for space is an issue that needs to be addressed now, before space gets too crowded – and the EU can support you financially to do so,” he said.

Another example was the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, which aims to protect biodiversity and restore the health of marine waters by 2020.

To do this, each EU member state is required to develop and regularly update a strategy for its marine waters, including waters that are shared with others.

“I think that, much in the same way, the waters and the environment of the Black Sea deserve our specific attention and require the collaboration of all,” Vella said.

He said that the EU has been seeking to become a party to the Bucharest Convention since the accession of Bulgaria and Romania, and he said that he wanted to reiterate this request today.

“Our experience with the Barcelona Convention for the Mediterranean and the HELCOM for the Baltic Sea shows that our involvement brought both political and financial benefits to member states and third countries alike in each sea basin.

“There’s no doubt in mind that there would be mutual benefits in the Black Sea as well, because the marine environment cannot be protected by one country alone. The opportunities for co-operation and joined-up action will make our endeavours more effective,” Vella said.

On the environment and tourism, he said that there already were projects underway to strengthen monitoring capacities of the Black Sea marine environment – with the participation of all six coastal states; whereas for tourism and culture the EU has funded the “Black Sea Silk Road Corridor”, which re-traces for modern tourists the route of the western Silk Road and allows them to follow on the footsteps of ancient traders by means of a smartphone application.

“But I believe the tourism opportunities of the Black Sea are much bigger, particularly considering the cruise sector,” Vella said.

He said that the EU also was supporting the creation of a single digital map of Europe’s seabed including geology, habitats and marine life.

Ten institutions from all Black Sea countries have been pooling the data they have collected in recent years, and a first version of the map is expected already next year. Data is available through a single web portal, the European Marine Observation and Data Network.

“We can then use this scientific knowledge to underpin our decisions and actions,” he said.

Vella said that regional fisheries management has to be effective and equitable, and the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean is the appropriate forum for this.

“If all goes we will soon have a fishery Advisory Council for the Black Sea, so that the sector as well as other stakeholders can be effectively consulted in the policy-making process.”

In terms of EU-Black Sea cooperation, the main political framework so far has been the Black Sea Synergy, which includes maritime integration, Vella told the conference.

The implementation report highlights that over the past five years, the EU has invested 140 million euro to reinforce regional dialogue and c-ooperation.

Vella said that the EU is ready to support the sustainable marine and maritime development for the region.

Bulgaria and Romania have a total share of 250 million euro under the new European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, he said.

The new operational programmes for Bulgaria and Romania, under the European Structural and Investment Funds, as well as the Association Agreements with Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova, are designed to foster maritime cooperation in the Black Sea and develop integrated approaches.

As for the new Cross-border Cooperation Programme for the Black Sea, its budget has been increased to 49 million euro, up from 36 million euro in the previous round.

“All Black Sea countries are eligible for project support and I urge you to prepare applications,” Vella said.

He recommended “going into smart partnerships between national and regional levels, and between these levels and industry and civil society”.

“A joined-up approach can resolve bottlenecks, avoid duplication and channel investment directly towards more jobs,” Vella said.

Bulgarian Transport Minister Ivailo Moskovski told the forum that tapping the opportunities of the marine and maritime sectors to achieve economic and social development is becoming increasingly important, and that maritime countries have to use these resources to the full, news agency BTA said.