The maritime sector can be the blueprint for economic recovery, writes European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries
The importance to Europe of its oceans, seas and coasts should not be underestimated.
They are key economic drivers that not only supply millions of jobs but also support industries that sustain and diversify the economy.
The 'blue economy' now accounts for almost €500bn a year and provides 5.4 million jobs across Europe, and by our estimates could grow by as much as €100bn and 1.5 million posts a year if properly supported to do so.
In an economic context in which sustainable growth is a priority, the maritime sector can make a difference.
The European Union's 'Blue Growth' strategy, unanimously agreed by the Council of Ministers in 2012, seeks to harness the untapped potential in the maritime sector to boost the continent's competitiveness and create jobs.
Policies such as Maritime Spatial Planning will accelerate investments in the blue economy by increasing the stability, transparency and predictability for investments in the offshore maritime economy.
Two areas that stand to benefit from this, and best illustrate the potential that exists, are ocean renewable energy and blue biotechnology.
As any glance at an atlas tells us, the ocean dominates the world.
We need to continue to explore how this immense, but finite, resource can better contribute to the production of sustainable, renewable energy without having a detrimental effect on the environment.
Offshore wind power generation is expanding rapidly and could meet 4 per cent of our electricity demand by 2020 – and 14 per cent by 2030.
This would mean 170,000 jobs by 2020, and up to 300,000 by 2030, as against the current 35,000.
Other offshore renewable energies - notably wave and tidal power - offer a more regular and predictable source of electricity than wind energy but are not yet so commercially competitive.
Efforts to reduce technology costs, increase research and a shift from demonstration to operation will also help industry in the export market.
Similarly, the largely unexplored biodiversity of our seas provides a high potential for innovation on two different fronts: the better understanding of marine and maritime resources and its biodiversity, and the more efficient exploitation of their economic and scientific potential.
Marine biotechnology is the enabling tool that will allow translating this potential into real products and acknowledge.
The 2007 action plan for the EU Integrated Maritime Policy specifically called for a scientific, evidence-based maritime policy and identifies blue biotechnology as one of the key enabling technologies and maritime economic sectors.
Underpinning these two areas and the Blue Growth strategy as a whole is, indeed, the Integrated Maritime Policy.
It seeks to ensure the development of a sustainable blue economy.
The EU's explicit powers in fields like fisheries, the environment, transport, research, enterprise and industry enable us to provide funding and to legislate.
It is also our duty to foster an environment conducive to achieving sustainable blue growth by maximising the potential and reach of ocean renewable energy; promoting blue biotechnologies and supporting the maritime sector up until 2020 and beyond.