“Blue economy”: new trends in national growth and business

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Blue economy comprises economic activities connected to oceans, seas and/or coastal areas. It gives work to about 5 million people in the EU member states in such sectors as fishing, shipping, ports, shipyards and tourism. Seas and oceans are not only a vital part of the blue economy: they also produce half of the global oxygen and are one of the main natural carbon sinks. Besides, blue economy provides great incentives to modern corporate activities in transition to sustainable growth.

“Blue economy”, BE includes all industries and manufacturing sectors related to oceans, seas and coastal workers involved in the marine environment, such as shipping, fisheries, energy generation, as well as on land, e.g. in ports, shipyards, land-based aquaculture, algae production and coastal tourism.

BE has become a broad and fast-moving segment of national economy; during the last decade it made a significant progress in modernising and diversifying its productivity. Alongside traditional sectors, some innovative sectors are appearing: in ocean renewable energy, in desalination, in bio-economy and bio-technology; in sectors providing for new development prospects, new supply chains and creating new jobs. The BE is a vital source of healthy food, contributing about 16 percent of the animal protein in human consumption.

According to the recent report, the BE employs presently about 5 million people and generates around €750 billion in turnover, net investment ration of 22 percent and €218 billion in gross value added (data for 2018). In most EU states the growth rates in the BE’s sectors are presently at 6 percent and over.

Source: the data from the 2020 “Blue economy report”, European Commission (2020), Publications Office of the European Union, – Luxembourg: https://blueindicators.ec.europa.eu/sites/default/files/2020_06_BlueEconomy-2020-LD_FINAL-corrected-web-acrobat-pro.pdf


The EU’s blue economy encompasses several sectoral and cross-sectoral economic activities based on or related to the oceans, seas and coasts:

  • Marine-based activities: include the activities undertaken in the ocean, sea and coastal areas, such as Marine living resources (capture fisheries and aquaculture), Marine minerals, Marine renewable energy, Desalination, Maritime trans-port and Coastal tourism.
  • Marine-related activities: activities which use products and/or produce products and services from the ocean or marine-based activities like seafood processing, biotechnology, Shipbuilding and repair, Port activities, technology and equipment, digital services, etc.

See more in: online dashboard available at: https://blueindicators.ec.europa.eu/ and the European Commission communication on “European Strategy for Data” COM (2020) 66 Final.

The blue economy will play a crucial role in the European decarbonisation efforts, especially through offshore renewable energy from wind, wave, tidal, floating solar or other technologies. Through these efforts the EU intends to increase European installed energy capacity from 12 GW today, to more than 300 GW by 2050.


“Blue” dimension in economy: effects for business

Under a sustainable blue economy, maritime and coastal activities reconcile economic development, improved livelihoods and social inclusion with fighting the climate crisis, protecting biodiversity and ecosystems, using resources responsibly and achieving the zero-pollution ambition. The blue economy’s established sectors include the following seven sectors: marine living resources, marine non-living resources, marine renewable energy, port activities, shipbuilding and repair, maritime transport and coastal tourism.

Particular attention for business is the BE’s sector concerning the marine-ecosystem services: this section includes important connections of the “natural oceans” with a blue economy and the European Green Deal’s solutions coped with the sustainable growth strategy. Modern business shall understanding the importance of ocean-type “natural capital” and the ecosystem services derived from it is fundamental liaison to ensuring its sustainable use.

The “blue economy” innovative sectors also include” marine renewable energy (i.e. ocean energy, floating solar energy and offshore hydrogen generation), bioeconomy and bio-technology, marine minerals, desalination, maritime defence, and submarine cables. These sectors offer significant potential, especially in renewable energies where the EU is in the lead hosting 70 percent of global ocean energy, both wave and tidal.

The maritime defence sector accounts for over 177 thousand jobs; the blue bioeconomy and the algae sector generated an estimated turnover of over €350 million. Desalination continues to be a key sector for those countries that are more likely to suffer water shortages (e.g. Spain), not least as a result of climate changes, even including some side effects (brine and energy consumption).

Innovative business can support national growth and its decarbonisation aspects by developing those parts of the “blue bio-economy”, which for example can turn algae or fish waste into low-carbon plastics, or by providing healthy nutrition at a much lower carbon footprint than land-based animal proteins (e.g. through sustainable aquaculture). In this regard, the Commission elaborated new sustainable aquaculture guidelines that offer a progressive approach in developing the aquaculture sector in a way that contributes directly to the EGD and “Farm to Fork Strategy”. These guidelines will help the member states’ aquaculture sectors to become more competitive and resilient while improving businesses environmental and climate performance.

More in: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_20_884


The EIB works with businesses, cities, governments and partners to support key sectors, such as: sustainable coastal development; protecting coasts from flooding and erosion; rehabilitating degraded coasts, restoring coral reefs and improve water quality.

Other activities include sustainable seafood production: assisting businesses to produce seafood sustainably, which include fisheries, aquaculture or the processing and preservation of seafood.  Green shipping is having a priority as well through projects that reduce emissions in the ship-ping industry, such as new ships that use less energy and cleaner fuels (also improving existing ships with green technologies that are better for the environment.

Finally, the EIB finances blue-technology’s activities through projects that support new marine bio-technology products, such as medicines, enzymes, biosensors and ingredients for food.

Source: https://blueindicators.ec.europa.eu/sites/default/files/2020_06_BlueEconomy-2020-LD_FINAL-corrected-web-acrobat-pro.pdf


Other the EU’s priorities  

The EU puts a high priority to the increasing climate, environmental and social challenges: at the centre of corresponding activities is the European Green Deal (EGD), an ambitious package of measures aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions, investing in modern research and innovation and protecting natural environment. The EGD is supposed to uncover a new facet in the national growth strategy in transforming socio-economic development towards sustainable directions, where research and innovation would play a fundamental role.

The corporate activities in the “blue-economy-business” will take part in deploying the member states’ solutions in reducing marine pollution (incl. plastics), mitigating climate change in the ocean, in sustainable use and management of ocean resources, in development of new materials (incl. biodegradable plastic substitutes), in new feed and food systems, as well as in coastal and maritime spatial development; besides, the national governance systems shall be more actively involved in corresponding BE’s planning and ocean production’s governance. The European Commission is going to heavily invest in research, innovation and education to create a sustainable “blue economy’s future”, particularly during the post-pandemic period.

The EU is going to implement circularity in the member states’ economies by adopting new rules on decommissioning of offshore oil and gas platforms, by revising the ship recycling regulation or by setting standards for the circular design of fishing gear; these approaches will also help in the combating marine pollution. The Union’s new approach to the blue economy, the states will follow the EU’s ambitious plans to restore, generally, biodiversity by protecting 30 percent of its marine space by 2030.

Source: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/SPEECH_21_2524


EU’s marine-ecosystem activity  

One of the first in line was the EU’s Marine Strategy Framework Directive, MSFD adopted in 2008, which required the member states to set up national marine strategies aimed at achieving a “good environmental status” by 2020. The MSFD promotes the ecosystem-based approach, which is a strategy for the integrated management of land, water and living resources aimed at nature conservation and sustainable use of resources in an equitable way. The ultimate goal of ecosystem-based management is to maintain an ecosystem in a healthy, productive and resilient condition in order to provide for the necessary goods and services for people. The national eco-governance is to rely on the cumulative impacts of different economy sectors to ensure that the cumulative human activities’ pressure do not exceed the reproductive ecosystems’ levels for a healthy and clean environment.

Another approach is through national maritime spatial planning, MSP which includes the following activities: energy, oil and gas exploration/exploitation; the extraction of raw materials, maritime shipping and fishing, aquaculture installations, tourism, ecosystem and biodiversity conservation, and underwater cultural heritage. This convergence of uses over the maritime space, as well as the multiple and cumulative pressures on coastal resources, requires an integrated planning and management approach. National MSPs seek to manage human activities in maritime space so that the various economic and social objectives can be achieved in an efficient, safe and sustainable way. In this context, MSP is considered an important tool for the sustainable development of the blue economy of marine areas and coastal regions, and for the restoration of European adjacent seas to environmentally healthy conditions.  

See more in: “Policy outlook: recent evolutions of maritime spatial planning in the European Union”, Marine Policy, 2019. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpol.2019.01.017   


The EU’s background of the maritime spatial planning was inaugurated in the Communication on Integrated Maritime Policy (2007), which was further developed in the Communication “Roadmap for Maritime Spatial Planning: Achieving Common Principles in the EU in 2008”, followed by the adoption of the MSP Directive in 2014. A key feature of the EU actions on MSP consists in cross-border cooperation among the states to tackle common challenges; some examples of such cooperation have been seen in the context of the regional sea conventions and intergovernmental organisations (e.g. the Helsinki Commission, HELCOM; the VASAB (Visions and Strategies Around the Baltic Sea), which already in 2010 established a joint MSP working group for developing coherence between MSPs of the Baltic Sea countries. Thus, the MSP Directive represents the first legal requirement for the national governance in planning the sea space with a coordinated, integrated and trans-boundary approach; the directive requires that the states elaborate plans for their jurisdictional waters by March 2021.

In order to support the states in the MSP Directive’s implementation, the European Commission established the EU MSP Platform in 2016, in addition to financial support for the elaboration of MSP and pilot projects from such EU sources as the EMFF, Interreg and Horizon 2020 programme; by April 2020, five EU states: Belgium, Germany, Malta, Latvia and the Netherlands had already adopted their plans (other states were progressing towards the adoption by mid-2021).

A vital part of eco-maritime economy is the European financing: already in 2014, the EU announced the Investment Plan for Europe with €21 billion in guarantees from the European budget and the EIB funds through the European Fund for Strategic Investment (EFSI) with a size of €315 billion (later extended to €500 billion based on €33.5 billion guarantees). Up to the end of 2019, EFSI contributed with over €1.4 billion in funding to €8 billion worth of offshore wind projects as well as substantial support to other parts of the blue economy including port development and clean shipping.

The European Commission and the European Investment Fund (EIF) set up a Blue-Invest Platform for SMEs in 2019, which included a package of measures for coaching “investment readiness” and grants of up to €22 million in 2019 and €20 million in 2020, for the final steps of the new business plans (e.g. demonstration, certification, marketing etc.). Following the EU’s efforts towards leveraging financial support, the grants were made conditional on letters of intent from investors: i.e. either from the public or the private sector. In addition, €75 million worth of liquidity from the EIF (with a 95 % guarantees from EFSI) was made available in 2020 for investing equity in funds for companies specializing in the blue economy.

Besides, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, EBRD finances projects that strengthen the private sector in the countries undergoing transition to a well-functioning market system. Its investment decisions are guided by six ‘transition qualities’, which focus on making economies competitive, well governed, green, inclusive, resilient and integrated; the EBRD invests in projects in Europe and in the neighbouring countries.

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