The European Commission and council of European maritime policy ministers Monday approved an update of the 5-year-old Integrated Maritime Policy that lays out an aggressive economic growth agenda aimed at tapping Europe's sea and ocean resources.
A coalition of environmental groups, however, said the focus on economic development in the agenda -- dubbed the "Limassol Declaration" -- could result in ecological damage to the oceans.
"We need to embrace the maritime potential of Europe and we need to do it with confidence and with a dynamic agenda," Barroso said.
EU members, he asserted, can leverage their "unique maritime experience and resources" into hundreds of thousands of new jobs in the marine renewable energy, aquaculture, "blue" biotechnology, coastal tourism and seabed mining sectors.
The blue economy could play a major role in helping Europe recover from financial and economic crises it is facing, Barroso said, citing expansion the shipping and cruise tourism sectors as examples.
"The overall employment in the European maritime economic activities is expected to go from 5.4 (million) to 7 million by 2020," he said. "The cruise sector alone may grow by 60 percent."
Meanwhile, offshore wind energy is expected to grow 30 percent by 2020 with a tenfold growth in tidal and wave energy expected.
"These are staggering figures, and opportunities, that Europe cannot afford to miss," he said.
The Cyprus EU presidency played a major role in crafting the agenda, calling it a "milestone" for the Integrated Maritime Policy.
Cyprus Minister of Communications and Works Efthemios Flourentzou predicted the blue economy effort will aid "Europe's economic recovery, sustainable growth and social cohesion," the Famagusta Gazette reported.
However, while environmentalists generally praised the Limassol Declaration, they voiced concern over its focus on economic development.
A group of 19 environmental non-government organizations, led by Seas at Risk and Oceana, issued a statement saying that while it contains good intentions, it could lead to development at the expense of the environment.
"The declaration seems to be very much inspired by the aim of growth but we need sustainable economic activity that meets the needs of current and future generations," the statement said.
"We are afraid that a large amount of EU funding will be used to boost not only the traditional, polluting marine industries (transport and oil operations) but also 'young' industries, such as aquaculture and the exploitation of underwater mining resources, whose impact is still unknown."
An unnamed expert from the Conference of Peripheral and Maritime Regions think tank told Europolitics the declaration, while a step forward, is "overly influenced by the maritime industrial lobbies."
The source said it was "too oriented toward growth without any real emphasis on the social aspect, or on maritime safety," while laying the blame for that on the Cyprus presidency.
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