EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Blue economy

The blue economy is an area of the European economy that is linked to seas and oceans. The European Commission stated in its 2017 report on the Blue Growth strategy (PDF) that the sector generates a gross added value of almost €500 billion per year to the European economy and employs around 5.4 million people.

The European Commission’s Blue Growth Strategy is a long-term strategy that aims to support sustainable growth in the marine and maritime sectors as a whole. The Commission has identified seas and oceans as drivers for the European economy that have great potential for innovation and growth, stating that growth in the blue economy is the maritime contribution to achieving the goals of the Europe 2020 strategy. The strategy has three components:

  • to develop the blue economy sectors that have a high potential for sustainable jobs and growth;
  • to develop the essential components to provide knowledge, legal certainty and security in the blue economy (marine knowledge to improve access to information about the sea, maritime spatial planning to ensure an efficient and sustainable management of activities at sea, and integrated maritime surveillance to give authorities a better picture of what is happening at sea);
  • to develop sea basin strategies to ensure tailor-made measures and to foster cooperation between countries.

The sea basin strategies relate to the Adriatic and Ionian Seas, the Arctic Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean, the Baltic Sea, the Black Sea, the Mediterranean Sea and the North Sea.

Around 97% of blue economy workers are employed within five broad sectors.

Coastal tourism: This is by far the largest employer in the blue economy, with around 2.9 million workers, or just over 55% of the blue economy workforce. Turnover is expanding slowly, with an increasing proportion of spending by visitors from outside the EU.

Non-living resources: Non-living resources (primarily oil and gas) employs around 670,000 workers, or almost 10.7% of the blue economy workforce, although the offshore petroleum industry is currently suffering from low oil prices.

Living resources: Living resources (fishing, aquaculture and processing) employs around 550,000 workers, or 8% of the blue economy workforce. Overall, fishing and aquaculture production is stagnant, although aquaculture in particular is still growing outside the EU.

Shipping: Shipping employs around 530,000 workers and this sector is reported to have returned to pre-crisis levels.

Shipbuilding: Shipbuilding employs around 450,000 workers. Although this sector is highly successful in certain technologically specialised sectors such as dredgers, luxury yachts and cruise ships, it relies increasingly on naval orders.

In addition, the European Commission notes in its 2017 report that offshore wind – an industry outside these sectors and one which did not exist 10 years ago – is now the fastest growing sector in the blue economy. Explosive growth in the installation of offshore wind farms means that offshore renewable energy is now a major contributor to employment, accounting for 150,000 jobs. The report quotes OECD predictions:

many ocean-based industries have the potential to outperform the global economy as a whole, both in terms of value added and employment. The output of the global ocean economy is estimated at €1.3 trillion currently, a figure that is expected to more than double by 2030.

The European Commission believes that Europe should not miss this opportunity and should encourage the growth of new or emerging activities such as aquaculture, coastal tourism, marine biology, ocean energy and seabed mining – all of which are deemed to be growth areas in terms of output and job creation – by overcoming obstacles, stimulating innovation and encouraging investment.


See also: Europe 2020, maritime labour standards

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