A future-oriented innovation policy for the blue economy

The blue economy plays an important role within the Flemish and Belgian economy. It is crucial that policymakers at all levels continue to focus on this sector. That is why Blue Cluster has formulated a number of key points and recommendations for a bold and future-proof innovation policy.
25 March 2024

The blue economy plays a crucial role in the Flemish and Belgian economic fabric, with a high number of jobs and the creation of significant added value. The sector offers sustainable solutions for the Flemish and federal transition priorities (energy transition, circular economy, digitisation and sustainable mobility).

The broader blue economy creates 15.4 billion euros in added value annually and is good for 176,000 jobs in Flanders. The sector therefore represents 5.2% of the Flemish GDP. A recent study by IDEA Consult shows a production increase of more than 26% between 2019 and 2022, including the creation of 15,000 new direct jobs (despite the major challenges of the Covid-19 and energy crises).


Future-oriented developments within the blue economy have helped turn Flanders and Belgium into an innovative top region in Europe. The dense network of world-renowned knowledge institutions, dynamic SMEs and top companies with a global pioneering role and a supportive government have ensured that Belgium is a leader in the field of offshore energy development, coastal protection with nature-based solutions, marine spatial planning, sustainable marine food, smart shipping, maritime security, … .

The six Flemish spearhead clusters explicitly express the ambition to further assume and strengthen their successful role. The successful spearhead cluster policy can be strengthened in 4 areas: adequate support for basic operations, a real partnership between the spearhead clusters and the government (with a minimum of administrative burdens), a suitable set of instruments to meet the expectations of the innovation ecosystem, and no further fragmentation in the innovation landscape.

CB Day


To strengthen the dynamics and ensure that the blue economy in Flanders and Belgium continues to grow driven by groundbreaking innovation, it is imperative for future Flemish and Belgian policymakers to outline a bold innovation policy:

  • Alignment between Flemish and federal policy objectives and innovation domains is crucial in order to innovate in a targeted manner. Building a sustainable blue economy requires an innovation policy that focuses on solutions to societal challenges by 2030 (renewable energy, energy storage, nature-based solutions, biodiversity, reduction of emissions, etc.).
  • Embrace and support the Flemish port areas as hotspots where the development and upscaling of innovative solutions can take place. Due to their economic importance and network, scale, common infrastructure and international appearance, the Flemish ports are a breeding ground for new developments and a dynamic ecosystem for scaling up innovative products and services.
  • Involving the Flemish and federal administrations and agencies as close partners in the development of innovation processes that fall under the respective areas of competence, not only from a legislative perspective but also towards future-oriented investments, such as the implementation of sustainable integrated coastal management based on nature-based solutions or the creation of development zones for sustainable blue economy activities (mariparks).
  • Creating more coherence and synergy between Flemish, Belgian and European innovation domains and priorities. The blue economy will only remain successful if it operates in an international forum. Access to European research funds and international (innovation) partners tailored to the resources and instruments of the Flemish innovation government will accelerate this internationalisation.

Piet Opstaele
CEO of Blue Cluster
March 2024


A study recently published by VUB highlighted the importance of the Flemish spearhead clusters for the Flemish economy. The conclusion was that the Flemish spearhead clusters have a clear impact on innovation and economic growth in Flanders and beyond.

The Flemish spearhead clusters subsequently drew up a joint memorandum in which they call on the government to continue the current innovation policy and to support the cluster organizations even more strongly in the future in their role as central actors within the important innovation ecosystems of Flanders.

The above vision text builds on this memorandum, but focuses specifically on the blue economy and highlights a number of important points of attention and recommendations to further tighten innovation policy within this sector.

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