Marine Strategy Directive

Background - April 26, 2010
In October 2005, after over three years of consultation, the European Commission proposed a Marine Directive (COM(2005)0505), which formed the most important part of a broader European Marine Strategy proposed at the same time.
The intention was to fill a gap in the EU’s conservation policy, which at the time was largely focused on the EU’s land territory. The European Parliament and the Council of Ministers amended the proposed directive and finally adopted Directive 2008/56/EC, which establishes a framework for community action in the field of marine environmental policy.

As expected, the European Parliament showed significantly more will to adopt an ambitious and target-driven directive than the Council of Ministers. In particular, a group of countries, led by the UK and the Netherlands, wanted to limit the directive to an aspirational rather than legally-binding overall objective, advocating that member states should merely “aim to achieve a Good Environmental Status (GES)” and insisting that no measure would need to be taken in circumstances that incurred a “disproportionate cost” or where no “significant risk” to the environment had been identified. Luckily, not all their efforts to water down the directive paid off.

The resulting directive requires member states to reach good environmental status for Europe’s seas by 2020 by implementing national marine strategies. In particular, states have to:

-    protect and preserve the marine environment, prevent its deterioration or, where practicable, restore marine ecosystems in areas where they have been adversely affected;
-    prevent and reduce inputs in the marine environment, with a view to phase out pollution as defined in Article 3 (8), so as to ensure that there are no significant impacts on, or risks to, marine biodiversity, marine ecosystems, human health or legitimate uses of the sea;
-    implement the ecosystem-based approach to the management of human activities, ensuring that the collective pressure of such activities is kept within levels compatible with the achievement of ‘good environmental status’ and that the capacity of marine ecosystems to respond to human-induced changes is not compromised, while enabling the sustainable use of marine goods and services by present and future generations.

For a more detailed definition of what ‘good environmental status’ means, click here.

The directive sets out the following timelines:

- by 2012, member states have to prepare an initial assessment of the current environmental status of their waters;
- by 2012, states have to determine, in detail, what good environmental status looks like in their respective region or regions;
- by 2012, states have to establish a series of detailed environmental targets and associated indicators;
- by 2014, states have to have established and be implementing a monitoring programme for the ongoing assessment and regular updating of the above targets. Dates might vary where there are suitable ongoing monitoring initiatives under EU law that can partially implement this provision;
- by 2015 at the latest, states have to have developed a programme of measures designed to achieve or maintain GES; and
- by 2016 at the latest, states have to , measures to achieve or maintain GES must be in place