Nordic & Baltic Perspectives on the European Marine Strategy

Published on November 5, 2005

Frustration expressed at failure to build new EU Marine Strategy and Framework Directive on past and ongoing efforts and concepts at recent Copenhagen workshop.

A workshop was held in Copenhagen on 3-4 November, 2005, to consider the European Marine Strategy (EMS; COM(2005)504), and the recent European Commission proposal for a supporting Marine Framework Directive (MFD; COM(2005)505) from a specific Nordic and Baltic point of view. Hosted by the Danish Society for Marine Biology, the Danish Ministry of Environment and the Nordic Council of Ministers, several stakeholders and interest groups were represented at the meeting, including fishermen’s organizations, various levels of government, NGOs, scientists and academics.

The meeting kicked off with a keynote presentation by the Commission on both the EMS and the proposed MFD, the later of which has been heavily criticized, especially by environmental interests, for being too vague. The Commission pointed out that to introduce strict legally binding measures at this juncture would, among other things, undermine the possibility for individual Member States to develop their own policies for delivering the objective of the EMS. The Commission seemed to argue that the current proposal would be better able to recognize and account for regional and local differences, as well as National Strategies or approaches. This seemed to be of little comfort to attending environmental NGOs in particular, who felt that an overarching and binding marine policy is urgently needed to protect Europe’s ocean environment.

Other stakeholders expressed frustration that the EMS, as well as the MFD proposal, apparently failed to build upon terminology and concepts already established in, for example, the Water Framework Directive, the Habitats Directive, HELCOM and the OSPAR Convention. This appeared particularly evident in the case of Ecological Quality Objectives (EQOs) under OSPAR, versus the new terminology of “Good Ecological Status” used in the EMS and MFD proposals.

Despite apparent conflicting views between some participants regarding the EMS overall and the current proposal for a MFD, some clear messages emerged from the workshop. Many felt that in order for the EMS to be successful in helping to deliver the much needed enhanced protection and more sustainable use of European seas, education would be critical. All workshop participants recognized the urgent need for better management and protection of Europe’s ocean environment. They agreed that in order to deliver this goal, the wider public needed to be better informed of the current state of, as well as pressures placed on, Europe’s oceans.