EU Member States far from reaching HOPE goals

Published on March 10, 2014

The HOPE – Healthy Oceans – Productive Ecosystems – Conference held first week of March this year aimed to discuss, based on Article 12, the progress made since the adoption of the MSFD, problems that still remain, solutions for improved coherence and better marine governance.

The Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) was adopted in 2008 with the aim of protecting and managing our seas and oceans in a sustainable way. The objective is to achieve and maintain good environmental status (GES) of European seas and oceans by 2020. It is the first all-encompassing piece of European legislation specifically aimed at the protection of the marine environment with clear deadlines for its implementation.

Article 12, released by the European Commission on February 22, is a review of Member States (MS) progress of implementing the MSFD thus far. The conclusions from the review is clear – there is a lack of common understanding of what GES really is about, poor level of implementation together with targets that often are weak and non-measurable. Despite Article 12 clear message only a handful of speakers brought it up as if they been asked not to touch upon these failures.

One of the few speakers who touched upon the essence of the MSFD during the opening session was Klaus Töpfer, Executive Director, Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies, ”we have been in a short term dictatorship, the MSFD is helping us move towards a medium to long-term view of our oceans”. Töpfler continued in a similar tone with his message to MS on the question on how the MSFD correlates to other directives and agreements such as the CFP, BSAP, WFD, BD: ”if one fails the other cannot be successful, all will fail if we do not put effort in the other”. Touching on some of the other shortcomings revealed in Articel 12 namely shortcomings in coordination between countries across regional seas and in the integration with other environmental legislation.

The lack of coordination between Member States on implementing MSFD was also emphasised by Ann Dom from Seas At Risk, who also raised concern over the meaning of GES. She argued the meaning of GES is missing and there is an urgent need to re-evaluate GES to. Dom further stressed the need to act now and take on board the recommendations form the commission now and not wait until 2018 as this will be too late, unfortunately this seems to be the line of many member states.

Hans Bruyninckx, European Environmental Agency (EEA) was one of several who raised concern over EU´s blue growth programme  and the risk of adding additional pressure on already stressed European waters. Stressing the need for the blue growth directive to include clear environmental targets as well as to be in line with sustainability goals within the MSFD and CFP. Lawrence Mee, Scottish Association of Marine Science, continued by highlighting that blue growth is not a dance on roses, it’s a fine balance between positive and negative effects coupled with cumulative impacts many which we do knot have the knowledge of what it would entail.

Short snapshots from the conference:

  • Ernesto Peñas Lado, DG Mare, on his view after the CFP reform: i) Most important change within the CFP is the EU long-term management plans and international agreements on long-term plans ii) MSY is enshrined as a policy objective iii) Phasing out of discards iv) Integrate environmental concerns into the CFP with fast track procedures to implement Natura 2000 and MSFD and v) regionalisation.
  • Ulrike Rodust, MEP Germany, gave a clear message that she would like to see a ban on deep sea fishing and further announced that she would be standing again for the European Parliament.
  • Uta Bellion, PEW Charitable Trust, brought up concerns she sees with the discard ban: being limited to species under fishing limits, the pressure of quota to be ”uplifted” to make up for landing of all fish, concerns on how monitoring and compliance will be reinforced, and on the de minimis exemption she highlighted that it is not clear whether applied to member state quota or to quota of individual trip.
  • Tony Long, WWF, lifted the question of priority questioning the little focus and money the marine sector receives as close to 40% of EUs GDP comes from the marine sector. On the need to join up policy Long stressed the need to have a more coherent approach where activities should be planned and carried out in a more coordinated way citing the example of their spatial planning model for the Baltic.
  • Anne Christine Brusendorff from ICES highlighted the importance of synergies, evidence based advice across sectors and ecosystem components along. Stressing the need for cooperation amongst organisations and stakeholders.

The HOPE conference closed with the words from the Director Generals of DG Mare, Lowri Evans, and DG Environment, Karl Falkenberg, who sadly agreed that it is not feasible to reach GES by 2020, but at the same time where under the opinion that there is a willingness to reach it, however the conclusion of Article 12 says something different. As previous speakers, Evans flagged blue growth, how to achieve a productive ecosystem which depends on healthy seas and the fine line between environmental and economic sustainability. Falkenberg stayed optimistic, shedding light on how well DG Mare and DG Env are working together sharing a common perspective about our oceans.

A Declaration of HOPE was issued at the close of the conference reflecting the views of the majority stressing the need for precise and clear objectives at both EU and international  level.