EU seas long way from Good Environmental Status

Published on November 13, 2020

On Wednesday, the Commission discussed its report on the implementation of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive with its expert group on Strategic Coordination. The report showed that while the EU’s framework for marine environmental protection is one of the most ambitious in the world, persistent challenges remain, such as excess nutrients, underwater noise, plastic litter and other pollution as well as unsustainable fishing. 

The Commission Expert Group on Strategic Coordination for the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSCG) had its 27th meeting on 11 November. The meeting offered some insights into the ongoing implementation of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD), which aims to protect the marine environment across Europe and reach good environmental status (GES) by 2020.

Although the Directive is an ambitious policy tool and offers a definition of ecosystem-based management, it has so far failed to reach GES and is burdened with bureaucracy. Discussions covered the precautionary approach and how it should be applied, and it was stressed that a lack of knowledge should not be used as an excuse to do harm. The NGOs highlighted the Blue Manifesto, emphasizing the fact that there is enough knowledge to act now!

Further topics included seabed integrity with ICES ‘trade off’ analysis showing the importance of balancing fisheries resources and environmental protection; in certain areas 80 % of the fish catch emanates from 20 % of the seabed, which should be taken into consideration when planning protective measures. Also, the Our Baltic Conference was discussed and the need for concrete actions of integration and cooperation between countries and sectors, to align with the intention of the Our Baltic Declaration.

A new report on Pollution in Europe was presented as part of the European Green deal, and the requirement for integrative measures was raised within this field as well. The very pressing need of reducing the hazards of underwater noise was emphasized in a fresh policy brief (soon to be online) outlining the present state of knowledge, legal and policy framework, shortcomings of the current underwater noise management and also recommended actions and measures.

Moreover, the meeting pulled a poll among the participants where the effectiveness of the MSFD was examined. A summary of the results included: (i) an agreement on the added value of the Directive; (ii) an observed gap between the high ambition and a weak legal output; (iii) a need to further define GES; (iv) the necessity to align the MSFD objectives with other sector policies, such as fisheries and agriculture or Maritime Spatial Planning/Blue growth; (v) a call for simplification of the reporting obligation which is perceived as being bureaucratic; and (vi) the need to improve communication about the Directive, since it is largely unknown to the general public and decision-makers, even though it was adopted in 2008.