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Questions and answers on the marine environment strategy
Commission Européenne - MEMO/05/393 24/10/2005
Brussels, 24 October 2005
What is the issue?
The marine environment is indispensable to life itself. Oceans and seas cover 71% of the Earth’s surface and contain 90% of the biosphere. Marine ecosystems play a key role in climate and weather patterns, distribution of solar energy, carbon absorption and provide a number of other essential services. Protecting Europe’s seas effectively will make an essential contribution to our quality of life. The marine environment is also a great contributor to economic prosperity and social well-being.
Today we are witnessing a considerable loss of marine biodiversity in Europe and in other parts of the world due to contamination by dangerous substances, excess nutrients, the impact of commercial fishing or effects of climate change – to name just a few threats. These threats have multiplied in diversity and intensity over the past few years. If not addressed, they will continue to erode marine ecosystems and will put at risk the economic potential of maritime sectors such as fisheries and tourism.
Why is a strategy on the marine environment needed?
The strategy aims to ensure that all EU marine waters are environmentally healthy by 2021, so that people are able to benefit from seas and oceans that are safe, clean and rich in nature. A high level of protection of the marine environment is a precondition to realise the full economic potential of oceans and seas.
The sum of all existing measures and efforts, whether taken at international, EU or national level, is clearly not sufficient to protect Europe’s marine environment.
Apart from the legislation on preventing marine pollution, none of the EU policies affecting the marine environment (fisheries, transport, industry, agriculture, regional development, research, external relations) are specifically designed to protect it. Human activities impacting on the maritime environment have so far been addressed in a sector by sector manner rather than holistically.
The correct implementation of existing EU water protection laws (the urban waste water treatment directive, the nitrates directive, the water framework directive) will have a significant impact upon the input of nutrients and dangerous substances into our regional seas. However, even if stringently implemented or tightened up, existing EU legislation affecting the marine environment would leave significant problems unaddressed. For instance, marine species’ functional characteristics and ecosystem properties would be largely overlooked, although they are the key to a healthy marine environment.
At national level, some Member States have adopted measures to protect their marine environment. However there is no harmonised approach to the protection of the marine environment, which hampers the effectiveness of existing schemes. All in all, some progress has been made in certain areas, e.g. in reducing nutrient inputs or pollution from hazardous substances, in particular heavy metals. However, the state of the marine environment has been deteriorating significantly and at an increasing rate over the last few decades.
A strong, integrated EU policy on marine protection is therefore required. The strategy will build upon what has been achieved so far at all levels of governance to protect Europe’s seas. It will also directly contribute to the new EU maritime policy which will be proposed by the European Commission in 2006, aimed at developing a dynamic maritime economy in harmony with the marine environment.
What is new about the strategy?
The strategy takes a new, eco-system-based approach addressing all the pressures and impacts on the marine environment.
A directive proposed together with the Strategy will introduce the concept of marine regions. These regions will be the forum for member states to work together to reach the objectives set out in the strategy. The marine regions are: the Baltic Sea (bordered on the EU side by Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Germany on the EU side ; and by Russia), the North East Atlantic Ocean (bordered on the EU side by Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Portugal and Spain, including the waters surrounding the Azores, Madeira and the Canary Islands ; and by Iceland and Norway) and the Mediterranean Sea (Spain, France, Italy, Slovenia, Greece, Cyprus and Malta on the EU side, and the southern and Eastern Mediterranean rim).
The directive will provide guidelines and deadlines towards the development of marine strategies by the Member States. They will assess the state of their marine waters and devise programmes of measures in order to achieve a high level of protection of the marine environment. These programmes of measures will include impact assessments and detailed cost-benefit analysis in order to minimise costs and take into account the social and economic dimensions of sustainable development. No specific management measures will be set down at EU level, as the directive will have to be made operational and implemented by the Member States at the level of the marine regions.
In the process, the strategy will bridge the current knowledge gap concerning the marine environment. We know much less about the marine environment than we do about terrestrial ecosystems. There is sufficient evidence of the deteriorating status of our seas and oceans and on the pace of this degradation but existing monitoring and assessment programmes are neither integrated nor complete. Our knowledge of the marine environment needs to be considerably improved in order to develop informed policy-making.
Who will do what and when?
The proposed directive contained in the strategy will go through the EU co-decision process, for adoption by the EU Council of Ministers and the European Parliament.
Once the directive is adopted, each Member State will develop a marine strategy for its own waters, in close coordination with other Member States and third countries within each marine region concerned. Within four years of the entry into force of the directive, the Member States will assess the current environmental status of the waters concerned and the environmental impact of human activities thereon.
They will also jointly determine what “good environmental status” means for these waters in each region. In order to guide this process and ensure coherent implementation, the Commission will define, after consultation of all interested parties, criteria and standards for the recognition of “good environmental status”.
Within five years of the entry into force of the Directive, the Member States will establish a series of environmental targets towards “good environmental status” – eg restore certain ecosystems, reduce pollution etc. And within six years, they will establish and implement a monitoring programme to measure progress towards “good environmental status”. The Commission will approve Member States’ assessments, definitions of “good environmental status” and monitoring programmes.
By 2016 at the latest, each Member State will develop a programme of measures designed to achieve “good environmental status”. Such programmes could address issues like activities needed to restore damaged ecosystems, the amount of a human activity that is permitted or the degree of perturbation of ecosystems permitted, mitigation and remediation tools etc. The Commission will approve this programme of measures, which should enter into operation by 2018 at the latest.
The Member States will ensure the active participation of all interested parties (governments of candidate and third countries, industry and civil society organisations, scientists and academics...) in the implementation of this directive, in particular in establishing and updating the marine strategies.
How will citizens feel the impact of the marine strategy?
EU citizens will feel the impact of the marine strategy in their daily lives. In the absence of a marine strategy, many of the current, negative impacts on the marine environment would worsen, with significant economic and social repercussions. The tourism, fisheries and aquaculture sectors, which directly depend on the quality of the maritime environment, would be particularly hard hit, leaving coastal areas and communities to bear the brunt. On the contrary, healthy marine ecosystems will generate new opportunities, e.g. in the field of eco-tourism and marine research.
A healthy marine environment makes seaside holidays more attractive, and would enhance EU citizens’ social well-being by boosting medicinal and pharmaceutical uses of marine resources. It would equally make it possible for EU citizens to continue to reap health benefits from diets rich in non-contaminated fish and seafood.
Which sectors will be most affected and how will they benefit from the strategy?
The strategy will sustain the future of marine industries by effectively protecting the resource base on which they depend.
Fisheries: A clean and healthy marine environment would make for potentially higher harvests as compared to today’s landings and therefore help sustain the future of the fisheries industry.
Shipping: Extensive maritime safety legislative packages have been developed in the past few years at EU level. Assessments made at regional level as part of the strategy may point to the need for complementary efforts and initiatives to further reduce the environmental impact of shipping. The shipbuilding industry could potentially benefit from a strengthening of maritime safety measures. Prospects for the development of short sea shipping through “motorways of the sea” as real competitive alternative routes to land transport, would greatly benefit from further guarantees on the green record of the sector.
Tourism and coastal development: The long term sustainability of the tourism sector would be ensured through increased resources (reopening of formerly polluted bathing sites etc.). Positive impacts would be expected from marine ecotourism, a fast growing sector of world tourism. Benefits would also be expected in terms of improved and more sustainable costal development.
Oil and gas extraction: It is essential for the oil and gas sector to access new fields and to install new infrastructures to exploit them. This is largely dependent on the sector’s ability to demonstrate high levels of environmental performance and integration of environmental concerns, which the marine strategy will enable.
Dredging, sand and gravel: Marine strategies could help in the strategic identification of resources for dredging, by providing information about constraints to the development and location of resources. This will increase the industry’s certainty over future locations.
Research: The strategy will generate new research opportunities. An increased focus on the protection of the marine environment will promote basic research on the structure and functioning of marine ecosystems. Applied research on the development of tools for monitoring, detection (of alga blooms, oil spills...), enforcement and control will also be encouraged. As will cleaner, more environmentally friendly technologies and production processes related to commercial fishing and aquaculture. The EU’s future Seventh Research Framework Programme will play an important role to step up applied research activities on marine ecosystems.
Will the marine strategy generate policy inconsistencies with regional seas conventions?
The strategy will build upon the entire existing conventions, e.g. the OSPAR convention to regulate and control marine pollution in the North Sea and North Atlantic, the Helsinki Convention on the protection of the Baltic Sea (HELCOM) and the Barcelona convention on the protection of the Mediterranean Sea - and the Black Sea Commission upon accession of Bulgaria and Romania in the future.
The long track record of the regional conventions, in terms of scientific and technical competence and ability to act as a bridge with non-EU countries, will make them invaluable partners in delivering the EU Strategy.
How much will it cost to implement the strategy?
Initially, costs incurred by setting up and operating the framework through which the marine strategies will be implemented, have been estimated to amount to € 90 million over the first two years and €70 million annually after that. However, the development of coherent assessment, monitoring and information on the marine environment will bring significant benefits and efficiency gains (e.g. by avoiding duplication at every level of governance).
Will there be a cost if no action is taken?
Under a no additional action scenario, employment in marine-related industries would be considerably threatened because many of those industries depend on the marine environment.
Fisheries - A “business as usual” scenario would be likely to contribute to substantially increasing the economic and social difficulties faced by the fisheries sector.
Tourism - Estimates suggest that by 2080, between 13% and 25% of the world’s coastal wetlands could be lost due to sea level rise alone. Tourism would be severely hit by the degradation of marine ecosystems. As the marine environment is the main interface to tourism, and tourism is the world’s largest economic sector with prospects for further expansion, the potential losses are considerable.
Shipping pollution - A no-action scenario on oil spill prevention has been estimated to be in excess of €1 billion. By way of example, the cost of the Erika sinking in 1999 was estimated to reach above €880 million, half of which for tourism only. The estimated cost of the Prestige disaster to fishing and tourism only was estimated to reach €5 billion. Stringent implementation of the Maritime Safety packages adopted at EU level over the recent years combined with the marine strategy will contribute to considerably reducing risks.
Biodiversity/Non-native species - There is no EU cost estimate for the transfer and introduction of non-native species through shipping. But impacts can be significant. In the US, more than $2 million has been spent in California to control and monitor the spread of the Mediterranean Caulerpa Taxifolia algae only and $3 million to investigate impacts of the Atlantic cord grass on the Pacific Ocean.
Bathing water - A measurable risk of illness due to microbiological contaminant of bathing waters remains even on beaches compliant with existing legislation.
Agriculture and urban waste water - Agriculture and urban waste water remain an important source of pollution of the marine environment through excessive amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus causing eutrophication. The evidence suggests that costs can be significant in a local context, especially in the event of an algal bloom in a popular recreational area or where there is shell-fishing farming. By way of example, the severe harmful algal bloom that struck Italy in 1989 cost the aqua cultural industry $10 million and the tourism industry $11.4 million.
Will the strategy contribute to the Better Regulation initiative?
Like the other thematic strategies which are being adopted by the Commission, the marine strategy represents the next generation of environment policy, taking a global and medium-term perspective, setting clear environmental objectives and seeking to identify the most appropriate instruments to achieve these objectives. It is based on extensive research and consultation with stakeholders and addresses the issue in a holistic way, taking into account links with other problems and policy areas.
Has the Commission consulted widely on the Strategy?
The strategy has been prepared from 2002 to 2004 by the European Commission, with the help of an extensive consultation process including all EU Member States and candidate countries, key European third countries sharing oceans and seas with the EU, 16 international commissions and conventions, 21 key industry and civil society organisations, scientists and academics. Two major stakeholder conferences were held during the process. An internet consultation was conducted from March to May 2005. The Commission received 133 responses. The results are available on:
The preparatory work focused in particular on the application of the ecosystem-based approach to the management of human activities impacting the marine environment, monitoring and assessment issues and the particular challenge of hazardous substances.
In addition, the Commission has also paid very close attention over the past three years to reports, studies and policy statements from national and regional organisations, countries, research institutes and United Nations bodies, in relation to the protection of the marine environment. The strategy itself establishes mechanisms that will ensure continued stakeholder participation and a transparent reporting process.
See also IP/05/1335
 Council Directive 91/271/EEC on Urban Waste Water Treatment, Council Directive 91/676/EEC on Nitrates and Directive 2000/60/EC of 23 October 2000 establishing a framework for Community action in the field of water policy.
 The other thematic strategies concern air pollution, waste prevention and recycling, sustainable use of resources, soils, pesticides and the urban environment.