Navigation path

Left navigation

Additional tools

Other available languages: none

European Commission


Brussels, 17 April 2014

Questions and Answers on the Directive on Maritime Spatial Planning

Why do we need a Directive on Maritime Spatial Planning?

The uncoordinated use of coastal and maritime areas creates competition for maritime space and is an inefficient use of marine resources. A lack of predictability regarding appropriate access to the maritime space has created an uncertain climate for investment.

With rapidly increasing demand for maritime space for new activities, from renewable energy to offshore aquaculture installations, coherent planning of maritime activities at sea is needed.

Cross-border co-operation on maritime spatial planning (MSP) is essential as marine ecosystems, fishing grounds, marine protected areas as well as maritime infrastructures, such as cables, pipelines, shipping lanes, oil, gas and wind installations run across national borders.

The Directive promotes an ecosystem-based approach which should ensure that the collective pressure of maritime activities is kept within levels compatible with the achievement of good environmental status. It will contribute to enable the sustainable use of marine goods and services by present and future generations.

The planning of major investments and policy support in sea basins needs to be considered on a cross-border basis. For example, offshore energy grids are necessary to the development of renewable energy sources. Yet, coordination between Member States is far from systematic, and the current inconsistencies between existing systems prevent efficient cross-border planning. There is also a risk that Member States could establish different systems, with different timescales, which will render cross border cooperation almost impossible.

What do Member States have to do to implement the Directive?

Member States will be asked to draw up maritime spatial plans. These will identify all existing human activities and the most effective way of managing them. They will have to fulfil minimum requirements:

  • take into account interactions between the sea and land;

  • establish appropriate cross-border cooperation between Member States;

  • establish means of public participation for stakeholders, authorities and the public concerned;

  • use of the best available data and organise the sharing of information between stakeholders;

The Directive respects Member States prerogative to tailor the content of the plans and strategies to their specific economic, social and environmental priorities, as well as their national sectorial policy objectives and legal traditions. The planning details and the management objectives are left to Member States. The EU will not take part in this process.

The aim is for Member States to establish processes which cover the full cycle of problem identification, information collection, planning, decision-making, management, monitoring of implementation, and stakeholder participation.

By 2016, Member States are required to transpose the Directive into their national legislation and nominate the Competent Authority in charge of the implementation of MSP. The plans themselves will need to be established by 2021.

How is the proposal related to the Commission's Europe 2020 strategy and Blue Growth initiative?

Maritime sectors offer opportunities for innovation, sustainable growth and employment which all contribute to the EU 2020 objective. MSP facilitates the development of Blue Growth sectors, such as renewable energy, offshore aquaculture or maritime tourism, which currently face increasing competition for space and limited ecosystem resources.

With MSP, operators know what, where and for how long an activity can take place. It increases the stability, transparency and predictability of the investment and gives investors and operators certainty about possible economic development.

A reduction of 1% in costs can deliver an economic boost ranging from €170 million to €1.3 billion by 2020 across the EU. Furthermore, accelerating investments in offshore aquaculture or wind-farm activities by 1, 2 or 3 years could generate anything from €60 million to over €600 million by 2020.

What are the benefits of Maritime Spatial Planning for the environment? How is the proposal related to the Marine Strategy Framework Directive?

MSP will improve the implementation of environmental legislation in Europe and secure the link between coastal and maritime activities. The Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) specifically refers to MSP as a key implementation tool which is designed to properly manage and reduce the cumulative impact of all maritime activities in a given sea area. This will help Member States to reach good environmental status of their waters by 2020. Through the MSFD, Member States have the obligation to establish a coherent network of Marine Protected Areas. Cooperation on planning across borders is essential to reach that goal. The Directive will also help the EU reach UN Convention on Biological Diversity objective to cover 10% of marine waters with designated protected areas.

The Directive on MSP will cover coastal waters. By being included in the planning of the seas, coastal activities on the water will be managed more sustainably. Experience shows that countries that have developed MSP have also massively improved their coastal management by taking into account the joined-up nature of coastal and marine interests.

Planning is a Member States competence. Is this an overreach of competences by the Commission?

The Commission has always strongly stated that Member States should retain the full competence of what and where to plan. For that reason, the Commission is proposing a Directive which safeguards proportionality and subsidiarity by leaving the flexibility for implementation to the Member State.

Some Member States have already put in place MSP. Has this been taken into account?

Some Member States have pioneered MSP and have developed efficient planning systems for their offshore areas. The Commission has worked closely with Member States' experts on the Proposal so that the existing systems can be incorporated within the minimum requirements laid out. The Directive allows for its implementation to build upon existing national rules and mechanisms to the greatest extent possible. Member States who made early efforts to develop MSP will be at an advantage, not at a disadvantage.

Does the Proposal not just add a new layer of regulatory complexity?

On the contrary, current sea space management often leads to over-regulation and complexity. In some countries up to nine administrative agencies need to be contacted before securing a permit for an aquaculture site. Similarly, administrative complexity has also prevented Europe from installing more offshore wind energy sites.

Implementing the Directive will allow Member States to coordinate their administrations on the basis of integrated planning and management processes. This constitutes a huge simplification and cost-saving exercise both for the country and potential investors.

The use of a single instrument to balance maritime activities and the available space also reduces regulatory complexity. It ensures that measures proposed in the context of specific objectives of existing EU law are facilitated by the overall planning underway for a given sea area. This ultimately simplifies the overall regulatory framework.

By doing so, Maritime Spatial Plans will help achieve the objectives of the Renewable Energy Directive, the Motorways of the Sea initiative, environmental legislation and the reformed Common Fisheries Policy.

Maritime spatial plans will not set new sectoral targets in policies like transport, energy or fisheries. For example, MSP will not result in more restriction or duplication of objectives for shipping. It will support the growth of maritime transport through a more efficient organisation of space. Administrative costs for shipping companies will decrease as they will be less likely to fight unplanned decision or lose time due to inefficient changes in shipping routes

See also: IP/14/459

Side Bar