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Internet consultation

Thematic Strategy on the Protection and conservation of the Marine Environment

This consultation was closed on 9 May 2005. We are very grateful for the replies received which will feed into the decision to be taken by the Commission concerning the proposal for a Thematic Strategy. An evaluation of this consultation (pdf~1,5Mb) revealed a general support for the approach taken by the Commission.

1. Background and objective of this internet consultation

The Thematic Strategy on the Protection and Conservation of the Marine Environment

The Commission services are currently finalising a proposal for a Thematic Strategy on the Protection and Conservation of the Marine Environment, due for adoption later in 2005.

This Strategy is one of seven being elaborated in the framework of the Community’s 6 th Environment Action Programme. These Thematic Strategies were conceived as a new way of approaching environment policy, looking at themes in a holistic way and emphasising integration of environment in other policies and programmes as the main route to achieving environmental aims (see for further information)

The Marine Strategy is aimed at protecting Europe’s seas and oceans and ensuring that human activities in these seas and oceans are carried out in a sustainable manner so that we and future generations can enjoy and benefit from biologically diverse and dynamic oceans and seas that are safe, clean, healthy and productive.

The broader framework of the future EU Maritime Policy

The Strategic objectives of the Commission for 2005-2009, setting the priorities for the coming five years, recognise "the particular need for an all embracing maritime policy aimed at developing a thriving maritime economy and the full potential of sea-based activity in an environmentally sustainable manner". In its Communication of 2 March 2005 "Towards a Future EU Maritime Policy: A European Vision for Oceans and Seas," the Commission committed itself to presenting in the first half of 2006 a Green Paper defining the scope and priority issues to be considered as part of the development of a new EU Maritime Policy, to be followed by a wide consultation. The Marine Strategy will contribute to the work on the future EU Maritime Policy (see /fisheries/maritime/index_en.htm for further information on the future EU Maritime Policy).

Why a Thematic Strategy on the Marine Environment?

The marine environment is currently subject to a variety of threats, ranging from the loss or degradation of biodiversity and changes in its structure, loss of habitats, contamination by dangerous substances and nutrients and possible future effects of climate change. The related pressures include commercial fishing, oil and gas exploration, shipping, water borne and atmospheric deposition of dangerous substances and nutrients, waste dumping, physical degradation of the habitat due to dredging and extraction of sand and gravel.

If not addressed, these threats and pressures will put at risk the generation of wealth and employment opportunities derived from our oceans and seas.

While there are measures to control and reduce pressures and threats on the marine environment, they have been developed in a sector by sector approach resulting in a patchwork of policies, legislation, programmes and action plans at national, regional, EU and international level. At EU level there is no overall, integrated policy for protection of the marine environment. Therefore, a n integrated approach taking into account all the pressures on the marine environment needs to be developed, setting clear sustainable objectives and targets to be met through a set of cost-effective measures.

Steps taken to date

In a Communication entitled “Towards a Strategy to Protect and Conserve the Marine Environment” (COM(2002)539 final, 2 October 2002), the Commission set out its initial analysis and approach to building the thematic strategy. It reviewed existing threats and pressures as well as policy responses and gaps in knowledge and set out an action plan and a work programme for the Commission, Member States, Candidate and third countries bordering EU seas and oceans, and all relevant stakeholders to work together in order to define and develop the thematic strategy.

The Environment Council Conclusions of 4 March 2003 welcomed the Commission Communication, endorsed the approach and the outline of its objectives and requested an ambitious marine strategy.

Stakeholder consultations held to date

The thematic strategy on the marine environment has been prepared with the help of an extensive stakeholder consultation process from 2002 to 2004 including all EU Member States and candidate countries, key European third countries sharing oceans and seas with the Union, 16 international commissions and conventions, and 21 key industry and civil society organisations.

The consultation process was kicked off at a stakeholder conference organised in Køge, Denmark, on 4-6 December 2002, which supported the objectives, actions and timetables the Commission had proposed in its Communication “Towards a Strategy to Protect and Conserve the Marine Environment”.

Further to the Køge Conference four ad hoc working groups involving all key stakeholder constituencies were set up to discuss key aspects of the work that respectively dealt with:

Ecosystem approach to management of human activities

  • European marine monitoring and assessment
  • Hazardous substances
  • Strategic goals and objectives

These working groups met regularly since 2003:

The monitoring and assessment working group met three times (October 2003, February, June 2004, February 2005).

  • The ecosystem approach working group met four times during the first half of (last meeting held in May 2004)
  • The hazardous substances working group held two meetings (November 2003, June 2004) and a further meeting is being planned.
  • The Strategic goals and objectives working group met in February, May and June 2004.

All working groups delivered contributions to a closing stakeholder conference held in Rotterdam, Netherlands, on 10-12 November 2004, from which a wide consensus emerged on the analysis of the pressures and in favour of the approach taken for the strategy.

Objectives of this internet consultation

Building on the results of previous discussions with stakeholders, the objective of this consultation is to elicit relevant opinions from stakeholders on the specific measures being considered for inclusion in the Thematic Strategy.

The views submitted will feed into the decision to be taken by the Commission concerning the proposal for a Thematic Strategy.

Components of the Thematic Strategy

At present the intention is that the Marine Strategy would comprise a package of a Communication, and a Framework Directive.


The Communication would briefly describe the state of the marine environment, the pressures acting on the marine environment and the need for action. It will:

  • set out an overall vision for the protection of the marine environment with the aim of ensuring that “we and future generations can enjoy and benefit from biologically diverse and dynamic oceans and seas that are safe, clean, healthy and productive.”
  • describe why any approach to marine protection needs to recognise the differences in the character of the different marine areas in the EU in terms of their physical, chemical and hydrological characteristics, their ecology, the pressures and threats impacting upon the seas and the economic and social conditions of the bordering countries.
  • suggest an ecosystem-based approach, in line with the concept of sustainable development, which puts emphasis on a management regime that maintains the health of the ecosystem alongside appropriate human use of the marine environment, for the benefit of current and future generations.
  • recommend the identification of ecosystem based marine regions as being the most appropriate level to prepare implementation plans
  • explain how the EU marine strategy will interface with non-EU countries and with the international and regional conventions and commissions which already exist for the protection of European regional seas.

The Communication would include the following overarching objectives and actions :

  • To protect and, where practicable, restore the function and structure of marine ecosystems in order to achieve and maintain good environmental status of these ecosystems
    • By 2010 to apply the ecosystem-based approach – i.e. an approach to management that places the emphasis on maintaining the health of ecosystems alongside human activities for the benefit of current and future generations – to the protection of the marine environment based on guidance provided as part of the Marine Strategy
    • By 2010 to halt the decline of marine biodiversity
    • By 2012 to establish an operative system of representative networks of marine and coastal protected areas covering also the high seas
    • To reduce the risk of accidental and to prevent intentional introduction of alien and invasive species
  • To phase out pollution in the marine environment so as to ensure that there are no significant impacts or risk to human and/or on ecosystem health and/or on uses of the sea:
    • To progressively reduce discharges, emissions and losses of substances hazardous to the marine environment with the ultimate aim to reach concentrations of such substances in the marine environment near background values for naturally occurring substances and close to zero for man-made synthetic substances.
    • To prevent pollution from ionizing radiation through progressive and substantial reductions of discharges, emissions and losses of radioactive substances, with the ultimate aim to reach concentrations in the marine environment near background values for naturally occurring radioactive substances and close to zero for artificial radioactive substances.
    • To put in place by 2010 measures to control all sources of nutrients required to reduce human induced eutrophication to acceptable levels.
    • By 2010 at the latest to improve compliance with all existing discharge regulations for ships and with existing regulations on the protection of marine environment from pollution derived from shipping and maritime transport and to further reduce the environmental impact of shipping, inter alia, by developing and applying the concept of the “Clean Ship” and further promote “safe shipping”.
    • To progressively reduce discharges, releases and losses of marine debris to the marine environment by improving enforcement of waste legislation and developing a more effective waste management, including campaigns to increase awareness of the public and of relevant stakeholders about the environmental problem of litter and ship generated waste or cargo residues.
  • To control the use of marine services and goods and other activities in marine areas that have or may have a negative impact on status of the marine environment to levels that are sustainable and that do not compromise uses and activities of future generations nor the capacity of marine ecosystems to respond to changes
    • To carry out environmental assessments of human activities, even in cases where the EC Directives regarding Environmental Impact Assessment or Strategic Environmental Assessment do not apply but where there may be a significant negative impact on the marine environment. Such assessments should in particular take account of interactions between projects and plans or programmes and of long term cumulative effects thereof on the marine environment.
    • With a view to achieving sustainable fisheries and reducing the impact on fishing activities on the marine environment to implement as soon as possible, the governing principles of the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and its instruments, the International Plans of Actions (IPOA). In addition, to invite countries which did not yet do so to ratify the 1995 New York Agreement (United Nations Agreement for the Implementation of the Provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 10 December 1982 relating to the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks).
    • In accordance with the commitments taken at the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development, to reverse the decline in fished stocks by reducing fishing pressure to ensure sustainable fisheries and contribute to healthy ecosystems, both in EU and globally with the aim of restoring or maintaining stocks to levels that can produce maximum sustainable yields by 2015.
    • To reduce the environmental impact of the exploitation of non-renewable marine resources.
    • To promote the application and wider use of management tools such as adaptive management, Integrated Coastal Zone Management, risk assessment and spatial planning to contribute to sustainable development and achieving the strategic goals.
    • With a view to promoting conservation and sustainable tourism activities in marine and coastal ecosystems and habitats, to implement the Guidelines on Biodiversity and Tourism Development as adopted by the 2004 Conference of the Convention on Biological Diversity.
  • To apply the principles of good governance both within Europe and globally
    • To promote coherence of sectoral policies with the aim of reducing the negative impact of any human activity on the marine environment.
    • To promote compliance and enforcement of legislation dealing with the protection and conservation of the marine environment.
    • To promote more effective coordination and cooperation between different institutions and regional and global conventions and action plans.
    • To promote transparency and increased awareness and wide stakeholder participation.
    • To promote improved communication between researchers, managers and other end-users.
    • To improve the knowledge base required to fully implementing an ecosystem approach, especially promote development of risk-based and spatial management tools, economic and socio-economic evaluation methods.
    • To promote the development of coordinated and strategic research programmes with the view to support scientific advice at regional sea scale.

The Communication would explain the interface and articulation between the strategy and the range of EU policies and actions which already have an impact upon the marine environment. It will describe the projected benefits expected once existing measures are fully implemented (e.g. the implementation of existing directives in the environment area such as Habitats and Birds and EC policy reforms such as the Common Fisheries Policy reform of 2002).

Finally, the strategy will look at the application of agreed objectives and principles in adjacent seas outside national jurisdictions and especially the conservation and use of the deep waters, and will consider the EU footprint in marine areas in other parts of the world.

Marine Framework Directive

The new Marine Framework Directive would be based upon Article 175 of the EC Treaty and applicable to all European marine waters under the sovereignty or jurisdiction of the Member States. The objective of the directive would be to protect, conserve and improve the quality of the marine environment in these marine waters, through the achievement of good environmental status in European seas within a defined time period.

There would be derogations and exemptions from this objective to take account of situations where achievement of good environmental status would not be either feasible or practical.

The directive will define/establish ecosystem-based marine regions as the implementation unit. They will be defined on the basis of their hydrological, oceanographic and bio-geographic features.

An Implementation Plan, defined as an integrated framework for the adaptive management of human activities impacting on the marine region, would be prepared for each marine region.

In preparing the plans, there would be an obligation

  • to assess the pressures and threats impacting upon the marine environment and the costs (including environmental costs) of these pressures.
  • to develop a monitoring and assessment programme to be carried out in each sea according to general indications given in the directive but taking full account of the monitoring and assessment programmes which are already in place. The intention would be to ensure policy relevant monitoring through coherence in terms of what is measured, how it is measured, the frequency of monitoring, how the information is stored, rules on access and interoperability

On the basis of the assessment programmes and the monitoring information a draft Implementation Plan for each Ecosystem-based Marine Region would be drawn up. This Plan would include an identification of the measures needed to achieve the environmental objectives within the time frame required by the directive and an assessment of their environmental, social and economic costs and benefits. The plan would distinguish between actions that can be implemented ate regional or national levels and measures that can only be implemented at the level of the EU (Common Fisheries Policy, Common Agricultural Policy, marketing and use of chemicals) or globally (e.g. shipping through the International Maritime Organisation). In this latter case, actions identified would serve as recommendations for action to the European Commission or the global level.

Finally, the directive would include provisions on monitoring and reporting.

2. Guidance for responding to the internet consultation

The consultation will be open for 8 weeks from the day of publication of the consultation document on the Commission’s websites:



The Commission will inform by email all stakeholders that have been involved in the development of the Thematic Strategy of the opening of the consultation.

The closing date will therefore be 9 May 2005. Contributions received passed this date will no longer be considered.

The internet consultation is available in English only. Responses in other languages cannot be considered.

By responding to this internet consultation you automatically give permission to the Commission to publish your contribution unless your opposition to seeing your contribution published is explicitly stated in your response. The Commission is committed to user privacy and details on the personal data protection policy can be accessed at

Question #1 of the questionnaire regarding the profile of the respondent must be filled out.

The Commission services will publish a report on the outcome of this consultation. This information will be available via the access points indicated above.

Please note that this consultation does not prejudge the final form of any decision to be taken by the Commission.