Maritime Affairs

International ocean governance

International ocean governance

International ocean governance

International Ocean Governance

Listening Tour

What is it?

60% of the oceans are outside the borders of national jurisdiction and are therefore "by definition" a shared resource. This applies even in areas that are under the responsibility or jurisdiction of national states, for instance by shipping or through access to fishing grounds.

These fundamental characteristics have led to the development of a framework of rules and institutions that strive to organise the way in which humans use the oceans. Non-State stakeholders play an important role in this context.

There is no internationally recognised definition of "international ocean governance”, which includes rules, institutions, processes, agreements, arrangements and activities carried out to manage the use of oceans and seas in an international context.

Today's international ocean governance framework is based on an overarching legal framework: the UN Convention on the "Law of the Sea”, under which a combination of jurisdictional rights, institutions, and specific frameworks have been set up.


Population growth, global competition for raw materials, food, water, maritime security threats, climate change, marine pollution and technical capabilities increase the level of use of ocean resources, reducing the oceans ability to sustain the delivery of the benefits upon which the global society depends.

The current framework for international ocean governance may not be effective enough in tackling these shared challenges, failing to ensure the sustainable management of oceans and their resources.

Examples of this are the continuing problem of Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported (IUU) fishing, the lack of implementation of relevant rules, or the sheer number of international institutions and sector-specific agreements involved in ocean governance.

These challenges highlight the existence of gaps in the current international ocean governance framework, including inefficient use and implementation of existing protocols, or insufficient coordination among actors and components. Last but not least, problems are aggravated by our continued general lack of knowledge about the global ocean system.


The EU already plays an important role in most international maritime forums. The European Commission now has a clear mandate to engage in shaping international ocean governance in the UN, in other multilateral forums and bilaterally with key global partners, moving towards improved, more sustainable and better enforced framework. Among others, this will lead to the publication of an EC Communication on Ocean Governance and the Blue Economy.

Work done

Because the EU is and will be increasingly dependent on the seas and oceans, it has worked on bolstering internal ocean governance processes for the past 10 years, and has been committed to collaborate with determination towards a better and shared multilateral framework on a global level. Achievements of the EU so far include:

- adopted a holistic approach to all marine and maritime issues: the EU Integrated Maritime Policy

- put in place a robust set of environmental rules to ensure sustainable use of marine resources, mandatory for all EU maritime actors wherever they operate

- developed an EU-level strategy to boost sustainable and inclusive blue growth, streamlining it into its external dimension as regards natural resources, energy, trade, development and security, among others.

- put in place regional strategies to address common challenges and opportunities, collaborating closely with third countries and non-state stakeholders

- earmarked about 350 million € per year for marine research, putting in place mechanisms for better cooperation and sharing of information, and making maritime data publicly accessible.

- engaged in international and cross-sectorial forums to address the common challenge of ensuring safe, secure, clean and productive seas and oceans worldwide. 

Official documents

  • Developing the international dimension of the Integrated Maritime Policy of the European Union (COM(2009)536)
  • Towards an Integrated Maritime Policy for better governance in the Mediterranean (COM(2009)466)
  • Directive establishing a framework for maritime spatial planning (2014/89/EU)
  • Contribution of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (2008/56/EC) to the implementation of existing obligations, commitments and initiatives of the Member States or the EU at EU or international level in the sphere of environmental protection in marine waters (COM/2012/0662)

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Maritime affairs