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Our Oceans, Seas and Coasts

Implementation of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive

The Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD, 2008/56/EC) aims to achieve Good Environmental Status of the EU's marine waters and to protect the resource base upon which marine-related economic and social activities depend. Seas in Good Environmental Status are clean, healthy and productive. The Directive enshrines, in a legal framework, an ecosystem-based approach to the management of human activities having an impact on the marine environment, thereby integrating the concepts of environmental protection and sustainable use.

According to the Directive, each Member State must prepare and implement a marine strategy for its marine waters, in cooperation with other Member States sharing the same marine region or subregion. They must review and update this strategy every 6 years.

The strategy includes 5 steps:

  1. an assessment of the current environmental status of the marine waters and the environmental impact of human activities,
  2. a determination of good environmental status for the marine waters,
  3. the establishment of a series of environmental targets and associated indicators,
  4. the establishment and implementation of a monitoring programme for ongoing assessment and regular updating of targets, and
  5. the development of a programme of measures designed to achieve or maintain good environmental status.

Second implementation cycle (2018-2023):

In accordance with MSFD Article 17(2)(a) and 17(2)(b), Member States were due to review and updated their reports for Articles 8, 9 and 10 of the Directive, and to report these updates to the Commission by 15 October 2018. The Commission assesses the Member State reports in accordance with Articles 12 and 17(4) of the Directive.

The assessment has led to a technical report per Member State and to a regional report on coherence for three of the four MSFD marine regions (Baltic Sea, North-East Atlantic Ocean, and Mediterranean Sea).

In addition, the assessment has led to a set of recommendations per Member State and per region (which are generally applicable to all Member States in those regions). The recommendations aim to identify the ways in which the reports for Articles 8, 9 and 10 should be improved when next updated in October 2024.

2018 update of the initial assessment, determination of GES and environment targets




First implementation cycle (2012-2017):

Steps 1 to 3 (initial assessment, good environmental status and targets):
In 2012, for the first time, Member States reported on the state of the environment in their marine waters, on what they consider as being a "good environmental status" and on the objectives and targets they have set themselves to reach it by 2020. The result showed that more efforts were urgently needed if the EU is to reach its 2020 goal. The Commission assessed those first elements against the Directive's requirements.
The findings of the report, and the way forward, were discussed in Brussels on March 3-4 at the HOPE ("Healthy Oceans- Productive Ecosystems") conference. It gathered governments, NGOs, academia and other stakeholders working with or in relation to the European marine environment. Read more here.
Further detailed information can be retrieved here:

Step 4 (monitoring programmes):
On 16 January 2017, the Commission adopted a report assessing monitoring programmes submitted by most Member States in 2014 and 2015 to verify compliance with the Directive.

The Commission's report and its accompanying Staff Working Document contain the Commission's findings and provides guidance on changes needed, globally and for each Member State, including per descriptor. Further information can be retrieved here:
  • Some Member States have replied to the Commission's guidance on their monitoring programmes. Member States' replies are available here

Step 5: programmes of measures

By March 2016, Member States had to set up and implement programmes of measures to achieve good environmental status in their marine waters. This requirement is set in Article 13 of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive. The programme should address each of the MSFD descriptors, and the individual measures should as a whole aim to ensure that environmental targets are addressed and good environmental status (GES) is achieved or maintained by 2020.

On 31 July 2018, the Commission adopted its report assessing these programmes, identifying whether they constitute an appropriate framework within the requirements of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive and whether they address the pressures that the EU seas and oceans are facing.

The Commission concluded that while considerable efforts have been made by Member States, not all pressures are covered properly by the measures. The Commission therefore provides recommendations to Member States to guide them in accordance with Article 16 of the Directive.