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Our Oceans, Seas and Coasts

Legislation: the Marine Strategy Framework Directive

The aim of the European Union's ambitious Marine Strategy Framework Directive is to protect more effectively the marine environment across Europe.

picture illustrating a big waveThe Marine Strategy Framework Directive was adopted on 17 June 2008.

The Commission also produced a set of detailed criteria and methodological standards to help Member States implement the Marine Strategy Framework Directive. These were revised in 2017 leading to the new Commission Decision on Good Environmental Status.

Annex III of the Directive was also amended in 2017 to better link ecosystem components, anthropogenic pressures and impacts on the marine environment with the MSFD's 11 descriptors and with the new Decision on Good Environmental Status.

Concretely, what is the aim of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive and how does it work?

The Marine Strategy Framework Directive aims to achieve Good Environmental Status (GES) of the EU's marine waters by 2020 and to protect the resource base upon which marine-related economic and social activities depend. It is the first EU legislative instrument related to the protection of marine biodiversity, as it contains the explicit regulatory objective that "biodiversity is maintained by 2020", as the cornerstone for achieving GES.

The Directive enshrines in a legislative framework the ecosystem approach to the management of human activities having an impact on the marine environment, integrating the concepts of environmental protection and sustainable use.

In order to achieve its goal, the Directive establishes European marine regions and sub-regions on the basis of geographical and environmental criteria. The Directive lists four European marine regions – the Baltic Sea, the North-east Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea – located within the geographical boundaries of the existing Regional Sea Conventions. Cooperation between the Member States of one marine region and with neighbouring countries which share the same marine waters, is already taking place through these Regional Sea Conventions.

In order to achieve GES by 2020, each Member State is required to develop a strategy for its marine waters (or Marine Strategy). In addition, because the Directive follows an adaptive management approach, the Marine Strategies must be kept up-to-date and reviewed every 6 years.

What does a Marine Strategy include?

    • The initial assessment of the current environmental status of national marine waters and the environmental impact and socio-economic analysis of human activities in these waters
    • The determination of what GES means for national marine waters
    • The establishment of environmental targets and associated indicators to achieve GES by 2020
    • The establishment of a monitoring programme for the ongoing assessment and the regular update of targets
    • The development of a programme of measures designed to achieve or maintain GES by 2020
    • The process is cyclical and the second cycle starts again in 2018.

ges 2020

What about climate change?

image foodClimate change is already affecting the marine environment and will continue to trigger changes in biological, chemical and physical processes. Such changes can reduce the ‘ecosystem resilience’ (i.e. the ability of an ecosystem to persist despite disruption and change) to other man-induced pressures, leaving ecosystems increasingly sensitive to disruption. Impacts include rising sea levels, increased sea temperatures, precipitation changes, and ocean acidification.

Although some of the likely impacts of climate change in marine and coastal regions can be anticipated, the extent and location of these impacts is more difficult to predict with any certainty. Little is known for example about the effect of ocean acidification on carbon sequestration and consequential effects on marine foodweb and ecosystems.

Marine strategies in some coastal areas will need to identify ways of adapting to the effects of global warming and to reduce the vulnerability of natural and human systems to climate change effects.

Towards the adoption and implementation of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive

  • 2005:
    Commission Communication, Thematic Strategy on the Protection and Conservation of the Marine Environment, COM(2005)504 final
  • Proposal for a Directive establishing a Framework for Community Action in the field of Marine Environmental Policy (Marine Strategy Directive), COM(2005) 505 final
  • Commission Staff Working Paper, Impact Assessment – Annex to the Communication on the Thematic Strategy and Proposal for a Directive establishing a Framework for Community Action in the field of Marine Environmental Policy, SEC(2005) 1290
  • 2008:
    Directive 2008/56/EC of 17 June 2008 establishing a framework for community action in the field of marine environmental policy (Marine Strategy Framework Directive)
  • 2010:
    Commission Decision of 1 September 2010 on criteria and methodological standards on good environmental status of marine waters
  • 2011:
    Commission Staff Working Paper on the Relationship between the initial assessment of marine waters and the criteria for good environmental status
  • 2014:
    Report from the Commission of 20 February 2014 on The first phase of implementation of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (2008/56/EC) The European Commission's assessment and guidance (and Annex)

  • 2015:
    Marine Protected Areas Report (and annex) shows significant progress in establishing protected areas in Europe's seas, with benefits for the economy and the environment.

Understanding the Marine Strategy Framework Directive

Seas for life – Protected, Sustainable, Shared European seas by 2020”, brochure on the Marine Strategy Framework Directive published in 2011

Marine ecosystems under the weather- The European Commission’s commitment to cleaner seas and oceans by 2020”, published in 2009

EU Marine Strategy- A story behind the strategy”, published in 2006