1. How does the EU protect the marine environment?
In the European Union there is a framework that requires EU Member States to develop strategies to achieve 'good environmental status' in their marine waters by 2020, with the final aim of having clean, healthy and productive seas. This framework is established by the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, which integrates the concepts of environmental protection and sustainable use of marine resources.
2. What is a marine strategy?
In order to achieve ‘good environmental status’ by 2020, each Member State is required to develop a strategy for its marine waters (or Marine Strategy). These strategies must be kept up-to-date and reviewed every 6 years.
A Marine Strategy should:
- assess the current environmental status of national marine waters and the environmental impact and socio-economic analysis of human activities in these waters;
- determine what good environmental status means for national marine waters;
- establish environmental targets and associated indicators to achieve good environmental status by 2020;
- establish a monitoring programme for the ongoing assessment and the regular update of targets;
- develop a programme of measures designed to achieve or maintain GES by 2020.
The Commission has to make an assessment of these programmes of measures.That is what the 2018 report is about.
3. What is targeted in the strategy?
The strategies revolve around 11 criteria (referred to as 'descriptors') which EU Member States use to determine 'good environmental status' and for which specific monitoring programmes and measures are defined:
- Biodiversity is maintained;
- Non-indigenous species do not adversely alter the ecosystem;
- The population of commercial fish species is healthy;
- Elements of food webs ensure long-term abundance and reproduction;
- Eutrophication is minimised;
- The sea floor integrity ensures functioning of the ecosystem;
- Permanent alteration of hydrographical conditions does not adversely affect the ecosystem;
- Concentrations of contaminants give no harmful effects;
- Contaminants in seafood are below safe levels;
- Marine litter does not cause harm; and
- Introduction of energy (including underwater noise) does not adversely affect the ecosystem.
4. How is good environmental status determined?
Good environmental status needs to be determined at the level of the marine region or subregion, on the basis of the 11 descriptors mentioned in question 3.
The Commission decision on good environmental status of marine waters (2017/848/EU) provides criteria and a methodology for determining good environmental status, in relation to the 11 descriptors. It replaces a previous legal instrument from 2010.
5. What has been achieved so far?
The first cycle, which sets up all the steps for the first time ever, has come to an end. These six years have set in motion a globally unique approach to tackling the protection of the marine environment through regional cooperation. The strategies have largely brought together different national, EU and international policies under one umbrella. For example, to fight overfishing or reduce unwanted negative impacts of fishing, Member States have relied on measures taken under the Common Fisheries Policy, on regional and international agreements, as well as on new measures such as introducing the use of specific and less damaging fishing gear or establishing targeted temporal/spatial restrictions or bans.
25% of the measures announced by Member States have been developed specifically for the purposes of this Directive. The others were drawn up under other legislation that serves different purposes (such as the protection of freshwater or the management of fertilisers in agriculture) but that has beneficial effects also on the marine environment.
EU Member States are now preparing themselves to update their strategies in 2018 by re-assessing the state of the marine environment, their 'good environmental status' and their targets. As the next cycle starts, this re-assessment should shed some initial light on what has been achieved in real terms.
6. Who is responsible for making sure that the rules are correctly implemented?
National authorities have the key responsibility for ensuring effective implementation and enforcement of the measures stemming from the Marine Strategy Framework Directive. Member States have designated the authority or authorities competent for the implementation of this Directive.
7. What have EU Member States reported so far and what is the Commission’s assessment?
In 2012 Member States reported, for the first time ever, 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 Commission’s 2014 assessment showed that more efforts were urgently needed if the EU is to reach its 2020 goal.
The Commission’s 2017 report assessed Member States’ monitoring programmes submitted by most Member States in 2014 and 2015 to verify compliance with the Directive. The report and its accompanying Staff Working Document contain the Commission's findings and provide guidance on changes needed, generally and for each Member State, including per descriptor.
These reports and supporting technical assessments may be accessed here – http://ec.europa.eu/environment/marine/eu-coast-and-marine-policy/implementation/reports_en.htm
8. What are EU Member States reporting on now?
Member States are required to report on one Programme of Measures (per country or per (sub-) region, if applicable), addressing each of the MSFD descriptors. 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.
Member States have hundreds of measures to protect their marine environment. The following list represents just a few of them:
Examples of human activities generating pressure
Examples of measures in programmes
Measure focus (in report)
Sweden: national warning and response system for early detection, handling and emergency plans
Exploitation of commercial fish and shellfish
Belgium: better control and monitoring of recreational fishing
Finland: spreading gypsum to reduce phosphorus leaching
Spain: guidelines for recreational marine activities
France: guidance for authorities and operators on assessing cumulative impacts of their human activities
Contaminants in the sea and in seafood
Poland: specific measures targeting different sources of contaminants
France: marine waste reduction and shellfish farming
Energy, including underwater noise
Cyprus: mitigating noise from hydrocarbon exploration
Malta : protecting marine birds from invasive predators (rats)
Fish & cephalopods
Germany: raising consumer awareness of sustainable fishing
Mammals & reptiles
Italy: Use of software on ships to reduce collisions with ships
9. How can further progress be achieved?
Member States have made considerable efforts to develop their programmes of measures. However, improvements – of varying degrees for different countries – are needed for all programmes of measures if they are to meet the requirements of the Directive. The measures should be more ambitious and strive to cover properly all the pressures on the marine environment. Further strengthening regional or EU coordination could also help tackle certain pressures of transboundary nature.
General guidance on the necessary modifications is included as a set of recommendations in the report, whereas country-specific guidance is provided in the form of recommendations included in the staff working document accompanying this report.
10. Why do measures differ among EU Member States?
As the oceans and seas around the EU are very different from each other, the Marine Strategy Framework Directive incorporates subsidiarity in its functioning and provides significant flexibility to Member States for the achievement of ‘good environmental status’ for their marine waters. It is up to each Member State, in respect of each marine region or subregion concerned, to identify the measures which need to be taken in order to achieve or maintain good environmental status, in its marine waters.
11. What have EU Member States done on marine litter?
To fight marine litter, Member States draw on a number of existing EU laws, notably on waste management, urban waste water or port reception facilities, as well as on international agreements and the action plans of Regional Sea Conventions. Based on their national programmes, it appears that all 16 Member States are taking, or plan to take, measures to improve waste management in the fisheries sector.
The most common measures notified are beach clean-ups, ‘fishing for litter’ and communication initiatives. While these have a modest impact on reducing the pressure, they help to raise awareness and thus to prevent future pollution. However, targeted measures for beach litter, such as limiting the proliferation of single-use plastics or reducing microplastics and litter from aquaculture, appear to be underdeveloped.
The programmes of measures for marine litter have to be seen in the wider context of developments at EU level, which led to the adoption of the Circular Economy Package, the European Strategy for Plastics and a legislative proposal on marine litter and single-use plastics.
12. In which cases can EU Member States apply for an exception?
Under the Directive Member States are allowed, within their marine waters in well-defined circumstances, to apply exceptions to the achievement of the envisaged environmental targets or good environmental status. Such well-defined circumstances include:
- action or inaction for which the Members state concerned is not responsible,
- natural causes,
- force majeure events,
- modifications or alterations to the physical characteristics of marine waters brought about by actions taken for reasons of overriding public interest or natural conditions which do not allow for a timely improvement in the status of their marine waters.
In those cases, it means that the Member State acknowledges that it will not reach good environmental status by the deadline of 2020 set in the Directive.
13. What are the reported timelines for Good Environmental Status?
In the framework of Member States reporting on their programmes of measures, Member States were requested to make an assessment as to whether the measures in the Programmes of Measures are sufficient to reach GES by 2020. The results of this reporting are provided in the figure below.
14. Why does the report include information for only 16 Member States?
The programmes of measures of the 23 (marine) Member States under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive had to be submitted by October 2016. Only 6 Member States reported their national programme of measures on time. By the cut-off date of February 2017 for the preparation of this report, a total of 16 out of the 23 marine EU Member States had eventually reported their national programmes. Programmes submitted by the other 7 Member States beyond that cut-off date could not be assessed in time for this report. By now all Member States have submitted their programmes of measures.
15. Where can I find information per Member State?
All the programmes of measures reported by Member States can be found in European Environment Agency's (EEA) reporting obligations database (ROD): http://rod.eionet.europa.eu/
Technical Member State-specific assessments were prepared for the Commission by an external consultant and can be found here, whereas country specific recommendations are included in the staff working document accompanying this report.
16. What is next?
In 2018, Member States are expected to report on the state of implementation of their programme of measures. This should provide a clearer understanding of where they stand with the implementation of all of their measures.
Member States are also expected to report updates of their determination of good environmental status, targets, and assessment of environmental status by October 2018, starting the second cycle of MSFD implementation. The Commission will build on these different elements to issue an implementation report in 2019, which will review progress, ahead of the 2020 deadline for achieving good environmental status.
 Belgium, Germany, Portugal, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
 The Malta report was submitted in April 2017, but was included in this assessment as it required no translation.
 i.e. in addition to the 6 Member States mentioned above: Bulgaria, Cyprus, Finland, France, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Malta, Poland and Spain.
 Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Greece, Lithuania, Romania and Slovenia.
1 August 2018