Two-thirds of EU countries fail to submit plans for sustainable management of their seas on time

Posted on April, 01 2021

Of the 22 coastal Member States in the EU, only six have met the EU’s 31 March deadline to submit their plans for the sustainable use and conservation of their seas - and those six plans are extremely patchy.

While Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Latvia, the Netherlands and Portugal all met yesterday’s deadline - set by the EU back in 2014, in its Maritime Spatial Planning* (MSP) directive - some of the maritime spatial plans are incomplete. Portugal, for example, leaves out the Azores archipelago entirely, as this section is still being developed. In Denmark, while the plan is considered legally binding, the relevant authorities are still engaged in public consultation.  

As for those Member States who missed the deadline, while some, like Estonia, France, Poland, Spain and Sweden are slightly delayed, others, like Greece and Italy, are a long way off from developing and adopting their plans. In Germany, although a plan has been in force since 2009, the updated plan based on the EU Directive will only be adopted later in the year. Similarly, although Lithuania and Malta have plans in force, they are from 2015 and not the result of the MSP directive. See (on p18) WWF’s table summarising the current state of play of national plans.

Alexandre Cornet, Ocean Policy Officer at the WWF European Policy Office said:
“Europe’s marine areas are hives of human activities. This makes spatial plans vital to ensure a sustainable balance between nature and human activities like fishing and transport, as well as those which are growing rapidly like offshore wind. Unless the EU embraces a sustainable, strategic and forward-looking vision for our relationship with the ocean, and commits to implementing it, we will irremediably doom the marine environment and lose the vital ecosystem services we rely on. The European Commission and Member States must collectively redress the situation and urgently deliver on their commitments to healthier seas.”

European seas are facing incredible challenges due to the growth of economic sectors which rely on them, climate change and the degradation of ecosystems as a result of unsustainable human activities. Maritime Spatial Planning is a key public policy to ensure the sustainable use and conservation of our ocean. WWF advocates for ecosystem-based MSP to deliver a much needed change towards a sustainable relationship with our seas and marine resources. Conversely, a poor MSP process will only further aggravate the already dire situation faced by marine ecosystems, putting these resources and essential services at greater risk.

The 16 remaining coastal Member States must establish and adopt maritime spatial plans based on the 2014 MSP Directive and its requirements as soon as possible. It is crucial that these plans meet the Directive’s key requirements, such as being consistent and cross-border, and based on an ecosystem-based approach, promoting coexistence of activities and uses, contributing to the preservation, protection and improvement of the environment, and supporting the sustainable development of maritime sectors. All coastal EU Member States must give due consideration to how their plans will help meet key policy targets, such as achieving Good Environmental Status in all EU waters (a target whose deadline has already passed) and protecting at least 30% of EU seas by 2030, including 10% strictly protected, as set out in the EU Biodiversity Strategy.

The Commission has until 31 March 2022 to deliver a report to the European Parliament and the Council assessing the progress made in implementing the MSP Directive. WWF calls upon the European Commission to react accordingly when Member States are found to be failing on their MSP requirements and in meeting set targets. To help guide this process, WWF has published a paper reinforcing the basis of an ecosystem-based approach to MSP, offering a set of precise indicators for successful ecosystem-based MSP in all European waters.


Notes to editors:

* Maritime Spatial Planning is defined as “a public process of analyzing and allocating the spatial and temporal distribution of human activities in marine areas to achieve ecological, social, and economic objectives that are usually specified through a political process”. 

It is important to note that MSP is not only meant to capture how space is allocated to various at-sea activities, but also to deliver on a strategic and transformative vision of what, when, where and how the activities occur sustainably. 

Sarah Azau
Media & Communications Manager
+32 473 57 31 37

Alexandre Cornet
Ocean Policy Officer
Two-thirds of EU countries did submit submit plans for sustainable management of their seas by the 31 March 2021 deadline, and the plans submitted are patchy.