EC: Keeping Europe’s Waters Clean

Tuesday, October 25, 2005
The European Commission proposed an ambitious strategy to protect Europe’s marine environment. The Thematic Strategy on the Protection and Conservation of the Marine Environment aims to ensure that all EU marine waters are environmentally healthy by 2021 - thereby protecting this precious asset which is the resource base upon which marine-related economic and social activities depend. This is the second Thematic Strategy that the Commission adopts following the provisions of the 6th Environmental Action programme. It will be a key component of the future Maritime Policy which will be proposed by the Commission in 2006.

Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: “Europe’s seas and oceans make a huge contribution to our quality of life and our economic prosperity, but they are deteriorating because of over-exploitation, pollution, climate change and a range of other factors. This is an area where there is a strong need for a European overarching and integrated approach. We want to ensure that European citizens today and in the future are able to benefit from seas and oceans that are safe, clean, healthy and rich in nature”.

A new Strategy for the marine environment

Today we are witnessing a considerable loss of marine biodiversity due to contamination by dangerous substances, excess nutrients, the impact of commercial fishing or effects of climate change – to name just a few threats. The evidence of the deterioration of the marine environment continues to accumulate, pointing to potentially irreversible changes – as illustrated by the poor state of certain fish stocks in Europe or the effects of eutrophication on the marine ecology of the Baltic Sea.

The current deterioration of the marine environment and the associated erosion of its ecological capital, jeopardises the generation of wealth and employment opportunities derived from Europe’s oceans and seas, e.g. fisheries and tourism.

To turn this situation around the Commission has developed an integrated policy framework to help deal with the pressures and negative impacts on the marine environment. It lays down clear and operational guidelines on how to achieve good environmental status for all of the EU’s marine areas by 2021. The strategy is set out in a Communication, accompanied by a proposal for a Directive and the analysis underpinning the development of the strategy is contained in an accompanying Impact Assessment. The strategy will build upon what has been achieved so far at all levels of governance to protect Europe’s seas. Marine regions EU Member States share responsibility for a number of different marine areas, each of which has its own distinctive environmental characteristics (the Baltic Sea, the North-East Atlantic, the Mediterranean). To take account of regional differences the Commission proposal sets out common objectives and methods - but these are to be implemented at the level of marine regions. This means that the Member States sharing a marine area will be responsible for working in close cooperation to develop plans designed to ensure good environmental status in their respective marine waters. These plans are to include a detailed assessment of the state of the environment, defining what achieving good environmental status means in the context of each regional sea. They will also contain clear environmental targets and monitoring programmes. No specific management measures will be set down at EU level, but plans must be checked and approved by the Commission.

EU Member States share marine areas with non EU countries and an important part of achieving good environmental status will involve close co-operation with these third countries. Member States will be encouraged to work within the framework of existing regional seas conventions[1] which have extensive expertise in protecting the marine environment.

Each Member State will draw up a programme of cost-effective measures aimed at delivering good environmental status of the marine environment. Impact assessments, including detailed cost-benefit analyses of the measures proposed, will be required prior to the introduction of any new measure. The national programmes will need approval by the Commission.

Thematic Strategies

The marine Strategy is one of seven Thematic Strategies the Commission is required to propose under the EU’s Sixth Environmental Action Programme (6EAP). The other Strategies will cover air pollution, waste prevention and recycling, sustainable use of resources, soils, pesticides and the urban environment. The air pollution Strategy was presented on 21 September 2005

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