Measures proposed by EU Member States to protect the marine environment lack ambition and financial commitment. This is the key finding of an NGO survey organised by Seas At Risk and Oceana in order to assess the level of ambition, strengths and weaknesses of themeasures Member States are proposing to implement the Marine Directive and ultimately achieve a good environmental status of European marine waters before 2020.

Sixteen NGOs responded to the survey and evaluated the measures proposed by Belgium, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Lithuania, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom during the national public consultations held in 2015/2016.

Based on these responses, Seas At Risk and Oceana identified four key areas of concerns:

  • A low level of ambition – Most measures proposed by Member States are actually already existing ones put in place under other European or national obligations such as the Water Framework Directive, the Common Fisheries Policy and the Nature Directives. Only few new measures have been proposed that are specifically focussing on achieving the objective of the Marine Directive itself, which is reaching good environmental status of European seas by 2020, with clean, healthy and productive waters. For instance, most Member States include the completion of the network of Natura 2000 marine sites among their measures –which is already an obligation to be met under the Habitats Directive. In order for the Marine Directive to have added value, Member States should rather strive to protect vulnerable marine ecosystems not covered by the Habitats Directive. Good environmental status of our marine waters will only be reached if Member States move beyond business as usual and develop tailored measures, such as the priority measures proposed by NGOs in 2014.
  • Lack of financial commitments – Most Member States failed to provide information about the financing they should put in place to guarantee the effective implementation of the proposed measures. Without such a clear commitment of financial resources, it is highly questionable whether the measures will be effectively implemented.
  • Predominantly ‘soft’ measures – Beyond laws and policies that already exist, the additional measures that are proposed are predominantly ‘soft’ measures, such as studies, pilot projects and voluntary agreements. ‘Hard’ measures, such as new laws or economic incentives, are lacking.
  • Public consultation processes up for improvement – NGOs identified several shortcomings in their country’s public consultation process. A good practice participatory process would involve stakeholders at an early stage to improve outcome and build consensus. However, in many Member States, the stakeholders were only involved at a late stage. In addition, the provision of feedback on the outcomes of the public consultation was not systematic.

In 2017, the Commission will evaluate whether the measures proposed by Member States are adequate to meet the ‘good environmental status’ objective of the Marine Directive. Seas At Risk counts on a rigid Commissions’ assessment that takes on board NGOs’ concerns and requests Member States to significantly improve the quality of the measures proposed and show their real commitment to achieve healthy seas by 2020.