Official Journal of the European Union

C 206/5

Opinion of the Committee of the Regions on the Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing a framework for Community Action in the field of Marine Environmental Policy (Marine Strategy Directive) and on the Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament - Thematic Strategy on the Protection and Conservation of the Marine Environment

(2006/C 206/02)


Having regard to the Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing a framework for Community Action in the field of Marine Environmental Policy (Marine Strategy Directive) COM(2005) 505 final and to the Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament - Thematic Strategy on the Protection and Conservation of the Marine Environment COM(2005) 504 final;

Having regard to the decision of the Council of the European Union on 29 November 2005 to consult it on this subject, under Article 265(1) and Article 175(1) of the Treaty establishing the European Community;

Having regard to its Bureau’s decision of 12 April 2005 to instruct the Commission for Sustainable Development to draw up an opinion on this subject;

Having regard to its own-initiative opinion of 12 October 2005 on EU maritime policy - a question of sustainable development for local and regional authorities - CdR 84/2005 fin;

Having regard to its opinion of 9 April 2003 on the Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament: Towards a strategy to protect and conserve the marine environment (COM(2002) 539 final) - CdR 24/2003 fin (1);

Having regard to its opinion of 13 June 2001 on the Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions on the sixth environment action programme of the European Community ‘Environment 2010: Our future, our choice’ - The Sixth Environment Action Programme and the Proposal for a Decision of the European Parliament and of the Council laying down the Community Environment Action Programme 2001-2010 (COM(2001) 31 final - 2001/0029 (COD)) - CdR 36/2001 fin (2);

Having regard to its draft opinion (CdR 46/2006 rev. 1) adopted on 27 February 2006 by its Commission for Sustainable Development (rapporteur: Mr Michael Cohen, Mayor of Kalkara (MT/PES);

adopted the following opinion at its 64th plenary session, held on 26 and 27 April 2006 (meeting of 26 April):

1.   The Committee of the Regions' views

The Committee of the Regions


deplores the fact that significant deterioration of the marine environment and the ecosystems it supports has been taking place over the past years as human intervention and over-exploitation are taking a heavy toll on the state of our marine environment;


observes that the 6th Environmental Action Programme calls upon the European Commission to prepare a thematic strategy on the protection and conservation of the marine environment, with the clear aim of promoting and achieving a sustainable use and conservation of the marine ecosystems;


looks forward to the presentation of the Green Paper on the development of a new EU Maritime Policy, scheduled for the first half of 2006, which is to take into account the economic, social and environmental importance of the maritime dimension in Europe;


notes that the Strategy is a positive and welcome step forward in terms of recognising the value of the protection and conservation of the marine environment and the diversity of its ecosystems;


considers the Strategy as the necessary environmental pillar of the new EU Maritime Policy;


underlines the fact that the marine environment, and its protection and conservation, has a significant impact on local and regional economies and that local and regional authorities have a role to play in implementing the objectives laid down in the Strategy.

2.   The deteriorating state of Europe's marine environment

The Committee of the Regions,


is aware of the fact that the marine environment is vital for the sustainability of life, and of the rich biological diversity it supports;


is conscious of the deteriorating state of Europe's marine environment, which is principally caused by man-made factors, including, among other things, pollution and contamination of the seas, and the impact of unsustainable commercial fishing;


emphasises the importance of promoting a sustainable approach to the use of the marine resources available, in the interest of both present and future generations;


is aware that unless adequate remedial action is taken at the earliest opportunity, there is a strong risk of potentially irreversible changes to Europe's marine ecosystems;


stresses the importance of the need for urgent measures to be taken to halt and reverse the deterioration process;


observes that such an approach is necessary both for purely environmental, and for economic and social considerations.

3.   An adequate institutional framework for the management of the seas

The Committee of the Regions,


notes that the marine environment does not accord with existing geo-political boundaries;


is aware that there are potential institutional barriers to improving the protection of Europe's marine environment, whether at global, EU or national level, and that the enforcement mechanisms in place are often weak and inadequate;


agrees with the view that in order to build on the progress made through existing institutions, policies and conventions and to take steps to ensure further progress, a clear overarching vision for the marine environment and associated policies must be developed;


stresses the importance of developing a strong EU policy on the regulation of maritime affairs, that also aims to ensure sustainable use of the marine resources available, thereby stepping up efforts to promote marine protection.

4.   An insufficient knowledge base

The Committee of the Regions,


notes that good policy depends on high-quality information;


is aware that the existing monitoring and assessment programmes within the European area are neither integrated nor complete, and that there are significant information gaps on the state of Europe's marine environment;


welcomes the call for a new approach to marine monitoring and assessment, aimed at achieving a greater degree of harmonisation, broader dissemination and use of data, and an exchange of information available at national level, thereby bringing about greater efficiency.

5.   Addressing the challenge

The Committee of the Regions,


agrees that in order to effectively prevent further loss of biodiversity and deterioration of the marine environment and to successfully restore marine biodiversity, an integrated policy approach to the protection and restoration of the marine environment is necessary;


believes that for such an integrated policy approach to succeed, it must take account of all interests and set out clear objectives.

6.   The Strategy

The Committee of the Regions,


is pleased to note that the declared objective of the Strategy is that of protecting and restoring Europe's oceans and seas, and ensuring that future human activities are carried out in a sustainable manner;


affirms that present and future generations are entitled to a biologically diverse and dynamic marine environment that is safe, clean, healthy and productive;


is aware that this is an ambitious goal, which will not be easy to achieve in real terms, and that results can only be produced over the long term;


confirms that this Strategy can only achieve its objectives if all stakeholders are taken on board;


whilst noting that goals and objectives should be defined at supranational level, welcomes the intention - in line with the subsidiarity principle - to ensure that the actual planning and implementation of measures will remain the responsibility of marine regions, thereby taking account of their individual conditions, problems and needs;


is, however, concerned that in certain instances, particularly where a marine region is bordered by a sizeable number of non-Member States, actual implementation may be hindered through lack of coordination and commitment on the part of the parties involved.

7.   A new policy instrument

The Committee of the Regions,


agrees that action must be stepped up if Europe is to protect and conserve its marine environment;


supports the framework for enhanced cooperation set out in the Strategy, which aims to ensure a high level of protection for Europe's marine environment through an improved knowledge base, integrated and cost-effective actions, and effective monitoring and assessment systems;


welcomes the flexible approach - based on the subsidiarity principle – being adopted, which, though ambitious in scope, is not overly prescriptive in its tools, thereby taking account of the circumstances of individual regions.

8.   The Marine Strategy Directive

The Committee of the Regions,


believes that, in view of the current evidence of the rapid deterioration of the European marine environment, swift action needs to be taken to ensure that the intended objective of achieving good environmental status of Europe's marine environment is attained well before the target date of 2021;


considers that, with the necessary goodwill, good environmental status can be achieved within a much shorter time frame;


welcomes the concept of establishing European marine regions and sub-regions to ensure the actual implementation of policy measures;


considers, however, that the Black Sea, an important marine region bordered by two acceding countries (Romania and Bulgaria) and by Turkey, with whom accession negotiations are underway, should be included in the Strategy as of now;


believes that the different islands and territories forming part of the European Union’s geographical area which are located outside the established marine regions and sub-regions, should also be included within the ambit of this policy;


observes that to successfully achieve the intended objectives, Member States and individual regions need to cooperate closely with one another and the Commission;


notes that in those instances where the issues identified by the Member States or regions fall within the scope of Community competence, the Commission should not only be informed and consulted, but should itself be the most important partner in the process and coordinate the implementation of the policy measures;


believes that the provision of information and evidence by a Member State to the Commission to substantiate the former's claim that an issue cannot be tackled by measures adopted at national level, is not sufficient;


recommends that in such instances the Commission take it upon itself to carry out the necessary evaluation, monitoring and implementation programmes to address the issue in question. The Commission also needs to clarify what the consequences are if a Member State’s goals and measures have not been met and therefore not approved of by the Commission;


furthermore considers it essential that the Commission retains a residual role in monitoring actual implementation, and, that, where necessary, it should intervene to coordinate and facilitate joint implementation between the different states and actors within any marine region;


asks the European Commission to ensure that the strategies to be drawn up by the Member States take account of the presence of other biological communities, such as algae or turtles, in their marine regions;


calls on the European Commission to recognise the impact that the introduction of genetically modified marine organisms can have on the marine environment, and the unforeseeable consequences of this;


calls upon the Member States to adhere strictly to the requirements of Article 4 of the Directive, in conducting the assessments, establishing environmental targets and monitoring programmes;


believes that, in this context, local and regional governments of individual marine regions should also be directly involved in drawing up these assessments, targets and monitoring programmes;


is doubtful about the time frames laid down in Article 4 of the Directive, particularly those concerning the programmes of measures to be adopted;


conscious of the fact that adequate results can only realistically be achieved in the long term, supports the idea of an iterative and adaptive implementation process, which takes account of new data collected from monitoring programmes, new developments and the impact of the measures introduced. In this way, should the need arise, immediate short to medium term remedial action can be taken to address any negative effects on the state of the marine environment;


observes that although there may be significant social and economic costs in the short to medium-term, it is expected that the long-term environmental, social and economic benefits will considerably outweigh them;


believes, however, that such short to medium-term burdens should not be considered to be the sole responsibility of national or regional levels of government, or worse still, to be borne by individual persons and communities alone.

9.   Synergies with other policies

The Committee of the Regions,


is conscious of the growing need for a comprehensive approach, in order to achieve a proper balance between the often competing environmental and economic interests at play;


is aware of the importance being attached to the development of a new European Maritime Policy, especially in the light of the ambitious objectives set in the Lisbon Strategy and the Gothenburg Strategy;


notes that the question of the overall governance framework through which the users and uses of oceans and seas can be regulated is to be addressed in the Green Paper on the new European Maritime Policy. It is important for the Commission to make sure that the environmental questions are dealt with in the European Maritime Policy and to see to that the overall governance framework concerning the users and the uses of oceans and seas is regulated in a satisfactory way;


notes further that the Strategy is designed in such a way as to support and build on existing measures and initiatives which, though not specifically designed to protect the marine environment, contribute to some extent to its protection;


welcomes the development of a comprehensive framework strategy, which should serve as the environmental pillar of the future European Maritime Policy;


observes that, as far as the protection of the marine environment is concerned, this Strategy will further enable the Community and the Member States to fulfil their obligations and commitments under several international agreements;


asks the European Commission to ensure that the strategies to be drawn up by the Member States include aspects relating to the management of coastal areas in their programmes of measures, bearing in mind that most factors impacting on the marine environment originate from these areas.

10.   The Committee of the Regions' recommendations

The Committee of the Regions,


recommends that the target date for achieving good environmental status of Europe's marine environment should be 2018 at the latest;


recommends further that the deadlines for the development and implementation of the programme of measures should be 2013 and 2015 respectively;


calls on the Commission to include the Black Sea as a marine region;


expects the Commission to define ambitious, clear, consistent and comparable criteria for a ‘good environmental status’ which are conducive to achieving a consistently high ‘environmental status’ concurrently throughout the EU;


believes that it is essential that the implementing measures be monitored continuously and that the results and data obtained are published regularly;


calls upon the Commission to monitor the actual implementation of policy within the different marine regions, and to take upon itself the role of effective coordinator and facilitator, thereby acting as a go-between between the different actors within these regions;


trusts that the Commission will present evaluation reports on the implementation of the Strategy and the impact of the Directive at regular intervals, citing best-practice scenarios;


trusts that all the Commission reports will be submitted to it, as well as to the European Parliament and the Council;


moreover trusts that any comments it makes and responses in that regard, shall also be included in the Commission reports;


is convinced that with the proper provision of information, the active involvement and support of the general public can be attained;


is aware that short to medium-term costs may impact upon the socio-economic well-being of communities or individuals, and that this could, in turn affect the degree of the public's involvement and support, which is so necessary; therefore urges that assistance programmes, designed to help those persons and communities who have been directly affected to mitigate any adverse effects, be developed at European level;


calls upon all policy actors, including the Member States, the Commission and the private sector, to adopt a long-term plan with a view to supporting a significant increase in marine environmental research funding, thereby ensuring that there be sufficient funding for the investigation of the marine environment;


believes that local and regional governments, being closest to the citizens, can achieve significant results in providing information and winning the support of the general public;


in this respect, offers to play a significant role as partner to the Commission and the Member States, and recommends a long-term EU-funded information campaign involving local and regional authorities.

Brussels, 26 April 2006

The President

of the Committee of the Regions


(1)  OJ C 244 of 10.10.2003, p.14.

(2)  OJ C 357 of 14.12.2001, p.44.