The European Parliament endorsed on April 17th a Directive for Maritime Spatial Planning which should help Member States develop plans to better coordinate the various activities that take place at sea, ensuring they are as efficient and sustainable as possible.
In coastal and maritime areas, many activities compete for the same space and resources: fishing grounds, aquaculture farms, marine protected areas exist alongside maritime infrastructures such as cables, pipelines, shipping lanes and oil, gas and wind installations. The new Directive will help avoid potential conflicts between such diverse uses and create a stable environment attractive to investors, thereby contributing to sustainable growth.
With rapidly increasing demand for maritime space for new activities, from renewable energy to aquaculture installations, better and coherent planning of maritime activities at sea is indeed needed. The Directive sets minimum requirements for the drawing up of national maritime spatial plans. These plans will identify all existing human activities, taking into account land-sea interactions, and the most effective way of managing them. As many of the activities run across national borders, the Directive will help Member States co-operate better.
Commissioner Damanaki jointly stated together with Commissioner Potočnik: “Today’s vote in the European Parliament is an important step in creating new growth opportunities across all maritime sectors by better managing our seas and ensuring their sustainability. Only if we coordinate the various activities taking place in our seas can we make access to maritime space more predictable for investors and at the same time reduce the impact of maritime activities on the environment.”
Maritime Spatial Planning (MSP) is a cornerstone of the Commission’s Blue Growth strategy and of the EU Integrated Maritime Policy. It allows improved understanding of the distribution of marine resources and offers investors greater certainty about potential economic development. With MSP, operators will know what, where and for how long an activity can take place.
Maritime Spatial Planning will also reduce existing over-regulation and administrative complexity. For instance, in some countries up to nine executive agencies need to be contacted before securing a permit for an offshore aquaculture site. Better coordination will speed up procedures which will generate economic gains. For instance by accelerating investments in offshore aquaculture or renewables by 1, 2 or 3 years, economic gains from €60 million to over €600 million could be generated by 2020.
Maritime Spatial Planning will also contribute to a more efficient implementation of EU environmental legislation in marine waters and will help Member States reach good environmental status of their waters by 2020. It should help establish coherent networks of Marine Protected Areas, for which cooperation on planning across borders is essential, and ensure the participation of all stakeholders in planning processes.
Once finally adopted by ministers, Member States must transpose the Directive into their national legislation by 2016 and nominate the Competent Authority in charge of the implementation of MSP. Member States must also draw up their national maritime spatial plans by 2021. They are free to tailor the content of the plans and strategies to their specific economic, social and environmental priorities, and their national sectorial policy objectives and legal traditions, but must respect the minimum requirements of the Directive.