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Targets, strategies, and monitoring

Each Member State shall, in respect of each marine (sub)region concerned, develop a marine strategy for its marine waters. With respect to shared (sub)regions, the Member States concerned shall cooperate to ensure that the measures required to achieve the objectives of the MSFD are coherent and coordinated across the (sub) region. To that end they shall endeavour to follow a common approach. (Art 8.)

For each (sub)region an initial assessment was to be completed by 15 July 2012. It had to comprise: (a) an analysis of the essential features and characteristics and current environmental status of the waters concerned, covering the physical and chemical features, the habitat types, the biological features, and the hydromorphology; (b) an analysis of the predominant pressures and impacts, including human activity, on the environmental status of those waters; and (c) an economic and social analysis of the use of those waters and of the cost of degradation of the marine environment. The assessments under points (a) and (b) had to consider the indicative lists of elements set out in Annex III.

In this work every effort was to be made to ensure that assessment methodologies were consistent across the marine (sub)region. The Commission was to be notified of the assessment. (Arts 5, 8, and 9.)

By the same date, and by reference to the initial assessment, GES was to be established for the waters concerned together with a series of environmental targets, that is, qualitative or quantitative statements on the desired condition of the different components of, and pressures and impacts on, marine waters, and associated indicators to guide progress towards achieving such status (Arts 3, 5, and 10).

The MSFD provides a general description according to which ‘good environmental status’ means the environmental status of marine waters where these provide ecologically diverse and dynamic oceans and seas which are clean, healthy, and productive within their intrinsic conditions, and the use of the marine environment is at a level that is sustainable, thus safeguarding the potential for uses and activities by current and future generations. This entails, inter alia, that marine species and habitats are protected, human-induced decline of biodiversity is prevented, and diverse biological components function in balance. Anthropogenic inputs of substances and energy, including noise, into the marine environment must not cause pollution effects. (Art 3.)

However, the more precise meaning of GES is determined individually for each marine (sub)region on the basis of eleven qualitative descriptors set out in Annex I. Member States shall consider each of the descriptors in order to identify those descriptors which are to be used to determine GES for the specific (sub)region. If a Member State considers that it is not appropriate to use one or more of the descriptors, it must provide the Commission with a justification.

As for environmental targets, indicative lists of characteristics and of pressures and impacts to be taken into account for setting such targets are found in Annexes III and IV. The targets and indicators shall take into account relevant existing environmental targets laid down at national, EU, or international level in respect of the same waters and must be notified to the Commission. The Commission has decided criteria and methodological standards for assessing the extent to which GES is being achieved.[1] [2] (Art 10.)

Monitoring programmes for on-going assessment and regular updating of targets was to be in place by 15 July 2014, except where otherwise specified in the relevant EU legislation. Coordination is required since the programmes must be compatible within marine (sub)regions and shall build upon, and be compatible with, relevant provisions for assessment and monitoring laid down by EU legislation, or under international agreements. Member States sharing a marine (sub) region shall endeavour to ensure that the monitoring methods are consistent across the (sub)region so as to facilitate comparability of monitoring results. Specifications and standardised methods for monitoring and assessment are to be adopted at EU level but had not been so at the time of writing. The monitoring programmes must be notified to the Commission. (Arts 5 and 11.)

The Commission is to assess, based on all the notified assessments, characteristics, environmental targets, and monitoring programmes in respect of each marine (sub)region, whether the elements notified constitute an appropriate framework to meet the requirements of the MSFD (Art 12). In its assessment of the first phase of implementation of the MSFD, the Commission found the quality of reporting to vary widely from country to country and from one descriptor to another. For example, Member States reported on different species and habitats lists, some of them ignoring those set by the Habitats Directive (Directive 92/43/EEC), some ignoring habitats present in their waters. Member States also widely failed to establish a baseline, thereby making it harder, and in some cases impossible, to assess the distance to target. Also, coherence between neighbouring countries within the same marine region varies widely across the EU, with Member States in the North East Atlantic showing the highest level of coherence and coherence being lowest in the Mediterranean, and in particular in the Black Sea.6®

  • [1] Commission Decision 2010/477/EU on criteria and methodological standards on good environmental status of marine waters [2010] OJ L 232/14.
  • [2] Report from the Commission—The first phase of implementation of the Marine StrategyFramework Directive (2008/56/EC) The European Commission’s assessment and guidance (20February 2014) COM(2014) 97 final, 4—7.
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