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Maritime Spatial Planning

In 2014 the EU adopted a Directive 2014/89/EU establishing a framework for maritime spatial planning (MSPFD).[1] It has four legal bases in the TFEU, namely Articles 43(2), that is, the common agricultural and fisheries policies; 100(2), that is, sea and air transport; 192(1) on environment; and 194(2), that is, energy policy. The background is the recognition that the high and rapidly increasing demand for maritime space for different purposes, such as renewable energy production, oil and gas exploitation, maritime shipping and fishing activities, ecosystem and biodiversity conservation, tourism, and aquaculture, require an integrated planning and management approach.[2] [3] [4] As early as 2002 similar concerns, although pertaining to a more limited area, had spawned the adoption of Recommendation 2002/ 413/EC concerning the implementation of Integrated Coastal Zone Management in Europe.92

The framework established by the Directive aims at promoting the sustainable growth of maritime economies, the sustainable development of marine areas, and the sustainable use of marine resources. Its implementation should to the greatest extent possible build upon existing national, regional, and local rules and mechanisms, including those set out in the Recommendation on Integrated Coastal Zone Management.93 It applies to marine waters, including coastal waters, of Member States as defined in the WFD. However, coastal waters or parts thereof falling under a Member State’s town and country planning are exempted provided that this is communicated in the relevant maritime spatial plans. (Arts 1 and 2.)

For the purpose of the Directive, ‘maritime spatial planning’ (MSP) is understood as a process by which the relevant Member State’s authorities analyse and organise human activities in marine areas to achieve ecological, economic, and social objectives. More specifically, MSP shall aim to contribute to a number of objectives. Among these are the sustainable development of energy sectors at sea, of maritime transport, and of the fisheries and aquaculture sectors, and the preservation, protection, and improvement of the environment, including resilience to climate change impacts. While not prejudging the competence of Member States to determine how different objectives are reflected and weighted in their maritime spatial plans, the Directive requires Member States to consider economic, social, and environmental aspects to support sustainable development and growth in the maritime sector, applying an ecosystem-based approach, and to promote the coexistence of relevant activities and uses. (Arts 3 and 5.)

The Member States are required to set up maritime spatial plans identifying the spatial and temporal distribution of relevant existing and future activities and uses. The plans must take into consideration relevant interactions of activities and uses. Although the Directive provides a list of such activities and uses, it is for the Member States themselves to decide the more precise content of their plans. The plans must be reviewed at least every ten years. (Arts 6 and 8.)

The Directive shall not interfere with Member States’ competence to design and determine the extent and coverage of their maritime spatial plans or the format and content of those plans. Rather than introducing new sectorial policy targets the plans should reflect, integrate, and link the objectives defined by national or regional sectorial policies; identify steps to prevent or alleviate conflicts between different sectors; and contribute to the achievement of the Union’s objectives in marine- and coastal-related sectorial policies.[5] [6] Although the Member States are required to take into account land—sea interactions, the Directive does not apply to town and country planning. (Arts 2, 4, and 7.)

The Directive can thus only be characterised as light-handed and as paying more than usual deference to the sovereignty of the Member States even for a framework Directive. However, this is not too surprising considering that town and country planning, which is functionally closely related to MSP, is an area in which the Member States have been reluctant to yield authority to the Union.95

While the Directive is rather short on substance as to the content of the plans, it lays down minimum requirements for the procedures established to contribute to the objectives of MSP, that is, primarily the development of the plans. They must, inter alia, take into account land—sea interactions, as well as environmental, economic, social, and safety aspects; aim to promote coherence between maritime spatial planning and the resulting plan or plans and other processes, such as integrated coastal management; ensure the involvement of stakeholders; ensure transboundary cooperation between Member States; and promote cooperation with third countries. (Art 6.)

Means of public participation must be established by informing all interested parties and by consulting the relevant stakeholders and authorities and the public concerned, at an early stage in the development of maritime spatial plans (Art 9). Indeed, broad participation of stakeholders is likely to be key to generating knowledge about the suitability of specific areas for different uses and of the potential demand for such uses in the foreseeable future.

Member States bordering marine waters shall cooperate with the aim of ensuring that maritime spatial plans are coherent and coordinated across the marine region concerned. The cooperation shall be pursued through, inter alia, regional sea conventions and/or networks or structures of Member States’ competent authorities (Art 11). The extent to which such cooperation becomes effective and concrete, for example by the development of common maps, the exchange of sufficiently detailed data, and the management of transboundary stakeholder involvement, is likely to determine the utility of MSP in relation to many marine regions.

  • [1] [2014] OJ L 257/135. 91 Preambular para 1.
  • [2] 92 Recommendation 2002/413/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council concerning the
  • [3] implementation of Integrated Coastal Zone Management in Europe [2002] OJ L 148/24.
  • [4] Preambular para 12.
  • [5] Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing a frameworkfor maritime spatial planning and integrated coastal management (12 March 2013) COM(2013)133final, 5.
  • [6] According to Art 192(2) TFEU, the adoption of measures affecting town and country planningrequires unanimity in the Council.
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