Documents considered by the Committee on 7 December 2016 Contents

5International Ocean Governance

Summary and Committee’s conclusions

Committee’s assessment

Politically important

Committee’s decision

Not cleared from scrutiny; further information requested; drawn to the attention of the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Committee on Exiting the EU

Document details

Joint Communication from the Commission and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy — International ocean governance: An agenda for the future of our oceans

Legal base


Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Document Number

(38257), 14332/16 + ADD 1, JOIN(16) 49

5.1Oceans offer great potential for boosting jobs, growth and innovation, but they are under threat from over-exploitation, climate change, acidification, pollution and declining biodiversity. Accurate and timely information on the state of resources remains a challenge. Technological advances needed for the sustainable development of marine activities depend on improved research.7

5.2The Joint Communication identifies these challenges and sets out the EU’s response to them. It proposes 14 sets of priority actions, details of which are set out below, in three key areas:

5.3The Minister for Europe and the Americas, (Sir Alan Duncan), agrees with the Commission’s analysis and is largely supportive of the proposed actions. The one exception highlighted is the suggestion that the Commission develop guidance by 2018 on the exploration of natural resources on the seabed in areas under national jurisdiction. The Government understands this to be a response to the failure of the International Seabed Authority (ISA) to develop deep seabed mining regulations. Yet, notes the Minister, ISA published a first draft of such regulations in June 2016. A number of Member States, including the UK, are involved in that work. The UK thus sees little value in Commission guidance by 2018. The Government will seek further clarification of this recommendation before Council Conclusions are adopted.

5.4The Minister also refers to the Government’s response to the Commission’s earlier (June 2015) consultation.8 The Government was clear that ocean governance could be improved but that this can and should be addressed through improving the work of existing organisations, largely working under the overarching framework set by the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS). The submission agreed that management of fishing in the high seas could be improved. It was particularly supportive of more work on research and on data accessibility.

5.5The Minister’s Explanatory Memorandum fails to put this Communication in the context of Brexit aside from what is now a standard paragraph stating that all the rights and obligations of EU membership remain in force until the UK has withdrawn from the EU. As the Government prepares for Brexit, it is imperative that it considers all EU documents in the Brexit context and that it shares its analysis with Parliament as far as it is able without compromising its position in future EU-UK negotiations.

5.6The Minister is silent, for example, about the Commission’s suggestion that Ocean Partnerships be developed with key ocean players outside the EU. Does the Government consider that the UK will be a key ocean player post-Brexit? How does the Government intend to shape future plans for such Partnerships bearing in mind that the EU may well seek to develop one with the UK in the future? Might such a Partnership provide a helpful framework in which to manage the mutual interests of the UK and EU in relation to fisheries management, research and data, environmental protection and economic growth?

5.7Many existing mechanisms for cooperation exist, such as the North East Atlantic Regional Sea Convention, OSPAR, to which the UK is already a Contracting Party alongside the EU. We assume that the UK’s membership, and engagement with, such organisations will continue post-Brexit. In circumstances where the EU has forged informal networks, though, the UK would need to engage separately, such as the work between the EU, US and Canada on Atlantic Ocean research cooperation. What assessment has the Government made of the potential impact of Brexit on areas covered in this Joint Communication, extending from ocean security to research? Will the UK consider the development of its own strategy on ocean governance post-Brexit?

5.8The Government notes that, as detailed proposals are developed, the proper division of competencies between the EU and its Member States must be respected. Are there any particular proposed actions in the Communication that give cause for concern in that regard?

5.9We retain the document under scrutiny and draw it to the attention of the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Committee on Exiting the European Union given their respective interests in the UK’s role in the world post-Brexit and in issues to be considered as the UK negotiates its withdrawal and future relationship with the EU. We look forward to a response from the Government well in advance of the adoption of Council Conclusions.

Full details of the documents

Joint Communication from the Commission and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy—International ocean governance: An agenda for the future of our oceans: (38257), 14332/16 + ADD 1, JOIN(16) 49.


5.10The UN Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS), to which the UK, all Member States and the EU are parties, sets out the legal framework within which all activities in the oceans and seas are carried out.

5.11The term “international ocean governance” includes the framework of regional and international institutions and agreements that are responsible for the detailed regulation of activities that take place in the oceans. These include, amongst others, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), the International Seabed Authority (ISA), Regional Seas Conventions and Regional Fisheries Management Organisations.

5.12The Communication sets out the Commission and the High Representative’s proposals for priority actions in the area of international ocean governance over the next few years to “ensure safe, secure, clean and sustainably managed oceans”. They build upon work already undertaken by the Commission and/or the European External Action Service (EEAS), either where those matters fall within EU exclusive competence, parallel competence or where there is shared competence and the EU has taken action.

5.13The actions set out in the Joint Communication are also described as “an integral part of the EU’s response to the 2030 Agenda”, including, but not limited to, the implementation of UN Strategic Development Goal 14 on the conservation and sustainable use of oceans. The Joint Communication sets out proposals for action in international fora and in cooperation with international partners and institutions, but does not include proposals for legislative reform.

Joint Communication

5.14The Joint Communication proposes 14 sets of priority actions in three key areas:

Improving the international ocean governance framework

5.15The Commission proposes the following actions:

Reducing pressures on oceans and seas and creating the conditions for a sustainable blue economy

5.16The Commission proposes the following actions:

Strengthening international ocean research and data

5.17The Commission proposes the following actions:

Minister’s Explanatory Memorandum of 22 November 2016

5.18The Minister sets out the Government’s position in the following terms:

“The Government agrees with the assessment in the Joint Communication of the importance of the oceans and the need to ensure that they are managed in a way that delivers prosperity, while preserving the vital role they play in regulating climate and providing a sustainable food source. The Government also recognises the future opportunities associated with blue growth. The UK, together with its Overseas Territories and the British Crown Dependencies exercise jurisdiction over a large maritime space. The UK is a major maritime power with significant interests in all aspects of ocean governance.

“Overall, the Government is supportive of the priority areas and policy recommendations set out in the Joint Communication. These are areas in which the EU and its Member States are already active, and the government is supportive of greater co-operation and co-ordination across the regional and international bodies responsible for the regulation of activities taking place in the oceans. The Government is also supportive of capacity building to support better ocean governance, including addressing maritime security and sustainable blue economies across the globe. We recognise that the EU has significant experience in developing marine based management tools, such as the Integrated Maritime Policy, Marine Spatial Planning Directive, the Marine Strategy Framework Directive and the Common Fisheries Policy that could provide a firm basis for the sharing of experience.

“The recommendations in the Joint Communication are relatively high level. As the detailed proposals are developed to implement these recommendations, the proper division of competencies between the EU and its Member States must be respected. It is also important that if the Commission looks to develop EU recommendations for action or guidance on matters that are under consideration at an international organisation, it does not, in doing so, undermine those broader international efforts.”

5.19The Minister expresses concern about the recommendation that, by 2018, “the Commission will produce guidance on the exploration and exploitation of natural resources on the seabed in areas under national jurisdiction, to assist coastal Member States to respect their duty under UNCLOS to protect and preserve the marine environment”.

5.20Explaining the Government’s concern, the Minister says:

“This recommendation appears under ‘Action 1: Filling the gaps in the international ocean governance framework’ and the Government understands this to be directed at the concern expressed in the Joint Communication that the International Seabed Authority (ISA) has yet to develop its regulations for deep seabed mining.

“The ISA published the first draft of its deep sea mining regulations in July 2016 and the Government understands that draft environmental regulations are likely to follow in advance of the ISA’s next annual meeting in August 2017. Given that, under UNCLOS, national legislation governing deep seabed mining must be no less effective than that adopted by the ISA, the Government is not currently convinced of the need for such guidance to be developed by the Commission at this stage. We are not aware that any Member State is currently looking to develop a deep sea mining industry within areas under national jurisdiction at this time, therefore there would appear to be little need for such guidance to be prepared by 2018. A number of Member States, including the UK, are already actively engaged in the work of the ISA and in the drafting of its deep sea mining regulations. The Government will seek further clarification of this recommendation from the Commission before Council Conclusions are adopted.”

5.21Finally, the Minister informs the Committee that draft Council Conclusions on the Joint Communication are likely to be tabled at the Friends of the Presidency Group on Integrated Maritime Policy, which is a Council working group, early in the New Year.

Previous Committee Reports


7 “International Ocean Governance: An agenda for the future of our oceans”, Joint Communication from the Commission and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

9 December 2016