The North Sea under pressure: is regional marine co-operation the answer? - European Union Committee Contents

List of Conclusions and Recommendations

1.  Knowledge of the broad trends in the marine environment is developing but is already sufficient to state with reasonable confidence that marine biodiversity in the seas around the EU is degrading. In line with the precautionary principle, the current degree of uncertainty should not delay action now. The positive impacts of recent management measures in specific areas, such as fish stocks, can give confidence of the benefits of action taken on the basis of the precautionary principle. (Paragraph 27)

2.  Knowledge of the cumulative impacts of all human activities on the marine ecosystem remains very limited, despite the fact that its consideration is a statutory requirement in both EU and UK legislation. It is an area that would benefit from greater regional co-operation but, for this to happen, agreement on terminology and on the methodology for assessment is required. We recommend that the preparatory work on methodology that has been undertaken thus far within OSPAR and the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea be applied to practical pilot projects in the North Sea. (Recommendation 1) (Paragraph 35)

3.  We recommend that the European Commission carry out a specific analysis of work undertaken by Member States to assess the cumulative impact of human activities, in line with Article 8 of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive. We recommend also that the Commission review the consistency of cumulative impact obligations across EU environmental legislation and, furthermore, how those obligations are implemented in national legislation. (Recommendation 2) (Paragraph 36)

4.  Data collection initiatives are not in short supply, but we are concerned that efforts may be duplicated and that the best, most cost-effective, use is not being made of existing data. This will need to be resolved in order to meet the requirements of the Maritime Spatial Planning Directive in relation to the organisation and use of data. (Paragraph 45)

5.  National governments around the North Sea must commit to a single cross-border data collection initiative and allocate resources accordingly. Such a commitment could encourage a similar approach in other sea basins. (Paragraph 46)

6.  We recommend that the European Commission work closely with the European Marine Observatory Data network (EMODnet) to ensure that awareness of the network is raised and that its database includes as much of the available information as possible. We recommend that consideration be given to increasing funding for EMODnet, so that it can format and quality-assure data itself, rather than relying on those submitting the data. (Recommendation 3) (Paragraph 48)

7.  Knowledge co-operation should extend to the analysis of available data. So far as the UK is concerned, we recommend that the Marine Science Co-ordination Committee develop a mechanism for such analysis. We recommend that the UK Government feed that work into discussion at OSPAR on adopting a similar approach for data analysis at the North Sea level, linking this in to any expansion of EMODnet's capacity. (Recommendation 4) (Paragraph 52)

8.  The confluence of shipping lanes and offshore structures is a particular issue in the southern North Sea. We observe that International Maritime Organization guidance is comprehensive in its navigational safety requirements and we are confident that the UK has a regulatory process in place to implement that guidance. It is, however, evident that there are concerns about the application of navigational safety provisions across the North Sea as a whole. We recommend that the UK Government, in partnership with the International Maritime Organization and neighbouring countries, ensure that comprehension of the provisions is adequate and that the process is transparent. (Recommendation 5) (Paragraph 69)

9.  There are examples of co-operation between users of the sea, but as competition for space grows increasingly intense, so the need to co-operate will intensify. Marine planning may contribute to productive co-operation that spans sectors and users, but it is not a silver bullet for overcoming tensions and maximising opportunities in the marine environment. (Paragraph 85)

10.  The reality of marine planning is that, insofar as it exists around the EU, it is embryonic. There is broad support for the concept, but it is now important that users should begin to see its practical benefits, most notably in providing a more predictable planning framework for investment and for the multiple users of the North Sea. (Paragraph 86)

11.  We note the emphasis placed on the importance of a comprehensive approach that features both certainty and the flexibility to take into account innovative developments. While a full review of the application of the Marine Policy Statement across the UK would be premature, we recommend to the Government and devolved administrations that concerns about certainty, flexibility and coverage be reflected and addressed in plans as they are developed, thereby ensuring that strategic marine planning is seen as the primary platform for managing competing demands. A distinction must be drawn between marine planning on the one hand and the licensing of individual marine developments on the other. (Recommendation 6) (Paragraph 87)

12.  We welcome the 20 year vision under the first English marine plans, but we can discern no long term strategic planning for the seas around the UK as a whole, or even around England. This is in stark contrast to the Dutch approach, which sets a vision to 2050. Management of the seas must not only focus on the present: it must take into account potential future developments and must do so in a way that is credible for users. This requires a long term vision. We urge the UK Government and devolved administrations to consider the development of a strategy akin to, and ideally aligned with, the Dutch North Sea 2050 Spatial Agenda. (Recommendation 7) (Paragraph 89)

13.  We welcome the appointment of a European Commissioner responsible for both environmental policy and maritime affairs. An important priority for the new Commissioner should be to ensure that EU legislation affecting the marine environment is consistent. We recommend that the Commission publish guidance for Member States on implementation of such legislation at national level, to improve consistency both between Member States and within the Member States. (Recommendation 8) (Paragraph 97)

14.  In the short term, we recommend that the fitness check of the Habitats and Birds Directives should include assessment of the coherence of the implementation of those Directives with related legislation, such as the Common Fisheries Policy and the Marine Strategy Framework Directive. (Recommendation 9) (Paragraph 98)

15.  We also recommend that the fitness check consider the desirability of requiring Member States to co-operate with one another in designating sites under the Habitats and Birds Directives in order to develop ecologically coherent networks of such sites. (Recommendation 10) (Paragraph 99)

16.  We support the principle that EU regional co-operation on marine issues should involve regional and local authorities as well as the EU and its Member States. We see an important role for the North Sea Commission as a forum for bringing regional and local authorities together. (Paragraph 105)

17.  The engagement in England by some Local Enterprise Partnerships in marine issues demonstrates an acknowledgement that local economic growth can be derived from the sea. We therefore regret the lack of English local authority engagement in the North Sea Commission, particularly in contrast with the greater level of engagement by Scottish local authorities and those elsewhere. We recognise that there are financial consequences of membership, but there are nevertheless significant benefits to be gained from co-operation. We therefore recommend that the UK Government and the Local Government Association collaborate to identify and address barriers, including resources, to improved engagement by English local authorities in the work of the North Sea Commission. (Recommendation 11) (Paragraph 106)

18.  We observe that co-operation between countries concerning the marine environment has often been prompted by some form of crisis or disaster. The ensuing efforts in the North Sea region have resulted in some effective tools and useful mechanisms for co-operation which take account of environmental considerations. (Paragraph 117)

19.  Regulatory barriers to greater cross-border energy co-operation remain. Member States should prioritise efforts to overcome technical obstacles associated with trading options and asset costs. In particular, we urge the UK Government to continue its work in overcoming the regulatory barriers involved in the North Seas Countries Offshore Grid Initiative. (Recommendation 12) (Paragraph 124)

20.  We note the successes that have resulted from the work of the fisheries Advisory Councils and support their enhanced role in Commission-level consultations. In the light of their enhanced role, we recommend an urgent review of their funding by the Commission. We also recommend that the UK Government consider how it may be able to contribute additional resources to enable Advisory Councils to fulfil their obligations. (Recommendation 13) (Paragraph 131)

21.  The experience of co-operation thus far indicates that clear direction from national governments is an essential factor in effective marine co-operation. A lack of leadership in situations where it has not proved possible to align economic interests with environmental protection, has led to paralysis. An example is the Dogger Bank, where we urge the UK Government to show political leadership by intensifying efforts to agree a joint recommendation for fisheries management. Failing any such resolution, we recommend that the European Commission consider the option of adopting urgent measures to manage the area. (Paragraph 145)

22.  Competence over elements of marine policy ranges from the international to the local and it is not therefore appropriate for the European Commission to take a decisive role in leading cross-border co-operation to develop coherent marine plans in the North Sea. The examples of co-operation that we have highlighted demonstrate that it is possible to co-operate effectively, while respecting the boundaries of national competence. (Paragraph 146)

23.  We recommend that, through a joint effort, national governments and the European Commission map the institutions and frameworks that currently exist, in order to inform decisions about future co-operation and to assist stakeholders. (Recommendation 15) (Paragraph 151)

24.  Co-operation between stakeholders and Member States can deliver efficiencies and enable limited resources to go further. (Paragraph 163)

25.  Accessing resources can be problematic, and so we recommend that the European Commission prepare and publish guidance on navigating and accessing the existing funding opportunities. (Recommendation 16) (Paragraph 164)

26.  We welcome the recent introduction of the Maritime Spatial Planning Directive, particularly the obligation upon Member States to co-operate across national boundaries, but are conscious that its success will be contingent on effective implementation. (Paragraph 171)

27.  We recommend that the UK Government and the devolved administrations initiate strategic discussions with bordering North Sea countries as the UK marine plans are being developed, so that areas of common interest and potential conflict can be identified and addressed early in the planning process. (Recommendation 17) (Paragraph 172)

28.  The technology for establishing a North Sea Energy Grid exists, but progress has been hampered by regulatory and political constraints. Should the UK Government and other coastal states wish to achieve this objective, they should work together on a pilot project. Such a project would form part of the EU's move towards improved energy system governance and would involve enhanced regional co-operation. (Paragraph 177)

29.  We recommend that the UK Government work with other North Sea Member States on the development of the pilot marine planning project in the North Sea, as suggested by the German government. This could be funded by the North Sea Region Programme. (Recommendation 18) (Paragraph 178)

30.  We support the idea of a North Sea Maritime Forum composed of relevant stakeholders. Strong leadership will be needed to manage competing interests in such a forum and we therefore urge the UK Government to take ownership of this idea. As a first step, we recommend that the UK Government work with the European Commission to identify a source of funding for the forum, which could involve engaging with the North Sea Region Programme. (Recommendation 19) (Paragraph 183)

31.  We conclude that no existing body or mechanism has a broad enough remit, or is able, to facilitate the political co-operation required to make the necessary step-change in the management of the North Sea basin. (Paragraph 189)

32.  Visionary leadership is required and we therefore recommend that the UK Government convene a North Sea ministerial conference to take stock of the overarching challenges and opportunities in the North Sea marine environment. This should build on the environmental focus of earlier ministerial conferences, and take a more holistic approach, extending to the consideration of economic sectors including shipping, fishing and energy. Such a ministerial conference should aspire to a common political vision for the North Sea, which, through genuine co-operation, delivers a sustainable and secure resource for the future. (Recommendation 20) (Paragraph 190)

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