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



The Belgian federal authority has drawn up a marine spatial plan for the Belgian part of the North Sea. This plan maps the Belgian part of the North Sea and its users, and tries to reconcile the spatial impact of the various demands and uses of the area. The plan covers a period of six years, thus the plan is evaluated on a regular basis. At the same time, stakeholders know what is planned and where, and understand the longer-term vision.[313]


Denmark does not have a specific Planning Act for its sea space. Sea-based activities are regulated by a large number of sectoral laws. Thus, authority over the coastal zone is dispersed among different sectors and different administrative levels of decision-making. However, in 2010 a Marine Policy Strategy was approved by the government. The strategy stresses the need for Maritime Spatial Planning, as a result plans are being discussed.[314]


The management of waters under French jurisdiction has been the responsibility of the central government. Increasingly, however, responsibility for coastal and near shore activities has been shared with local authorities and stakeholders.

While several planning instruments have been introduced to facilitate and enhance spatial planning in the coastal zone, they have been applied primarily to terrestrial activities. The management of human activities in marine waters is commonly characterised by a sectoral approach.[315]

It should be noted that French authorities have been very active in regional co-operation based around the Channel, i.e. Arc Manche which is a co-operation network aiming to gather territories bordering the Channel to advocate the shared interests of this area and to promote co-operation.


The Exclusive Economic Zone of Germany covers about 28,600 km2 in the North Sea. Marine planning in Germany is based on the Federal Land Use Planning Act that was extended to the Exclusive Economic Zone. Spatial plans for the territorial sea (up to 12 nautical miles) are developed by the German Länder (Federal States). The German plans are regulatory and enforceable. A federal plan for the North Sea came into effect in September 2009.

The Netherlands

The Dutch part of the North Sea covers an area of about 58,000 km2 (one and a half the land mass of The Netherlands) and is one of the most intensely used marine areas in the world. Dutch marine planning policy is considered as a means of fostering sustainable use while allowing scope for private sector initiatives. One of the most recent, relevant developments is the publication of the country's 'North Sea 2050 Spatial Agenda', which is based on research into the long-term potential of sea and coastal areas and makes connections between the North Sea's future opportunities and existing developments and challenges.

The need for coordination and co-operation is stressed throughout the document, and the significant need for an integrated approach to the entire North Sea is noted. Referring to their own consultations during the development of the Agenda, it is stated that "Talks with officials from the countries around the North Sea in March 2014 have taught us that various opportunities lie within the … themes of the spatial agenda, and that these can best be addressed on a North Sea-wide scale. Other North Sea countries' focus points concur with the North Sea 2050 Spatial Agenda themes. This is helpful when working on a North Sea-wide strategy. The other countries were indeed surprised by the focus of The Netherlands on the longer term but are also of the opinion that this is an interesting approach."[316]


The North Sea-Skagerrak area is Norway's most intensively used sea area. In 2013, Norway adopted an 'Integrated Management Plan for the Norwegian part of the North Sea and Skagerrak'.

The Plan provides an overall framework for both existing and new activities in these waters, and "facilitates co-existence of different activities, particularly the fisheries, maritime transport and the petroleum activity."[317] The expressed aim is to establish an ecosystem-based management of activities, where the total environmental pressure from activities does not threaten the ecosystems. Cumulative effect is therefore a key issue addressed in the Plan. The Plan will be updated at relevant intervals. It is based on existing knowledge, but the significant gaps in knowledge and data are acknowledged. Thus, commitments are made to strengthening the knowledge base.

The importance of co-operation is highlighted: "Co-operation with the other North Sea countries and the combined efforts of all these countries are … of crucial importance."[318] It is anticipated that the Integrated Management Plan will help to provide a firmer basis for Norway's contributions to international co-operation.[319]


Sweden has no tradition of marine planning in its Exclusive Economic Zone. However, an inquiry initiated in 2006 proposed the introduction system based on marine spatial plans and that such plans should contain provisions ensuring that marine planning takes place in consultation with the international organisations concerned and with relevant actors in adjacent countries.[320]

Marine planning is now considered an important tool for the Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management in planning and management of marine areas. Marine spatial plans for the relevant areas of the Swedish Exclusive Economic Zone have not been completed yet, but the aim is that, when finalised, there will be guidance for agencies and municipalities examining claims made to use the areas in question.

In parallel with the development of Sweden's marine planning, the Government is in the process of producing a maritime strategy. Within this strategy the Government will submit proposals regarding the development of marine and coastal industries. One of the overall goals is to develop the utilisation of Swedish waters as a resource, to create more employment opportunities and to enhance common interests and quality of life. [321]

313   Belgian Federal Public Service Health, Food Chain Safety and Environment, 'Something is Moving at Sea… a Marine Spatial Plan for the Belgian Part of the North Sea' (March 2014): [Accessed 6 February 2015] Back

314   PartiSEApate, 'Marine Spatial Planning in Denmark': 2013/08/Denmark-country-fiche.pdf [Accessed 6 February 2015] Back

315   UNESCO Marine Spatial Planning Initiative, 'France': [Accessed 6 February 2015] Back

316   Ministerie van Infrastructuur en Milieu (2014) North Sea Spatial Agenda 2050, July 2014 p 67 Back

317   Norwegian Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries, Integrated Management Plans [Accessed 6 February 2015] Back

318   Norwegian Ministry of the Environment, Integrated Management of the Marine Environment of the North Sea and Skaggerak Management Plan, op.cit., p 8 Back

319   Ibid., p 141 Back

320   UNESCO Marine Spatial Planning Initiative, 'Sweden': [Accessed 6 February 2015] Back

321   Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management, Marine Spatial Planning Current Status 2014 (March 2014): [Accessed 6 February 2015] Back

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