Proposed MSP Directive for EU - an unnecessary agenda for 'smart' blue growth?

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By Peter JS Jones, Dept of Geography, University College London, P.J.Jones [at]

The European Commission have published the ‘agreed text’ of a draft Maritime Spatial Planning Directive (attached). Further information at and

The MSP Directive is essentially about promoting Blue Growth under the Integrated Maritime Policy and it neglects the framework nature of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD). An MSP Directive complicates the policy landscape and, arguably by design, provides for Member States to focus on Blue Growth whilst potentially neglecting MSFD, Habitats Directive, etc, especially in the present economic climate. The contributions that MSP could make to achieving Good Environmental Status (GES) of Europe's seas under the MSFD, such as cross-border assessments of cumulative impacts and the efficient planning of infrastructure in an integrated manner between member states, are neglected or omitted. A retrograde step for achieving GES? Hopefully, the same Members of the European Parliament (MEP) influences that are leading to an improved Common Fisheries Policy can thwart or revise this DG MARE (EC department responsible for maritime economic development and fisheries management) attempt  to do the unnecessary – legally ‘encourage’ Member States to pursue ‘smart’ (?) Blue Growth.

The open access paper freely available at is particularly relevant to this argument in that it analyses the emerging policy landscape for MSP in the EU and critically questions the need for and potential role of an MSP Directive aimed mainly at promoting blue growth.


If you have a close look at the Directive you will see that the core elements of the MSFD are there: GES, ecoystem approach, public consultation, strategic environmental assessment. The linkages to the MSFD are very strong e.g. in the defintions. From a legal perspective, economic goals can not be pursued under an environmental Directive. The treaty is clear: environmental concerns are to be integrated into other policy areas (Art 11), not vice versa. You should also acknowledge the positive aspects: extension of ecosystem approach to fisheries, transport and energy sector !!!.

The Marine Strategy Framework Directive has already established the obligation for all marine sectoral activities to be based on the ecosystem approach, this being the framework for many other directives, including the MSP Directive. As we discuss in our paper (, public consultation, strategic environmental assessment, renewable energy growth, ecosystem approach to fisheries management, habitat and species conservation, etc., are all prioritised and obligated under other directives and policies. So, if we strip away all the elements of the MSP Directive that are already prioritised under other directives, subject to the framework nature of the MSFD, what is left? Essentially, only the need to promote 'smart' and integrated blue growth, including an obligation for member states to map their continental shelves and the main uses of them. Member states arguably do not need encouraging to pursue economic growth, including the 'smart' blue variety, and it is arguably not the role of the EC to legally require integrated blue growth (whatever 'integrated' means). Is there a directive to promote the integrated economic development of terrestrial regions? No, because it is not the role of the EC to legally oblige member states to pursue economic development in a particular way, given the subsidiarity principle. The EC imposes many environmental, public participation, etc. obligations, and this is entirely appropriate, but it should not impose particular ways of achieving these obligations, as this is subject to national-local decision-making powers under the subsidiarity principle. The Integrated Maritime Policy and related initiatives can and should promote integrated blue growth, but to legally require integrated blue growth is not necessary and simply complicates an already crowded and fragmented policy landscape in a way that could detract member state and DG MARE attention from the overarching 'framework' need to restore Europe's seas to good environmental status.

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