During an EU Ocean Week event, six NGOs published their assessment of the EU’s progress to secure a healthy ocean by 2030, which is the goal set by the Blue Manifesto. The analysis reveals that the EU made little progress in the last year to achieve the necessary targets outlined in the Blue Manifesto.
amely, only three of 20 policy milestones to stop further degradation of European seas have been met, according to the 2021 Blue Manifesto assessment published by Seas At Risk and other marine organisations. These are:
- EU includes shipping in Emissions Trading System;
- Chemical Strategy;
- Zero Pollution action plan.
More specifically, Of the eight new milestones, only one has been fully met, three are not met, two are on track to partially deliver on their targets, and two others have insufficient progress or lack of data to establish an indicative score. Three milestones from the 2020 assessment were downgraded in the light of further policy developments, illustrating a worrying lack of ambition to achieve clean, healthy and productive seas, despite EU commitments dating back to 2008.
Significant delays in legislative processes arose in 2021, due in part still to the COVID-19 pandemic. “It is concerning to see recent developments like the war in Ukraine being instrumentalised to weaken or postpone ambitious marine policies, for example in the context of the Nature Restoration Law, with the misleading argument of food security,” said Seas at Risk.
On fisheries, the revision of the Control Regulation milestone was not met, as the European Commission’s proposal was significantly weakened in the Council negotiations. Bycatch of sensitive species has seen some encouraging developments, such as increased protection for the Baltic Harbour Porpoise. Despite this progress, measures are not yet sufficient to protect these animals from unnecessary death, and the publication of the long-awaited fisheries action plan under the EU Biodiversity Strategy is now further delayed.
Another key milestone in 2021 was the scheduled publication of maritime spatial plans by all coastal EU countries. However, two-thirds of the Member States failed to publish their plans, and those that did it in time, failed to apply an ecosystem-based approach and the precautionary principle, as required in the Maritime Spatial Planning Directive.
The accelerated deployment of offshore wind energy will help with the green transition and the fight against the climate crisis. Nevertheless, addressing the climate crisis with measures that exacerbate biodiversity collapse is a short-sighted solution. This is reflected in recent developments on the European offshore wind strategy, which saw the European Parliament call for faster deployment of maritime wind parks and “multi-use”, without referring to an ecosystem-based approach. This is not in line with the EU Biodiversity Strategy and will only serve to increase pressure on the marine environment. In fact, installing offshore wind energy plants in Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) reduce the likelihood of ocean recovery – and thus climate recovery.
On a positive note, following legislation adopted by the EU to phase-out and prevent plastic pollution at sea – the Single-Use Plastic Directive and the Port Reception Facilities Directive – some countries have set out an encouraging path to transition away from single-use plastics in favour of reusable products and solutions. However, transposition of the two directives into national legislation is delayed, and even those Member States that transposed it on time adopted only the bare minimum requirements.
In addition, the EU played a positive role in negotiations on international legislation, such as the High Seas Treaty and the Convention on Biological Diversity, which should lead to the protection of 30% of land and seas by 2030. Despite the EU pushing for greater ambition, however, both processes are stalled or delayed and no concrete results have yet been achieved.