Ministers make first move to keep EU seas and oceans clean

The Council agreed on a draft directive that aims to ensure European seas and oceans are kept pollution-free and productive. But environmentalists attack what they perceive as the directive’s “weak objectives” and lack of serious commitment.

On 18 December 2006 EU environment ministers gave cautious backing to a proposal to establish a European strategy on the protection of the marine environment that aims to achieve “good environmental status” of Europe’s seas and oceans by 2021.

Ministers agreed to develop regional and sub-regional strategies to protect oceans and seas from pollution in a series of pre-determined “marine regions”. These are defined in a draft directive tabled alongside the strategy. They include the Baltic Sea, the North Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean.

Countries will be asked to co-operate to develop a strategy for each region. Ministers agreed that they should be regularly up-dated and made available to the public.

Delegations from Bulgaria and Romania insisted that the Black Sea be included as well, whereas the Italian delegation chose to abstain, arguing that the proposed measures were “too vague”.

Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas agreed. In a statement, he said he regretted that the Council position was “not as ambitious as the Commission’s initial proposal, especially as regards the binding nature of the “good environmental status” objective.” 

This view was echoed and amplified by Seas at Risk, an environmental NGO, which argued that ministers had chosen “a heavily qualified approach that combines weak objectives with the absence of a legal requirement to achieve them”.

“Nowhere is the ministers’ lack of ambition more evident than in the case of fisheries,” Seas at Risk said. “References in the draft Directive to avoiding ‘disproportionate costs’ and only undertaking action where ‘reasonable and practicable’ suggest that environment ministers are more concerned about euros and cents than they are the environment,” it said.

In a parallel move, the Council also backed a Commission action plan that emphasised “the need to strengthen efforts to protect marine biodiversity”.

The proposal is now being forwarded to the European Parliament for a second reading under the co-decision procedure.


Life Terra

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