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Implementation of Marine Strategy Framework Directive


According to the Directive, each Member State must prepare and implement a marine strategy for its marine waters, in cooperation with other Member States sharing the same marine region or subregion. They must review and update this strategy every 6 years.

The strategy includes 5 steps:

  1. an assessment of the current environmental status of the marine waters and the environmental impact of human activities,
  2. a determination of good environmental status for the marine waters,
  3. the establishment of a series of environmental targets and associated indicators,
  4. the establishment and implementation of a monitoring programme for ongoing assessment and regular updating of targets, and
  5. the development of a programme of measures designed to achieve or maintain good environmental status.

Common implementation strategy

The Directive requires detailed and coordinated input from Member States. To facilitate this work, Member States and the European Commission have set up an informal programme of coordination, the Common Implementation Strategy (CIS). It also includes the Regional Sea conventions, as well as industry representatives and non-governmental organisations

The CIS is composed of

  • Marine Directors
  • Marine Strategy Coordination Group
  • Working Groups on Good environmental status; Knowledge & information exchange; and Measures & economic analysis 
  • Technical Groups on marine litter; underwater noise; seabed integrity; and data

The work of the Common implementation Strategy and all documents and information on the meetings held by the Marine Strategy Coordination Group and its subgroups are available through the CIRCABC platform.

Second implementation cycle (2018 – 2023)

Step 5 – programmes of measures

Member States were supposed to submit their updated programmes of measures by 31 March 2022. The Commission is assessing the reports it has received.

Reports received on time: Belgium, Italy, Romania, Sweden, Finland

Reports received late: Cyprus, Estonia, Ireland, Spain, France, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, The Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia

Reports not yet received: Bulgaria, Denmark, Greece, Croatia, Malta

Step 4 – monitoring programmes

Member States had to update their monitoring programmes by 15 October 2020.  In April 2023 the Commission published an assessment of the marine environment monitoring programmes reported by the Member States. The assessment, together with a detailed report by the Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC), gives an overview of where, how often and what is monitored under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive.

It identifies gaps in data and areas monitored, and draws recommendations to improve the monitoring of European seas. Comprehensive and coherent monitoring data are necessary to understand the impacts of human pressures on the marine environment, as well as to assess how effective various measures are in reducing these pressures thereby contributing to healthy seas and coasts, to the implementation of the Zero Pollution Action Plan and, more broadly, of the European Green Deal and of global commitments, such as the Kumming-Montreal Framework of the UN Convention on Biodiversity.

Steps 1 to 3 – initial assessment, good environmental status and targets

Member States were due to review and updated their reports for Articles 8, 9 and 10 of the Directive, and to report these updates to the Commission by 15 October 2018.

The Commission assesses the Member State reports in accordance with Articles 12 and 17(4) of the Directive. The assessment has led to a technical report per Member State and to a regional report on coherence for three of the four MSFD marine regions (Baltic Sea, North-East Atlantic Ocean, and Mediterranean Sea).

In addition, the assessment has led to a set of recommendations per Member State and per region (which are generally applicable to all Member States in those regions). The recommendations aim to identify the ways in which the reports for Articles 8, 9 and 10 should be improved when next updated in October 2024.

Implementation report and state of the seas

In June 2020, the Commission published a report on the implementation of the first cycle of the MSFD.  The 2020 implementation report was accompanied by three other documents covering the state of the marine environmentMSFD implementation in detail, and an in-depth look on the various elements of the marine strategies. The MSFD report paints a mixed picture of the state of Europe's seas. Almost half of Europe's coastal waters are subject to intense eutrophication. Although EU rules regulating chemicals have led to a reduction in contaminants, there has been an increased accumulation of plastics and plastic chemical residues in most of the marine species. Thanks to the EU's common fisheries policy, nearly all landings in the North-East Atlantic come from healthy stocks. This is however not yet the case in the Mediterranean, for which more efforts are needed. This was accompanied by the European Environment Agency's Marine Messages II.

First implementation cycle (2012 – 2017)

Step 5: programmes of measures

By March 2016, Member States had to set up and implement programmes of measures to achieve good environmental status in their marine waters. This requirement is set in Article 13 of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive.

The programme should address each of the MSFD descriptors, and the individual measures should as a whole aim to ensure that environmental targets are addressed and good environmental status (GES) is achieved or maintained by 2020.

In 2018, the Commission adopted its report assessing these programmes, identifying whether they constitute an appropriate framework within the requirements of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive and whether they address the pressures that the EU seas and oceans are facing.

The Commission concluded that while considerable efforts have been made by Member States, not all pressures are covered properly by the measures. The Commission therefore provides recommendations to Member States to guide them in accordance with Article 16 of the Directive.

Step 4 (monitoring programmes)

In 2017, the Commission adopted a report assessing monitoring programmes submitted by most Member States in 2014 and 2015 to verify compliance with the Directive.

Steps 1 to 3 (initial assessment, good environmental status and targets)

In 2012, for the first time, Member States reported on the state of the environment in their marine waters, on what they consider as being a "good environmental status" and on the objectives and targets they have set themselves to reach it by 2020. The result showed that more efforts were urgently needed if the EU is to reach its 2020 goal. The Commission assessed those first elements against the Directive's requirements.