European Commission Asks Ireland and France to Protect Their Seas

The European Commission is asking Ireland and France to comply with EU legislation requiring Member States to draw up marine strategies to protect their seas. Neither Member State has informed the Commission about the transposition of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, which should have been in place by July 15th 2010.

If France and Ireland fail to comply with their legal obligation, the Commission may refer the cases to the EU Court of Justice and may ask the Court to impose financial sanctions at this stage.

Europe is committed to protecting marine ecosystems and biodiversity. Marine activities such as fishing, tourism and recreation rely on good quality waters. Europe’s marine waters are protected by a central piece of European legislation, the Marine Strategy Framework Directive 2008/56/EC which aims to ensure that Europe’s seas achieve good environmental status by 2020.

The Directive requires Member States to draw up coordinated strategies to protect and restore Europe’s marine ecosystems, and to ensure the ecological sustainability of activities linked to the marine environment.

Member States assess the ecological status of their marine waters and the impact of human activities, before granting ‘good environmental status’ for these waters. This is determined on the basis of criteria including biodiversity, fish stock health, concentrations of contaminants and the presence of eutrophication (excessive growth of algae that chokes life in other organisms), non-indigenous species, marine litter and underwater noise pollution. Targets and indicators are then set to achieve this good environmental status, with a programme of measures to achieve the objectives.

Delays in implementing the Directive lessen the chances of good status being achieved within the timeframe, with potentially serious implications for the users of Europe’s seas.

The timely transposition of EU legislation is a priority for the Commission. Under its new infringement policy, in cases where Member States have failed to transpose EU legislation into national law within the required deadline, the Commission can now ask for financial sanctions to be imposed at the first referral to the Court. This policy was adopted in November 2010 and entered into force on January 15th 2011.

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