The ‘Thematic Strategy on the Protection and Conservation of the Marine Environment’, will cost €70 million a year and will be a key component of the Maritime Policy to be announced in 2006.

“Europe’s seas and oceans make a huge contribution to our quality of life and our economic prosperity, but they are deteriorating because of over-exploitation, pollution, climate change and a range of other factors. We want to ensure that European citizens today and in the future are able to benefit from seas and oceans that are safe, clean, healthy and rich in nature.”

The strategy will differ from current sector-by-sector approach by being more integrated and based around ‘marine regions’ rather than individual member states. This will mean close cooperation between countries within each region and between regions themselves.

However, although some environmental targets and monitoring programmes are included, the strategy will not set out any specific management measures at EU level, nor define exactly what constitutes a healthy sea.

A coalition of environmental groups immediately criticized the strategy for failing on those issues, calling it “desperately inadequate.” They highlighted what they see as a lack of “binding commitment to protect Europe’s seas.”

In a statement the group, including WWF, EEB, Greenpeace and IFAW, said that chronic overfishing was rampant, affecting 38 out of 43 stocks, and that hundreds of thousands of tonnes of oil were discharged into the sea every year, and yet the strategy addressed neither point directly.

“It is now the responsibility of the European Parliament and Council to set legally binding objectives within this directive, including a clear definition of what constitutes a healthy sea,” the group said.

The strategy will now pass to the Council and Parliament for approval. This will take between two and three years.

David Hopkins

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