The European Union: more than ever, indispensable


One month until the ninth European elections and the European Union struggles to gain citizens’ support. Yet, it is still a relevant and necessary framework of action to address environmental problems. The European Union also distinguished itself with significant progress in favor of the ocean.

A Framework-Directive for the preservation of the marine environment

The protection of the environment and especially of the oceans, at a European level, partly depends on the strategy of The Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD). Adopted in 2008, it is the environmental pillar of the European maritime policy. This legislation creates a framework of action in which the Member States of the EU take measures and cooperate to reduce the pressures on the marine ecosystems and attain a « good ecological state » of the environment by 2020.

To achieve these objectives, the DCSMM requires the States to design a strategy (or an action plan) following various steps. The States first need to make an initial assessment of the current ecological state of their marine waters, then determine indicators, objectives and set a clear definition of what is plausible to accept as a ‘good ecological state’ for their waters. At that point, they need to implement a surveillance program and finally a process of evaluation. With this strategy in place, combined with prevention measures, elimination of pollution and a reduction of resource exploitation, the DCSMM aims to ensure the protection and preservation of Europe’s marine ecosystems and avoid its deterioration.

Ban on single-usage plastic by 2021

Since we’re currently facing a plastic invasion that ignores state borders, an overarching response is needed. The European Union is the institution with the power to make collective national decisions and it did, earlier this year, encouraged by Surfrider Europe and its partners from the movement Break Free From Plastic. Two years after the measures to reduce the usage of disposable plastic bags, the EU decided to ban some of the most polluting single-usage plastics. Beginning in 2021, Q-tips, straws, cutlery and plastic stirrers, which according to the European Commission, represent 70% of the litter found at sea and on the beach, will be banned from commercial sale. This firm ban, largely supported by public opinion and adopted at a European level, will affect no less than 28 countries.

But this victory should not mask another problem, the problem of the accumulation of microplastic particles in the marine environment, which represents an equally threatening danger. In the Voice For The Ocean public consultation conducted by Surfrider Europe in preparation for the European elections, microplastic pollution ranked first in the list of the citizens’ concerns. At the European institution level, discussions are currently taking place to end this pollution.

Call for the end of oil platforms in protected marine areas

The European Parliament, in a resolution adopted in January 2018, underlined that oil and gas exploration and exploitation should not be authorized inside or close to protected marine areas or vulnerable High Conservation Value areas. This resolution advanced discussions around the review of the Offshore Directive expected for 2020. This directive was adopted by the European Union soon after the Deepwaters Horizon disaster of April 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico, which created a terrible oil slick. The objective was to reinforce security measures of offshore installations.

The environmental challenge goes beyond national borders. Therefore, developing solutions at a supranational level is a necessity. In that sense, the European Union offers an undeniably relevant political framework, with concerted decisions that apply to the territory of 28 countries. But these decisions must be included in a global, coherent and coordinated action where civil society, and especially organizations for the protection of the environment, are taken into consideration. Though the EU has the power to impose protective measures, the States must be accountable to do their part of what they commit to in Brussels. Surfrider Europe is invested in monitoring the progress of these reforms, especially those surrounding the elections in May 2019, and acting to ensure that Member States stay focused on their environmental goals.

Learn more about the results of Voice for the Ocean

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