Marine strategies implementation

The Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) requires EU Member States to take measures to achieve and maintain Good Environmental Status (GES) in the marine environment.

Good Environmental Status
It means the environmental status of marine waters where these provide ecologically diverse and dynamic oceans and seas which are clean, healthy and productive within their intrinsic conditions, and the use of the marine environment is at a level that is sustainable, thus safeguarding the potential for uses and activities by current and future generations […]. Good environmental status shall be determined at the level of the marine region or subregion […] on the basis of the [11] qualitative descriptors in Annex I’ (extracted from Article 3(5) of the MSFD).

This is to be achieved by developing national marine strategies, following an ecosystem-based approach, which apply to all marine waters of the Member State. The strategies have to be coherent and coordinated across each MSFD marine region or subregion, which is mostly achieved through existing mechanisms, such as the Regional Sea Conventions, or through bilateral processes.

The strategies are developed in a step-wise approach and updated every six years:

  1. Assessments on the environmental status of marine waters and the anthropogenic pressures and impacts affecting them (Article 8.1a, b), based on the GES definitions set under Article 9. There is also a socio-economic analysis of the uses of the sea and the costs of degrading it (Article 8.1c).

  2. Determination of the Good Environmental Status (GES) (Article 9) which defines the environmental quality to be achieved for 11 topics (termed ‘descriptors’): these are either ‘Pressure’ descriptors (non-indigenous species, eutrophication, hydrographical changes, contaminants in the environment, contaminants in the seafood, marine litter and underwater noise) or ‘State’ descriptors (biodiversity, commercially exploited fish and shellfish, food webs and sea-floor integrity).

  3. Establishment of targets  (Article 10) to achieve GES, and indicators to monitor progress towards the targets.

  4. Set up monitoring programmes (Article 11): these collect the data needed to assess the environmental status of the marine waters, evaluate progress towards achieving the targets, as well as assess the effects of the measures.

  5. Implement programmes of measures (Article 13) which aim to achieve and maintain GES. These regulate human uses and activities in order to reduce or eliminate the pressures they generate that are preventing the achievement of GES. They can promote good practices in the management and operation of these different economic sectors.

The implementation (and updates) of the marine strategies follows a 6-year cycle, where Articles 8, 9 and 10 are implemented during the 1st year (starting in 2012), Article 11 is implemented during the 3rd year (starting in 2014) and Article 13 during the 4th year (starting in 2015).

The MSFD was adopted in 2008 with a main goal: to achieve GES in Europe’s waters by 2020. The figure below reflects the timeframe of the implementation of the Directive. Commission Decision (EU) 2017/848, adopted in 2017, clarifies, among other things, how to determine and assess GES. It repealed the previous Decision 2010/477/EU.


What happens after 2020? After publication of an Implementation Report in 2020 (Article 20), a review of the Directive will be undertaken by 2023 (Article 23), taking account of the Fitness Check on environmental reporting and monitoring.

MSFD reporting

The Directive requires EU Member States to report to the European Commission on their marine strategies, giving a three-month period to do it following the implementation of each Article.
The Commission then assesses whether the elements notified are consistent with the requirements of the MSFD in each Member State (i.e. compliance assessment), as well as the coherence of frameworks within the different marine regions or subregions and across the Union. This assessment serves as well for the preparation of reports to the European Parliament, Council of Ministers and the public, on the implementation of the MSFD and to show the progress towards achieving GES across Europe’s seas.


The contents and formats to be used for the reporting of the different Articles are agreed between the European Commission and the EU Member States in the context of the MSFD Common Implementation Strategy. While the discussions are held within the Working Group on Data, Information and Knowledge Exchange (WG DIKE), the adoption of the reporting guidelines is done by the Marine Strategy Coordination Group (MSCG).

The European Environment Agency maintains the electronic platform used for the Reporting (ReportNet), as well as hosts the central database where the reported data are stored.