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Current international policies in European coastal areas

Global conventions: Territorial waters and Exclusive Economic Zones

From a legislation perspective, the coastal sea is divided into two zones: territorial waters and the Exclusive Economic Zone. Territorial waters, in the sense of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, extend up to 12 nautical miles (nm) offshore. Within territorial waters, countries have exclusive rights on fisheries and other natural resources. In the adjacent seas, extending up to 200 nm offshore, nations may claim an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), in which they have the sovereign rights to explore and exploit, conserve and manage the natural resources, renewables (wind energy, tidal energy, etc.) as well as non-renewables (sand, gravel, oil, gas). Other countries enjoy freedom of navigation and communication. Other countries may also fish in the EEZ (Barry et al., 2006).

European directives

In European coastal seas, the drivers for nature protection are the Birds and Habitats Directive that requires EU member states to designate marine protected areas, which together form the European Natura 2000 network.

The Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) directive and the European Environmental Impact Assessment directive (EIA) require Member States to conduct environmental impact assessments for individual plans and programs. They require environmental considerations to be incorporated into decision-making on the authorisation of individual projects or development plans. The environmental obligations under the Birds and Habitat, SEA and EIA Directives are reinforced and supplemented by the Water Framework Directive (2000), requiring a 'good quality status' in coastal waters, and by the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (2008), requiring a 'good environmental status' in marine waters (Qui & Jones, 2011). Such EU Directives are instruments to support the worldwide Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

Marine Spatial Planning in Europe is also heavily influenced by policies and directives that regulate economic activities in marine waters, particularly the European Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), the Renewable Energy Directive (2009) and the Integrated Maritime Policy (2007)(Qui & Jones, 2011).

Other European international policies

Further, many (European) countries are member states to regional seas conventions (e.g. OSPAR, Barcelona Convention, HELCOM), in which countries cooperate and integrate their policies. In the case of the implementation of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, OSPAR develops guidelines and organises meetings to coordinate the implementation.

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