Baltic cooperation in marine spatial planning

Tadeusz Palmowski,
Professor, Head

Maciej Tarkowski,
Post-doctoral fellow

Department of Regional Development Geography
University of Gdańsk

The beginnings of the most recent chapter of Baltic collaboration date back to the seventies of the twentieth century and are related to the signing of international marine environmental protection conventions, an area least burdened by political divisions that impede the development of multilateral relations. Cooperation gained momentum at the end of the eighties and the beginning of the nineties of the twentieth century following the disintegration of USSR and the emerging political transformations in Central Europe. These processes led to EU expansion covering nearly all countries around the Baltic Sea and eliminated many stumble blocks impeding cooperation in the past. Nevertheless, not all problems disappeared and new ones appeared. Though the ratification of conventions for protection of the Baltic Sea environment brought positive results, it is quite clear that the challenges of growing anthropopression and the reconciling of varies interests require new forms of international cooperation. In the first decade of the twenty first century, the area of marine spatial planning provided such new planes for collaboration.

Marine and coastal areas are becoming areas of dynamic human activity related to wind energy, pipeline transport and marine shipping, fishery and aquaculture. These activities may be complimentary, neutral or give rise to conflicts in using the particular water basins. Insufficient coordination may lead to rivalry for the most attractive areas and generate pressure for valuable resources and the consequential continued degradation of the marine environment. Such a development trend would lead to the reoccurrence of the “tragedy of the commons” – a mechanism described fifty years ago by G. Hardin. Marine spatial planning is to counteract such a scenario. This type of intervention in the political and market mechanism of utilizing sea resources is a complex tool for controlling all processes affecting coastal and sea areas for ensuring sustainable development.

Marine spatial planning is a key tool in EU integrated maritime policy. Public authorities and other stakeholders can coordinate actions and optimise the use of maritime space to the benefit of the economy and the marine environment. The EU Maritime Strategy Frame Directive provides grounds for marine spatial planning in scope of environmental protection regulations. It imposes the duty on all Member States to reach a good status of the marine environment by 2020, to apply the ecosystem approach and to guarantee the attainment of a good status of the environment.

The Baltic Sea marine spatial planning experience indicates that the process should account for the specifics of particular waters – not only the natural environment but also the interests and aspirations of coastal societies. Consulting and the involving of stakeholders are therefore necessary in the process of developing, implementing and evaluating plans. The marine spatial planning experience gained in international Baltcoast, PlanCoast and BaltSeaPlan projects, among others, were of fundamental significance in implementing and developing Baltic spatial planning. The HELCOM-VASAB taskforce for maritime spatial planning provides a regional cooperation platform for Baltic Europe countries towards coherent implementation of these plans. The EU strategy for the Baltic Sea Region (EUSBSR) assigned an important role to the taskforce in promoting marine spatial planning among all Baltic Sea Member States and in developing a common approach to transnational cooperation in this scope.

European Baltic countries strive to collaborate with Russia in preserving the natural and economic environment of the Baltic Sea. In terms of marine spatial planning, these embrace mainly Finland, Sweden, Germany and Poland. Several projects were performed by partners from Poland and Russia. They refer to maritime cross-border cooperation on the Vistula Lagoon, the water basin split by the Polish-Russian border. Although a long-term regional cooperation strategy was not adopted, the outcome may in the future improve the residents’ life standard; stimulate mobility of local society, and the economic development of the Vistula Lagoon. Both Polish-Russian cross-border basins – Gulf of Gdańsk and Vistula Lagoon – are exposed to growing anthropopressure and increasing conflicts over the use of resources. The ongoing work on the spatial development plan for Polish sea areas revealed five existing and 17 potential conflicts related to the existing/planned ways of using the sea.

A key benefit of marine spatial planning performed up to date is the exposed complexity of the problem. On one hand, it revealed the need to reach short-term economic benefits necessary for uninterrupted functioning of the economy, and on the other the need to curb anthropopression and mitigate conflicts on use of sea resources for ensuring long-term stability of marine ecosystems that also contribute to the prosperity of coastal societies. Success and failure also depend on the stakeholders’ ability to cooperate internationally. Awareness of such needs in Baltic Europe seems to be sufficiently mature to continue successfully works already initiated.


Expert article 2494

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