Up until the beginning of the financial crisis, there had been a growth in maritime transport, significant pressure from fisheries and aquaculture and a sharp increase in the number of people living by the coast and in coastal tourism. There has also been a marked rise in the need for investment in offshore energy as part of the 2020 objectives. These are reasons why there is a need for good coordination and good, shared use of the sea. The Integrated Maritime Policy(1) and its action plan(2), adopted by the EU in December 2007, intends to respond to this need and to ensure that there is an improvement in the coordination of these activities. For this purpose, the Commission has in particular proposed creating a series of cross-sectoral' tools, including maritime spatial planning. According to the Commission, this should constitute "the stable framework, legal security and predictability, which are preconditions to pursuing and increasing investment in maritime sectors, both from European as well as external actors".

Already used on land, the principle is widely ignored once it comes to maritime space and the distribution of this space between different activities. Concerned not to generate opposition and having had its fingers burnt by the difficulties it encountered with the draft directive on the protection of soils, the Commission has taken care, right from the outset, to ensure that it covers all the bases. Planning of maritime space is the member states' responsibility in terms of its implementation. The principle of subsidiarity applies but coordination of action at EU level can significantly improve the results: working jointly on the planning of maritime space will make it possible to set up a framework within which the different sectoral approaches can be coordinated; the efficiency and coherence of EU policy and national policies will be improved and the economic costs caused by a lack of coordination reduced.

On the ground, spatial planning should, says the Commission, offer a series of long-term advantages: accelerated development of new commercial services based on easily accessible data, improvement in the efficiency of public institutions, including European marine research laboratories, the elimination of a number of uncertainties relating to global environmental change, integration - as part of a consolidated effort - of initiatives that are currently fragmented and limited in time covering access to data, clearer rules...

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