General Introduction to the European Atlantic
The European (North East) Atlantic borders four Member States (Ireland, France, Spain and Portugal), covering a vast area and a diverse range of ecosystems. More broadly, these ecosystems are split into the Celtic Seas, Bay of Biscay and Iberian Coast. Given the size of this region, there are great variations in physical and biological conditions. To the north, the Celtic Seas are characterised by relatively shallow waters and a gently sloping continental shelf. Along the coastline are several sea lochs, brackish estuarine systems and maerl beds that support cold-water fish species, seabirds and cetaceans such as dolphins and basking shark. In contrast the waters of the Bay of Biscay and Iberian Peninsula drop away steeply to a depth of over 5000m and support a wide range of cold-water corals, sponges and pelagic species.
In terms of sea uses, fishing is a major sector within the Atlantic, whilst coastal tourism and shipping are of great importance to all Member States bordering this area. In particular, the Gibraltar Strait and the English Channel act as major shipping gateways connecting Europe with the wider world. Whilst there is limited oil and gas production in the European Atlantic, this region has high potential for the development of offshore renewable energy given its favourable physical and climatic conditions for wind, tidal and wave energy devices. Since 2022, the offshore wind development has been speeded up with already several offshore wind farms in production and new calls in the four Member States.
All five of the Atlantic Member States (including the UK) have defined their EEZ in the Atlantic. On 19 May 2006, France, Ireland, Spain and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (hereinafter referred to as the “four coastal States”) collectively submitted, through the Secretary-General of the United Nations to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, information on the limits of the continental shelf appurtenant to these four coastal States in the area of the Celtic Sea and the Bay of Biscay, lying beyond 200 nautical miles from the baselines from which the territorial seas are measured, in accordance with Article 76, paragraph 8 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Portugal submitted a claim to extend its jurisdiction over the neighbouring continental shelf in May 2009, which is still under examination after reservation from Morocco in July 2015.
Countries and MSP in the European Atlantic
France: MSP Adopted
Ireland: MSP Adopted
Portugal: MSP Adopted
Spain: MSP Adopted
For the European Atlantic area, MSP has undergone significant development in recent years with national MSP adoption for the four member states. Cooperation between Member States has been promoted and developed in projects, such as TPEA (Transboundary Planning in the European Atlantic), SIMCelt (Supporting Implementation of Maritime Spatial Planning in the Celtic Seas), SIMNorat (Supporting Implementation of Maritime Spatial Planning in the North Atlantic) and SIMAtlantic (Supporting Implementation of Maritime Spatial Planning in the Atlantic Seabasin). The United-Kingdom, despite Brexit, continues to cooperate on MSP for trans boundaries compliance.
Under the Atlantic Action Plan 2.0 (SWD(2020) 140 final) endorsed in 2020, the four Member States agreed to cooperate for the development of a sustainable blue economy where MSP has been identified as an enabler for instance for the pillar III related to marine renewable energies or for the pillar IV related to environment.
The OSPAR Commission was established in 1992 as the mechanism for governments to cooperate on implementation of the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North East Atlantic. OSPAR works on a number of fields including biodiversity and ecosystems, hazardous and radioactive substances, human activities and offshore industries.
The governance of the Atlantic Maritime Strategy and its action plan rests with the Atlantic Strategy Committee (ASC), which is responsible for the strategic decision-making related to the review, operational coordination and implementation of the Atlantic action plan.
The Atlantic Arc Commission is one of the Conference of Peripheral Maritime Region’s 6 geographical Commissions and contains members comprised of local and regional authorities from the UK, Ireland, northern Spain, Portugal and France.
CAAC is a network of territorial cooperation, based on the particular identity and challenges of Atlantic Cities. It facilitates cooperation among its members and with other actors, creating awareness in the European institutions about issues concerning the Atlantic Cities.
The British-Irish Council was established in 1998 to promote positive relationships between the people of the British Isles (8 administrations including England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man, Ireland, Guernsey and Jersey) and provide a forum for consultation and cooperation. The BIC operates at a high level, with annual meetings of heads of government and sectoral (ministerial and official) level. The work of the BIC is split across different priority areas of work, including the environment (which includes marine), collaborative spatial planning and energy.
North Western Waters Advisory Council
South Western Waters Advisory Council
Pelagic Advisory Council
North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission
North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation
Atlantic Arc Commission Fisheries and Aquaculture Working Group
EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP)