General Introduction to the Baltic Sea basin*
The Baltic Sea is a semi-enclosed sea basin with a total area of 397,978 km². It is bordered by nine EU member states (Denmark, Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, Sweden) and Russia. The Baltic Sea can be divided into the following sub-regions: the Gulf of Finland, the Gulf of Bothnia, the Gulf of Riga, Baltic Proper (which includes the Gulf of Gdansk), the Danish Straits and the Kattegat.
The Baltic Sea is a relatively shallow body of water with an average depth of only 54m. It is a brackish water ecosystem characterised by high biological production. The coastal ecosystem operates as a breeding and nursery ground for many fish and invertebrates, and deeper waters provide habitat for pelagic fish, such as herring and sprat.
The different functions possessed by the Sea, such as shipping, fisheries, wind farms or mineral extraction, are increasingly competing for the limited sea space. On top of this, the fragile Baltic ecosystem and the threats of climate change call for a balanced multi-sectorial approach.
MSP in the Baltic Sea
The nations bordering the Baltic Sea are developing MSP to fulfil their requirements under the EU Directive for MSP, to deliver maritime spatial planning by March 2021. The following MSP activities are under way in the Baltic Sea:
Prior to 2021, Denmark did not have an holistic spatial plan for the sea, however, a range of sectoral plans have been in use. These plans have provided key contributions to the MSP planning process in Denmark. The Danish maritime spatial plan for the sea was finalised and launched in March 2021. This new maritime spatial plan introduces holistic spatial planning for the entire Danish marine area, including the marine internal waters, the territorial sea and the EEZ.
Estonia does not yet have an adopted national MSP, but they are in the final stages of developing one. Two regional MSP are in force: Hiiu (adopted in 2016) and Pärnu (2017) counties.
The first Finnish maritime spatial plan was approved in December 2020. It was prepared in three parts covering both territorial waters and the EEZ. These are the Northern Bothnian Sea, Quark and Bothnian Bay drafted by the Regional Councils of Lapland, Oulu region, Central Ostrobothnia and Ostrobothnia; the Archipelago sea and Southern Bothnian Sea drafted by the Regional Councils of Satakunta and Southwest Finland; and the Gulf of Finland drafted by the Regional Councils of Helsinki-Uusimaa and Kymenlaakso.
An MSP Plan for the Åland Island is developed according to its own maritime spatial planning legislation as Åland Island is an autonomous region of Finland.
Maritime spatial plans exist for the German North Sea and Baltic Sea EEZs (2) and for the territorial sea areas under jurisdiction of the three coastal federal states (Lower Saxony, Schleswig-Holstein, and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern) (3).
The process of revising the MSP has been completed after two rounds of national and international consultations. Changes were made based on the feedback received and the revised MSP for the German EEZ in the North Sea and Baltic Sea entered into force on 1 September 2021.
The Maritime Spatial Plan for Internal Waters, Territorial Waters and Exclusive Economic Zone of the Republic of Latvia (MSP 2030) was adopted by the Latvian Government in May 2019, under the Order of the Cabinet of Ministers No. 232 (21 May 2019).
Lithuania has adopted its new Comprehensive Plan (2nd) that includes MSP on 29 September 2021. The strategic section called the Concept of Comprehensive Plan for the territory of the Republic of Lithuania (CPRL) was approved by the Parliament on 4 June 2020.
The maritime spatial planning process in Poland is divided into the following plans: Maritime Spatial Plan for Polish Sea Areas in scale of 1:200 000; Maritime Spatial Plans for Szczeciński Lagoon and Kamieński Lagoon; Maritime Spatial Plans for Vistula Lagoon; Maritime Spatial Plans for port area waters; Detailed plans for selected areas covered by the Maritime Spatial Plan for Polish Sea Areas in scale of 1:200 000.
On 14 April 2021, the Polish Government (council of Ministers) adopted a regulation on the Polish spatial development plan for internal sea waters, the territorial sea and the exclusive economic zone on a scale of 1: 200,000. The plan has been in force since 22 May when it was published in the official Journal of Law.
Three national plans covering the territorial sea and the EEZ are in preparation: Skagerrak/Kattegat, Baltic Sea and Gulf of Bothnia. In Autumn 2019, the Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management was in the process of finalising the country’s marine spatial plan proposals and on 17 December 2019, they delivered the final version to the Government. The Government is now preparing the marine spatial plans for adoption.
Relevant pan-Baltic MSP institutions and structures**
The joint Baltic Sea MSP Working Group, established by HELCOM and VASAB, is a forum for intergovernmental discussions on MSP. The Working Group hosts dialogues on recent and future developments in the field of MSP in the Baltic Sea Region.
VASAB is an intergovernmental multilateral co-operation of 11 countries of the Baltic Sea Region (BSR) on spatial planning and development. Its current work is guided by the 2009 “VASAB Long-Term Perspective for the Territorial Development of the Baltic Sea Region” strategic document, which considers MSP as a key instrument for the alleviation of potential sea use conflicts.
HELCOM is the governing body of the Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea Area (Helsinki Convention). In 2007, HELCOM developed the new Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP), which introduced MSP as a process aiming at more coherent management of human activities in the Baltic Sea.
The EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region (EUSBSR) is organised according to three overall objectives: saving the sea, connecting the region and increasing prosperity. The 2013 Action Plan comprises 17 thematic Priority Areas and 5 cross-sectional Horizontal Actions. Leaders of the Horizontal Action “Spatial Planning” are HELCOM and VASAB.
Baltic Sea cooperation on MSP***
The Baltic model of MSP development is based on a political framework through ministerial cooperation (VASAB). It acknowledges, as the Baltic Sea has no physical barriers, that it should be used and protected within a wider, supranational perspective. With the publication of 2010+ Spatial Development Action Programme in 2001 and the adoption of the Gdansk Declaration in 2005, VASAB was the first organisation to call for the introduction of MSP in the Baltic Sea region.
In 2007 the EU Blue Book on Integrated Maritime Policy introduced MSP as tool for the sustainable development of marine areas and coastal regions. In the same year the HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) referring to broad-scale MSP principles based on the ecosystem approach was adopted.
In parallel to political developments – starting in 2002 -, methodology was tested and practical planning experience was gained through cross-border pilot projects such as BaltCoast, PlanCoast, BaltSeaPlan, PlanBothnia and PartiSEApate. Lessons learnt were implemented in strategic documents at the political level. In turn, new cooperation projects were initiated to find organisational and institutional solutions for MSP. Within these projects, or using experience of them, formal maritime spatial plans were developed in Germany. Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia developed pilot maritime spatial plans with transnational elements. Currently, in the light of the new EU Directive for MSP from 2014, which is also calling for cross-border cooperation in MSP, all EU Baltic Sea States are in the phase of planning, establishing or evaluating national MSPs. They have to be in place by March 2021.
Related Transnational, Non-sectorial Organisations & Policies
The Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS) is a political forum for regional intergovernmental cooperation. The CBSS addresses MSP-related issues through its Expert Group on Maritime Policy, which comprises experts from all Baltic States’ maritime authorities with a focus on maritime traffic management and surveillance.
The Nordic Council is the official inter-parliamentary body in the Nordic Region, while the Nordic Council of Ministers is the forum for Nordic governmental co-operation at prime ministerial and ministerial level. A Working Group of the Nordic Council of Ministers for the Environment called the Marine Group engages with MSP and coastal management.
The Baltic Sea Commission is one of six Geographical Commissions, which comprise the Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions of Europe (CPMR). The Baltic Sea Commission contributes to CPMR reflections and policy positions, and acts as a lobby and think tank for the regions around the Baltic Sea. The thematic working group, Maritime Working Group, monitors developments on MSP.
The Baltic Sea States Sub-regional Co-operation (BSSSC) is a political network consisting of regional authorities from the 10 littoral states of the Baltic Sea.
Relevant Sector Organisations
Shipping and Ports
Union of the Baltic Cities (UBC) - Sustainable Cities Commission (former Commission on Environment)
Offshore Renewable Energy Production
Underwater Cultural Heritage
Furman, E., Pihlajamäki, M., Välipakka, P., & Myrberg, K. (2013). The Baltic Sea: Environment and Ecology. Presentation, Helsinki.
BaltSeaPlan website, accessed 22.04.2016 http://www.baltseaplan.eu/
Schultz-Zehden, A. & Gee, K. (2014). MSP Governance Framework Report. PartiSEApate. Retrieved from http://www.partiseapate.eu/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/MSP-governance-framework-report1.pdf
(ii) Text adapted from: Schultz-Zehden, A. & Gee, K. (2014). MSP Governance Framework Report. PartiSEApate. Retrieved from http://www.partiseapate.eu/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/MSP-governance-framework-report1.pdf
(iii) Text adapted from: Schultz-Zehden, A. & Gee, K. (2014). MSP Governance Framework Report. PartiSEApate. Retrieved from http://www.partiseapate.eu/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/MSP-governance-framework-report1.pdf
Last update 15.11.2021.