West Mediterranean

General introduction to the Western Mediterranean Sea basin

The European Western Mediterranean Sea basin includes the Mediterranean coastlines belonging to Spain, France and Malta, as well as the portion of Italian coastlines along the Thyrrenian Sea and Strait of Sicily. The Western Mediterranean basin benefits from a number of strengths related to its strategic positioning, among which the fact that it is part of one of the principle maritime corridors in the world and the gateway to Africa for European countries. However, a specific political framework in the West Mediterranean Sea basin, has yet to be developed for promoting and supporting cross-border and cross-sectorial maritime spatial planning. Instead, cross-border MSP initiatives have, so far, mainly been created at pan-Mediterranean level through ad hoc projects. Western Mediterranean EU Member States share the sea-basin with Morocco and Algeria.

The Western Mediterranean is a traditional and consolidated tourist destination in the region, in particular its northern rim. Taken together, fisheries and aquaculture are the second most important activity in terms of GVA and employment. Goods transport (circa 700 million tons of freight and 14 million TEU traffic) represent close to 40% of Mediterranean values.

Human activities involve a number of environmental pressures causing high or very high environmental impacts in marine and/or coastal ecosystems. Maritime, but also land-based activities (including in particular the industrial sector- along with a progressively more urbanised coastline), are at the origin of a wide spectrum of environmental pressures, ranging from air and water pollution to waste generation. Today, overexploitation of fishing resources is ranked among the most important pressures in the region, along with biodiversity and habitat loss and contamination.

MSP in the Western Mediterranean

As all EU Member states, the nations 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 underway.

France has set out its national vision, high-level goals, and key actions to enable its marine potential to be realised (cf. Stratégie Nationale pour la Mer et le Littoral). France has chosen the sea-basin strategy documents (strategic facade documents-SFDs) as their legal solution to address the requirements of MSFD and MSPD. Each four sea-basin strategies (“Documents Stratégiques de Façade – DSF”) contain two parts:   

  1. initial assessment and strategic objectives and MSP - vocational map and fact sheets (finalised in September/October 2019)  
  2. monitoring mechanism and action plan (finalised in April/May 2022)  

The documents were approved for each sea basin after being drafted in cooperation with stakeholders as well as neighbouring countries and submitted to an environmental assessment by the French Environmental Authority.

Italy, through the Inter-Ministerial Coordination Table for Maritime Spatial Planning, produced Guidelines containing indications and criteria for the preparation of maritime spatial management plans (Decree of the Presidency of Council of Ministries, 1 December 2017, published in the Gazzetta Ufficiale on 24 January 2018, n. 19). The Guidelines include the identification of the marine areas to be considered for the preparation of maritime plans and the definition of the areas relevant in terms of land-sea interactions. Four marine areas have been identified, coherently with the definition of marine sub-regions under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive. Each area is composed of planning units with different types of “vocations” (generic, priority, limited, reserved) and include 42 strategic objectives. In June 2021, the Italian Government submitted its proposal for future MSP plans for the four Italian maritime regions to the European Commission. These plans were submitted to the Region’s Parliament (Giunta) for approval. Once approved they will be open for public debate in each of the Regions.  

Malta approved The Strategic Plan for the Environment and Development (SPED) in 2015, replacing the Structure Plan for the Maltese Islands (adopted in 1992). The SPED formulates the strategic spatial policy framework for environment and development up to 2020, complementing the Government’s policy for the same period. It covers coastal zones and marine areas in a joint chapter as one distinct spatial unit within the National Spatial Framework and is limited to marine waters up to the 25nm limit of the Fisheries Management Conservation Zone (adopted by Council Regulation EC No. 1967/2006 under the EU Accession Treat, 2003). The competent authority designated is the Planning Authority (PA). In 2020, the Government of Malta called for a review of the SPED and as the Competent Authority for MSP, the Planning Authority has started the process which will be governed by the procedures set out in legislation.

Spain has adopted legislation establishing a framework for MSP and has created the Inter-Ministerial Commission on Marine Strategies. The Spanish MSP, Planes de Ordenación del Espacio Marítimo (POEM), was adopted on the 28th of February 2023 by the Council of Ministers by Royal Decree. It establishes plans for each of the five Spanish marine subdivisions: North Atlantic, South Atlantic, Estrecho and Alboran, Levantine-Balearic and Canary Islands. The first cycle of the plans, including the implementation of measures and the monitoring, will take place between 2023 and 2027. 

West Mediterranean cooperation in MSP

Cooperation between Member States in Western Mediterranean has been promoted through several actions initiated by organisations such as the UNEP/MAP, or the working group on IMP-MED. Further cooperation has also been developed thanks to projects such as SIMWESTMED (Supporting Maritime Spatial Planning in the Western Mediterranean region) or AMPAMED (Areas Marinas Protegidas del Mediterráneo) which carried out cross-border initiatives in the region.

Relevant pan-Mediterranean MSP institutions and structures


UNEP/MAP was firstly created to address marine pollution issues and includes now integrated coastal zone spatial planning (ICZM) and ecosystem-based management (EBM). Within ICZM and EBM, it promotes MSP. The 20th Ordinary Meeting of the Contracting Parties to the Barcelona Convention, held in December 2017 in Tirana (Albania), adopted the “Conceptual Framework for Marine Spatial Planning” in the Mediterranean Sea. The Conceptual Framework for MSP is recognized as a guiding document to facilitate the introduction of this management tool into the implementation of ICZM  through the relevant regional framework and within the system of the Barcelona Convention and its Protocols. MSP-related aspects are also addressed, for example through the Coastal Area Management Programme (CAMPs) managed by PAP/RAC.  Moreover, SPA/RAC is active in the field of MSP with some joint actions with the EC to promote establishing SPAMIs (Special Protected Areas of Mediterranean Interest) in open seas, including deep seas (MedOpenSea project). In addition to that, it is involved in other actions targeting the definition of EBSAs (Ecologically and Biologically Significant Areas) in the Mediterranean, under the framework of the Convention for Biological Diversity (CBD).One of UNEP MAP’s initiatives is the creation of supporting infrastructures, the Regional Activity Centres (RACs). Their main objective is to promote information sharing and communications between MAP stakeholders and the wider user community. There are six Regional Activity Centres across the Mediterranean:

Finally, The MED POL Programme is responsible for the follow up work related to the implementation of the LBS Protocol, the Protocol for the Protection of the Mediterranean Sea against Pollution from Land-Based Sources and Activities and of the dumping and Hazardous Wastes Protocols.

UNEP/MAP was firstly created to address marine pollution issues and includes now integrated coastal zone spatial planning (ICZM) and ecosystem-based management (EBM). Within ICZM and EBM, it promotes MSP, for example through the Coastal Area Management Programmes (CAMPs) managed by PAP/RAC. SPA/RAC is active in the field of MSP with some joint actions with the EC to promote establishing SPAMIs (Special Protected Areas of Mediterranean Interest) in open seas, including deep seas (MedOpenSea project). In addition to that, it is involved in other actions targeting the definition of EBSAs (Ecologically and Biologically Significant Areas) in the Mediterranean, under the framework of the Convention for Biological Diversity (CBD).

Working Group on IMP-MED

The first meeting of the Working Group on IMP-MED took place in December 2009. It gathers representatives of the EU and its Member States together with non-EU Mediterranean countries for discussing and reviewing the implementation of the IMP-MED project, which aims at promoting an integrated approach for maritime management within the Mediterranean through regional meetings, technical regional workshops and technical assistance.

CPMR Intermediterranean Commission

The CPMR Intermediterranean Commission was created in Andalusia in 1990 to express the shared interests of Mediterranean regions in important European negotiations. The principal mission of the Intermediterranean Commission is to encompass the issues raised in all the Regions bordering the Mediterranean Sea, in particular after the 1995 Barcelona declaration. Today, the Intermediterranean Commission has forty Member Regions in 9 different countries (Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Malta, Morocco, Portugal, Spain and Tunisia). Its purpose is to be open to all the different sub-national levels in all Mediterranean countries.

In December 2014, the CPMR Intermediterranean Commission set a working group on Transport and Integrated Maritime Policy to support regional authorities in improving governance and coordination in the implementation of EU maritime and transport policies in the Mediterranean. Themes covered include MSP.

Related Transnational, Non-sectorial Organisations & Policies - Mediterranean Sea

Union for the Mediterranean (UfM)

The Union for the Mediterranean is an intergovernmental organisation aimed at bringing together the 28 EU MS and the 15 southern and eastern Mediterranean countries, to enhance regional cooperation and dialogue in the Euro-Mediterranean region. Established in 2008 under the French Presidency of the EU, it built on processes that had emerged and achieved progress in the previous years, notably the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (EMP).

UNEP-MAP Mediterranean Commission on Sustainable Development (MCSD)

The creation in 1996 of the MCSD by the Contracting Parties conveys their commitment to sustainable development and to the effective implementation, at the regional and national levels, of the decisions of the Earth Summit and the United Nations Commission for Sustainable Development. The MCSD is made up of 40 members: 22 permanent, representing each of the Contracting Parties to the Barcelona Convention, as well as 18 rotating representatives from wider community. The MCSD has provided major inputs to the formulation of the Mediterranean Strategy for Sustainable Development (MSSD) and spearheads its implementation at the country level.


The Strategic Partnership for the Mediterranean Sea Large Marine Ecosystem (MedPartnership) is a collective effort of leading environmental institutions and organizations together with countries sharing the Mediterranean Sea to address the main environmental challenges that Mediterranean marine and coastal ecosystems face. The MedPartnership is being led by UNEP/MAP and is financially supported by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), and other donors, including the European Commission and all participating countries.

Mediterranean Information Office for Environment, Culture and Sustainable Development (MIO-ECSDE)

MIO-ECSDE is non-profit Federation of over 130 Mediterranean Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) working in the fields of Environment and Development in 25 countries of the Euro-Mediterranean area. MIO-ECSDE mission is to protect the natural environment and cultural heritage and promote sustainable development in a peaceful Mediterranean by bringing together the efforts of environmental and developmental NGOs.

Bologna Charter

The Bologna Charter is a policy document aiming at strengthening the role of coastal administrations in the context of European policies and initiatives at the Mediterranean scale related to: coastal protection, integrated management, adaptation to climate change. The Charter also promotes and outlines a Macro-Project initiatives for the current programming period of the European Structural Funds (2014-2020), designed for a coherent Mediterranean macro-thematic and multi-sectoral strategy. The Macro-Project is detailed in the Joint Action Plan. Although the main focus is on coastal planning, management and adaptation to climate change, MSP approaches and principles are clearly considered relevant and taken in consideration by the Charter and the Action Plan.

Mediterranean Network of Basin Organizations (MENBO)

The International Network of Basin Organizations has as main objectives to: (i) develop permanent relations with the organizations interested in comprehensive river basin management, and facilitate exchanges of experiences and expertise among them; (ii)  promote the principles and means of sound water management in cooperation programmes to reach sustainable development, (iii) facilitate the implementation of tools for institutional and financial management, for programming, for the organization of data bases, and of models adapted to the needs.

Agency for sustainable Mediterranean cities and territories (AViTeM)

The main objective of AViTeM is to establish a mechanism for the exchange of experience, expertise, cooperation and training, to enable promotion of integrated and exemplary initiatives of urban and territorial development in the countries of the Union for the Mediterranean. It is a response to strong demand of cooperation from Mediterranean countries in the areas of processes, tools and methods, for the implementation of effective urban and territorial planning against a backdrop of regionalisation and decentralisation.

Related Transnational, Non-sectorial Organisations & Policies – West Mediterranean Sea

The 5+5 Dialogue

The 5+5 ministerial meetings is an intergovernmental cooperation initiative between Malta, Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, Mauritania, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya. It was launched in 1990. 5+5 is steered through Ministerial Conferences of ministers of Foreign Affairs. There is no permanent secretariat. In principle, the 5+5 Dialogue covers any cooperation field between partners.

Dedicated themes on which ministerial stood:

  • Transport,
  • Water (Strategy for the Western Mediterranean)
  • Defence and safety,
  • Education,
  • Environment and Renewable energies,
  • University education and scientific research,
  • Tourism

UMA Arab Maghreb Union

A five-nation sub-region grouping that brings together Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia working on several issues related to the promotion of economic integration in the Maghreb, especially the creation of the proposed Maghreb Bank for Investment and External Trade and launching a Maghreb free zone.

Relevant Sector Organisations – Mediterranean Sea


General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM)

Shipping and Ports

CPMR Intermediterranean Commission - Working Group on Transport and Integrated Maritime Policy


Mediterranean Experience of Ecotourism (MEET) Network

Nature Protection

Network of Marine Protected Area Managers in the Mediterranean (MedPAN)

IUCN Centre for Mediterranean Cooperation

Offshore Renewable Energy

Mediterranean Association of the National Agencies for Energy Conservation (MEDENER)

Association of Mediterranean Energy Regulators (MEDREG)

Renewable Energy Solutions for the Mediterranean (RES4MED)

Observatoire Méditerranéen de l’Energie (OME)


General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM)

Scientific Research

BLUEMED Initiative

Mediterranean Universities Union (UNIMED)

Relevant Sector Organisations – West Mediterranean Sea

Shipping and Ports

CETMO centre for Transportation Studies for the Western Mediterranean (CETMO)


Last update 03.10.2022