Home page » Guide » 4. The MSFD and the ecosystem approach » Stakeholder participation in implementing the MSFD

Stakeholder participation in implementing the MSFD

“The ecosystem approach is nothing without stakeholders.” (Renewables sector)

Early and effective stakeholder participation is a legal requirement of the MSFD, and a key principle of the ecosystem approach. In the context of the MSFD, consultation must be undertaken at the end of each step during the development of marine strategies, and is one of several ways in which stakeholders can participate in decision-making (see Box 7).

“Stakeholders have a right to participate.” (Statutory agency)

Box 7: Types of stakeholder participationx

1) Consultation: to provide feedback to government decision-makers on analysis, alternatives and/or decisions.

2) Involvement: to work directly with government throughout the process to ensure that stakeholder concerns and aspirations are understood and considered in decision-making processes.

3) Collaboration: to partner with government in each aspect of the decision including the development of alternatives and the identification of the preferred solution.

4) Empowerment: to have decision-making placed in the hands of stakeholders.

However, the Directive clearly requires more than just consultation at the end of the process. In reality, ‘involvement’ and ‘collaboration’ are likely to be important elements in the future, particularly as the value of stakeholder knowledge is increasingly being recognised. There is also growing interest in the role of ‘empowerment’ under which responsibility for identifying and implementing measures is delegated to stakeholders (e.g. through voluntary agreements and co-management arrangements).

Effective participation requires input from a representative range of stakeholders, and over-representation of any particular sector is not in line with the MSFD. ‘Equality of arms’ also needs to be considered: this is a cornerstone of EU law which means that, for example, either all stakeholders or none should be accompanied by legal counsel where required.

A range of factors influence the potential for this to happen in reality, including resource constraints, attitudes and competing demands for participation, among others. The design and strict timeframes of the MSFD also impose constraints. For example, decisions resulting from cost-benefit analysis of the programmes of measures will need to be made towards the end of the process, leaving relatively few opportunities for stakeholder input.

Stakeholder participation will also be required in the development of plans under other authorities (e.g. marine plans, marine protected area and fishery management plans). Participation across all these closely related policy areas will need to be organised in a strategic and coherent way. Stakeholder ‘fatigue’ is a real and growing risk.


  1. x.   Based on REVIT (2007) Stakeholder Engagement: A Toolkit. www.revit-nweurope.org/selfguidingtrail/27_Stakeholder_engagement_a_toolkit-2.pdf (accessed on 20th September 2012).

Fishing net

Download the PISCES Guide

Download the PISCES Guide

Also available in: