The UK is required under European law to comply with a number of directives; many of which apply to the coastal and marine environment. Directives apply to all countries in the European Union and aim to preserve, protect and improve the quality of the environment, protect human health, prudently and rationally utilise natural resources and promote measures at international level to deal with regional or worldwide environmental problems.
In July 2014, the EU adopted the Maritime Spatial Planning directive which came into force in September 2014. It created the world's first legal requirement for countries to create transparent planning-at-sea systems and to cooperate with their neighbours to make that happen. EU countries are now required to transpose the directive into national legislation and appoint competent authorities by 2016. The implementation of MSP in member states' jurisdictional waters must be achieved by March 2021. The directive focuses on four objectives linked to the legal bases (environment, fisheries, maritime transport and energy). Member states can add additional sectors.
The European Court of Justice has held that European Community law has priority over national law. Directives are known as secondary law. They are binding as to the results to be achieved, but their means of implementation and transposition into national laws are a matter for each EU member state. Once a Directive is passed by the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers, each country usually has two years to transpose it into their country’s legal system. This stage is necessary to allow time to align the Directive with relevant laws within each member state. In England the European Communities Act allows ministers to incorporate Directives into English law by means of regulations.
The following is a summary of EU legislation that applies to the coasts and seas around the UK.