Institutional ambiguity in implementing the European Union Marine Strategy Framework Directive

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This article addresses the institutional ambiguity that exists between the European, Regional and Member State levels in the implementation of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD). The two main reasons for the emergence of institutional ambiguity are (1) the MSFD being a framework directive and (2) Member States are required to coordinate the implementation of the MFSD through the Regional Sea Conventions. Institutional ambiguity refers to the interference zone between different institutional settings that come together in new policy practices. New rules of the game are needed to bring these institutional settings together and the room to manoeuvre for the actors who negotiate these rules is a defining feature of institutional ambiguity. This article analyses the institutional ambiguity associated with MSFD implementation on the European and regional level for four European Seas: the North Sea, the Baltic Sea, the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea. The results indicate different levels of institutional ambiguity in each of the four regions, with the lowest level of ambiguity in the Baltic Sea and the highest in the Mediterranean Sea. Institutional ambiguity also exists on the European level, as coordination efforts have not resulted in clear directions for the implementation of the MSFD as yet. The level of institutional ambiguity is influenced by the relative number of EU member states bordering the particular sea and whether they consider implementation of the MFSD to be urgent. Member States bordering the Mediterranean and the Black Seas lack the support of Regional Sea Conventions in addition to receiving limited direction from the European level.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)636-643
JournalMarine Policy
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • management
  • polity


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