Baltic Sea


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Baltic Sea

Please note that this section of the EU MSP Platform website is not currently being updated with new information. However, the resources throughout our website remain relevant to our mission of sharing knowledge and experiences on MSP in the EU.

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 in 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 water body with an average depth of only 54m. It is a brackish water ecosystem characterized by high biological production. The coastal ecosystem functions 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 sea uses 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.

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.

Visions and Strategies Around the Baltic Sea (VASAB)

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.

Helsinki Commission (HELCOM)

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.

EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region (EUSBSR)Horizontal Action “Spatial Planning''

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

Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS)

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

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

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.

Baltic Sea States Sub-regional Co-operation (BSSSC)

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


Baltic Sea Advisory Council’s (BSAC)
Baltic Sea Fisheries (BALTFISH) Forum
EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP)
HELCOM Group on ecosystem-based sustainable Fisheries
Fisheries Secretariat (FISH)

Shipping and Ports

HELCOM Maritime Working Group
HELCOM Baltic Sea Region e-Navigation Forum
Steering Committee for the EUSBSR Priority Area on Clean Shipping
Baltic and International Maritime Council (BIMCO)
European Community Shipowners’ Associations (ECSA)
Baltic Ports Organisation

Nature Protection

HELCOM Habitat
Union of the Baltic Cities (UBC)  - Sustainable Cities Commission (former Commission on Environment)
Baltic Environmental Forum (BEF)
Coalition Clean Baltic

Offshore Renewable Energy Production

CPMR Baltic Sea Commission – Renewable Energy Working Group
European Wind Energy Association (EWEA)
ENTSO-E – Baltic Sea Regional Group


Baltic Sea Fisheries (BALTFISH) Forum

Underwater Cultural Heritage

CBSS Baltic Sea Monitoring Group on Heritage Cooperation

Scientific Research

Baltic Sea Hydrographic Commission
International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) Data Centre
Joint Baltic Sea Research and Development Programme (BONUS)
World Maritime University (WMU)
Baltic University Programme (BUP)
NORDREGIO – Nordic Centre for Spatial Development



(i) Text adapted from the following sources:

Furman, E., Pihlajamäki, M., Välipakka, P., & Myrberg, K. (2013). The Baltic Sea: Environment and Ecology. Presentation, Helsinki.

BaltSeaPlan website, accessed 22.04.2016

Schultz-Zehden, A. & Gee, K. (2014). MSP Governance Framework Report. PartiSEApate. Retrieved from

(ii) Text adapted from: Schultz-Zehden, A. & Gee, K. (2014). MSP Governance Framework Report. PartiSEApate. Retrieved from

(iii) Text adapted from: Schultz-Zehden, A. & Gee, K. (2014). MSP Governance Framework Report. PartiSEApate. Retrieved from