France is a maritime nation. However, France, unlike the UK and the Netherlands, has not had a consistent maritime ambition. As a result, development of maritime activities has not always been a national priority and France has not devised a full-fledged maritime policy with clear objectives.
In the environmental area, France has adopted a national strategy on biodiversity containing a specific sea action plan. This action plan is in an attempt to integrate, in a coherent framework, actions undertaken by responsible authorities at different levels of government. At this stage of development, it is more a strategic action plan than an operational plan.
The management of waters under French jurisdiction has been and still is, to a large extent, the responsibility of the central government. However, over the years responsibility for coastal and near shore activities has been shared with local authorities and stakeholders.
While several planning instruments have been introduced to facilitate and enhance spatial planning in the coastal zone, they have been applied primarily to terrestrial activities. To date, management of human activities in marine waters off the French coastline is not integrated and is characterized by a sectoral approach with the involvement of scores of authorities. France, unlike many important maritime nations, has not developed comprehensive ocean legislation.
France does have a history of using spatial planning tools that are called “schémas de mise en valeur de la mer (SMVM)” roughly translated as ”sea enhancement plans”, and have existed in France for at least 30 years. In the 1960s and 1970s, planning procedures were developed in France for regional marine coastlines (e.g., in Brittany), establishing one of the first tools to help sea use planning. The SMVMs were designed to define long-term guidelines for the resolution of coastal conflicts, aimied at securing the coexistence and development of coastal activities while taking into full account environmental protection needs. The SMVMs include coastal areas when their influence on marine areas is obvious, and on the marine side can extend to the 12 nmi limit. The procedure for implementing the SMVM includes a development phase in which elected officials and all stakeholders (sector representatives and experts) are involved, with final approval by state representatives. The key features of the French MSP process include: cooperation of multiple partners; adopting environmental and socio-economic principles; and seeking to set long-term guidelines to solve conflicts and find a balance between the expectations of development and the requirements of conservation (Trouillet et al. 2011).
Several lessons can be taken from the French experience: 1) the time required for the development phase of the project should be long enough to allow for full participation from marine stakeholders but not so long as to take decades (as experienced with some SMVMs); 2) the process needs to ensure a good representativeness and stability of stakeholders; 3) a balance needs to be secured of both top-down (government) and bottom-up (stakeholders) decision level inputs; and 4) there is a need to produce, organize and share scientific information among the stakeholders within a highly structured database (e.g. GIS).
However, over the past quarter of a century, only four SMVMs have been approved and now exist in France (three on the Atlantic coast and one in the Mediterranean: the Thau Lagoon (1995), the Arcachon Basin (2004), the Gulf of Morbihan (2006), and Tregor-Goelo coast (2007)—an unsatisfactory result attributed to an “unwieldy development process”.
In reality, MSP in France is moving forward on a sectoral rather than integrated basis, including the delineation of marine energy zones and spatial protection measures for biodiversity (marine parks).
French stakeholders are involved in the first phase of a pilot MSP initiative through the EU-funded PISCES project (www.projectpisces.eu) that covers the North-Eastern Atlantic part of the French territorial waters and the Celtic Sea.
Even though a truly integrated MSP process has not started yet, the French government has started its implementation the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive. There are different working groups including an Atlantic and Mediterranean Maritime Councils. This consultative body will be in charge of future MSP implementation in France.