Alternative Governance Models


Although Member States sharing a marine region should cooperate and coordinate their activities, such as through use of existing regional institutional cooperation structures (e.g. the Regional Sea Conventions (RSC)), the MSFD (Marine Strategy Framework Directive) itself does not provide any specific legal framework nor specifies governing structures to ensure this.

To address this key challenge, alternative governance models were developed in ODEMM to facilitate thinking about the options and possibilities of stakeholder involvement and regional cooperation and collaboration for the implementation of the MSFD. Based on the factors participation and decision-making power, four governance models have been developed and assessed: Cross-border Platforms, Regional Sea Convention-Plus, Advisory Alliance and Regional Sea Assembly.


Cross-border platforms

Cross border platforms consist of neighbouring Member States (MSs) (typically 2-3) working together on an ad hoc basis and coordinating their initiatives in implementing the MSFD through information sharing. Participation of representatives of marine sectors and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are mostly through consultation at the national level, thus stakeholders would have no formal influence on the outcome of decision-making processes, and there would be no binding decisions made.

Regional Sea Convention-PLUS (RSC+)

The Regional Sea Convention-PLUS governance model is taking the existing structures between the EU, RSC and MSs a step further by providing the RSC with a stronger role and mandate in implementing and coordinating the regional aspects of the MSFD. This model will replace the nationally oriented implementation processes with regional implementation processes coordinated by the RSC+. Unlike the existing situation, binding decisions would be made in the RSC+ to which the MSs would adhere. Stakeholder involvement would be through consultation at the national level.

Advisory Alliance

The proposed Advisory Alliances consist of representatives of all maritime stakeholders; industry (e.g. fisheries, oil and gas industry, shipping, off shore wind energy, coastal tourism), societal groups (eNGOs) and relevant national administrations. An Advisory Alliance would be installed for each marine region or sub-region. The Advisory Alliances formulate non-binding advice to the EU and the MSs, and leave the implementation of decisions to the individual MSs (comparable to the Regional Advisory Councils (RACs) for fisheries). MSs would take on the role of coordination and facilitate collaboration both between MSs and between MSs and stakeholders at a regional sea level. The platform is intended to stimulate coordination and collaboration through soft modes of governance e.g. best practices and peer pressure.

Regional Sea Assembly

The Regional Sea Assembly (RSA) governance model proposes the establishment of a new institution. The RSA is given the exclusive competence of management of marine regions (regional sea), its natural resources, habitats and its uses. Hence an important responsibility of the RSA is to implement the MSFD, and also to decide about other marine policies for a specific regional sea. The assembly is an entirely new governance arrangement at the level of the regional sea, with sovereign decision-making power and an elected representative body. Through elections all citizens and hence all stakeholders of the regional sea can be involved.

Assessment of the governance performance

The performance of these governance models was assessed based on the governance performance, which is the effective and legitimate implementation of the MSFD, given the costs (in setting up and running the model and the capacity to cooperate of public and private actors) and the benefits achieved (in terms of cooperation, institutional ambiguity and implementation drift). The models were also evaluated by stakeholders in four regional Round Table Discussions (RTDs) (in the Baltic, the Mediterranean, the Black Sea and the Greater North Sea).


In a model such as the Advisory Alliance, the effectiveness is not guaranteed and this model could only function successfully in combination with elements of other governance models. While increased participation is strived for by many stakeholder groups, the associated governance performance is low as costs of running a model on high stakeholder involvement are high. In the other models, stakeholders are involved in a way that is clearly coupled to institutionalized decision-making settings. However, the ratio between costs and benefits differs between the models. For example, the Regional Sea Assemblies have the highest score on the benefits (high policy coordination and low degrees of ambiguity and implementation drift), but score worst on the costs involved in creating a new decision making structure.

The Cross Border Platforms are considered a useful starting point for regional cooperation and the Regional Sea Assembly the most unrealistic governance model. The RSC+ model has possibilities to contribute to integrated management of the European Seas but lacks stakeholder involvement and precision of the enforcement of decisions made. A combination of the Advisory Alliance with the RSC+, to ensure both stakeholder involvement and binding decision making, would be the preferred option.

Stakeholder involvement at the regional level is costly and does not necessarily bring many benefits, unless it is combined with decision making power. An effective and legitimate implementation of the MSFD can only be realised by a combination of the suggested models. In addition, we have to bear in mind that because of the institutional differences of the four regional seas there is no “one size fits all” solution. Depending on the regional sea as well as the phase of implementation (e.g. defining GES, formulating programmes of measures) different hybrid models are desired.

Using the Tool

Full descriptions of the alternative governance models are available in the links given under Further Information. Interested parties could take these models and the outcomes found in testing these for the European regional seas to explore suitable models to improve regional sea governance in any regional sea area. We see the models as a starting point for users to consider the appropriate governance structure to implement under a particular set of conditions.

Skills Needed

If users would like to consider application or further development of any of the proposed governance models developed under ODEMM we recommend discussion with the tool contacts given below. We also have extensive experience in how to consult stakeholders on the development of alternative models.

Further Information: The Alternative Governance Models developed and tested by ODEMM are described in Van Tatenhove et al. (2014) Marine Policy 50, 364–372

They are also described in Chapter 8 of ODEMM's final deliverable (Robinson et al. (2014) - ODEMM Report.pdf)

Developers: Jan vanTatenhove, Jesper Raakjaer, Judith van Leeuwen and Luc van Hoof

Tool contacts: Jan van Tatenhove ( or Judith van Leewen (