Legal policy framework
The Dutch government is legally obliged to formulate policy for the management and use of the North Sea. Overarching themes in the policy for the North Sea are spatial planning, achieving and maintaining good environmental status and ensuring there is a good balance between functions and use, on the one hand, and the carrying capacity of the North Sea system on the other.
The formal, legal basis for such policy is stated in the Water Act and the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD).
The Water Act obliges the Dutch government to draft a national water plan, plus a management and development plan for the waters for which it is responsible. In the period 2022-2023 it is expected that a large part of the Water Act will be transposed into the (new) Environment Act, which combines policy and management in the form of a programme of measures. Consequently, the government has merged separate plans for policy and management for the period 2022-2027 into the National Water Programme 2022-2027 (NWP).
Under the Water Act, which is still applicable, the North Sea policy must be incorporated in the National Water Programme. Broadly speaking, this has been done, while the in-depth justification for the policy in the North Sea Programme 2022-2027 is appended to the NWP as as a document in its own right.
In respect of land-use aspects, the National Water Programme is also a structural concept under the Dutch Spatial Planning Act.
Obligations under the MSFD
The EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive has been implemented in the Netherlands in the three parts of the Marine Strategy. Each part runs through a six-year cycle of application, evaluation and updating.
On the basis of the Water Decree, an order in council under the Water Act, the North Sea Programme 2022-2027 must describe the good environmental status of the North Sea from the perspective of the Marine Strategy, plus the associated series of environmental objectives and their indicators. The Marine Strategy's Programme of Measures must also be incorporated in this. This last point has been achieved by appending the Marine Strategy part 3, the Programme of Measures updated in 2022, to the North Sea Programme 2022-2027.
The National Environmental Planning Vision (NOVI 2020) comprises the strategic outlines of the policy for the physical living and working environment. The North Sea Programme 2022-2027 further develops these for the components that are relevant for the North Sea.
Obligations that have been implemented in the North Sea Programme 2022-2027 apply from the European perspective as well. The terms of the Maritime Spatial Planning Framework Directive (MSP), for instance, establish the framework for planning use of space at sea. That also applies to the maritime spatial plan and the assessment frameworks for licensing. The North Sea Programme 2022-2027 is also a structural vision in the context of the Spatial Planning Act (Wro).
The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is the all-encompassing legal framework for the use of seas and oceans. The global, regional and bilateral obligations and agreements, which are more attuned to concrete topics are described on the International Policy Framework page.
Primary legislation in force in the EEZ
Outside the Dutch territorial sea (the 12-nautical mile zone), the sole primary legislation in force in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is that which has been declared to be so by the legislature. This includes, for instance, the Water Act, the Mining Act and the Earth Removal Act. When the Nature Conservation Act came into force, on 1 January 2017, the secondary nature-protection legislation also came into force within the EEZ.