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PERMAGOV: Innovative Marine Governance In The Face Of Blue Fear

The MARE conference kicked off Monday 26 June with a quirky title: Blue Fear. We got curious to learn about the rationale behind it. Turns out that underpinning this year’s theme is a bold suggestion that ocean related anxieties are not just a thing of the past, when people were gripped by fear of storms, pirates and sea monsters, but are very much a present-day phenomenon. After thinking about it for a sec, we agree. Okay, most of us are no longer afraid of megalodons unless in a movie theatre, but anxieties linked to tsunamis, hurricanes, flooding and even piracy have not gone anywhere (FYI: 115 incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships were recorded in 2022).

What’s more, Blue Fear is broadening and intensifying, driven by rising sea temperatures, overfishing, biodiversity loss, and coastal erosion. And recently a host of new factors of a completely different nature (humanitarian, geopolitical) came to the fore, stoking Blue Fear further still. Dangerous boat crossings, sabotage activities, militarisation and territorial disputes all add another layer of complexity to an already complex mix of marine governance arrangements. We thank MARE for this thought-provoking title and would like to take this opportunity to reflect on PERMAGOV’s approach to ocean governance in these challenging times.

Navigating Blue Fear with innovative marine governance

Image by HANSUAN FABREGAS from Pixabay

To address global challenges, ambitious policy programmes like the EU Green Deal are calling for transformative action across a number of areas that are closely related e.g. energy, transport, food, biodiversity. However, initiating transformation within long-standing governance structures is easier said than done. The introduction of new ways of working is often hampered by institutional barriers such as path dependency, bounded rationality, and institutional inertia.

Identifying these barriers is important for several reasons. They can show us how the different marine governance regimes are performing, whether they deliver on current policy objectives, and what capacity they have or need to have to support cross-cutting policy priorities articulated in the EU Green Deal.

The knowledge of institutional barriers is important but not enough. Achieving transformative action also demands new collaborative governance practices. Marine governance is multi-actor, multi-sectoral and multi-layered, often with poor communication between stakeholders and sectors. Uncoordinated action impedes effective decision making as uninformed or uncooperative actors stall policy implementation whether accidentally or by choice. This can lead to solutions being developed in silos and become contested rather than shared.

With the proliferation of data, standards and ICTs, marine stakeholders have the chance to overcome the silo mentality, to improve communication and interoperability of decision support tools used in different industries. Already today a growing variety of ICTs are deployed, from marine databases to all kinds of platforms, apps and services. Their benefits are usually domain-specific. Little is known about their potential to advance multi-layered collaborative governance fit for the EU Green Deal.

Innovative Marine Governance: THe PERMAGOV Approach

In a way, PERMAGOV is a response to these challenges, requirements and knowledge gaps. PERMAGOV was introduced with the aim of improving performance and implementation of EU marine policies, so that they can better support the realisation of EU Green Deal objectives. Sounds ambitious but we have a clear plan to reach this goal. Two main project phases are foreseen:

  1. Co-developing and applying a Marine Governance Performance Assessment Framework. Here, the goal is to evaluate how institutional barriers, formal and informal collaborations and ICTs enable or constrain the capability of actors to implement EU marine policies. Four broad priority areas are Marine Energy, Maritime Transport, Marine Life, and Marine Plastics

  2. Co-producing Multi-Layered Collaborative Marine Governance Strategies and e-governance improvements. The aim here is to enhance the capability of end-users to implement the blue dimension of the EU Green Deal while harnessing the power of ICTs. Ultimately, we want to go beyond our original deployments and make the Multi-Layered Collaborative Marine Governance the norm in other policy arenas, geographic areas, and thematic contexts (upscaling)

PERMAGOV research approach methodology

Approach to innovative marine governance: PERMAGOV phases, results, work packages (WPs)

Phase 1 starts by giving insight into the major challenges and drivers of multi-layered governance arrangements, consisting of actors, coalitions, rules, resources and discourses, that have a role to play in the EU Green Deal implementation (WP2).

This is followed by the development of a novel diagnostic tool to identify and understand how different types of institutional barriers hamper the performance and implementation of marine policies (WP3), such as the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD), Habitats and Birds Directives (HBD), Maritime Spatial Planning Directive (MSPD), Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), Plastic Waste management and Circularity Policies and Maritime Transport Policies (MTP).

Insight into the challenges of marine governance arrangements and institutional barriers will inform the development of a collaborative multi-layered governance model (WP4). This analytic model will capture the interplay of formal and informal practices at the level of different regimes and cases, and will also shed light on the state-of-play in marine e-governance with a view to increasing our understanding of ICTs and their impact on marine policies i.e. both current impact and potential impact if/when improvements are introduced.

Collectively, the diagnostic tool, the analytic model, and the indicators for assessing governance capabilities (WP5) will make up the PERMAGOV’s Marine Governance Performance Assessment Framework. The performance of marine policies will be assessed at several levels - coastal waters, territorial waters, Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) - and regional seas across the EU. During co-creation, local, regional, national and international authorities, local communities, NGOs, citizens and other relevant stakeholders will be actively engaged in the assessment of the cases (WP5).

​Marine Energy

Maritime Transport

​Marine Life

​Marine Plastics


  • Floating Wind in the Celtic Sea

  • Energy Islands Denmark

  • Offshore Wind Norway


  • Motorways of the Sea (Adriatic Sea)

  • Decarbonising Shipping (EU-wide)


  • ​Seabed Integrity in the Baltic Sea

  • Sustainable Fisheries in the Italian MPAs


  • Marine Litter in the Baltic Sea

  • Marine Litter in the Mediterranean Sea

In the final phase, assessment results will inform the development of strategies, including e-governance approaches, to improve marine policies and the implementation of the EU Green Deal at the level of the cases, the Regional Sea Conventions, as well as the EU more broadly. Upscaling will therefore play an important role in Phase 2 (WP6). This will be done by identifying replicable elements in new strategies that can be adopted by stakeholders in new policy arenas and sea/river basins not covered by PERMAGOV e.g. the Danube river basin (one of the four lighthouse projects that support the EU Mission 'Restore our Ocean and Waters').

We hope that with our co-created and upscaled strategies marine stakeholders will be able to govern with confidence over the Blue Realm, effectively navigating anxieties stoked by the Blue Fear.

If you are interested in any of the mentioned cases (as a policy maker, industry representative, student, researcher, or simply as a citizen living in the area), we invite you to join our stakeholder panels and share your ideas/anxieties/thoughts in the upcoming engagement round. How do you understand or experience Blue Fear? What is wrong with marine governance? What solution do you propose?

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PERMAGOV has received funding from the European Union's Horizon Europe research and innovation programme HORIZON-CL6-2022-GOVERNANCE-01-03 under grant agreement No 101086297, and by UK Research and Innovation under the UK government’s Horizon Europe funding guarantee grant numbers 10045993, 10062097, 101086297.

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