In the last decades of the 20th century, the word "stakeholder" has become most commonly used to mean a person or organization that has a legitimate interest in a project or entity. The public may or may not be considered as stakeholders.
Stakeholder is a term frequently used in Integrated Coastal Zone Management projects. According to the European Environmental Agency (EEA), a stakeholder is “an institution, organisation, or group that has some interest in a particular sector or system”; in this case the coastal zone. This definition obviously does not exclude the public since the public can be part of an organisation or group, however, it also does not explicitly include the public either. CoastLearn, sees the two (the public and stakeholders) as different entities while the Århus Convention includes more overlap. This matter is also a question of culture; there are the so called “weak participation” cultures and “strong participation” cultures. In Russia, for example, people are used to a strong leader and therefore there is very little will at the local level to get involved. Other countries, like the United Kingdom and The Netherlands have a more extensive participation tradition and in the latter countries, it is usual and logical for the public to be involved as a stakeholder. In many Eastern European countries, even though much progress has been made in the past decade, it is not as common for the public to be involved in the decision making progress. One of the main reasons for this is that the public is often not aware of the possibilities concerning access to environmental information and the right to participation. More information about different cultural perceptions and various participation trends can be found in chapter 5.
Is the public a stakeholder? This is a very important question because one can imagine there are different ways to involve different actors in a decision-making process. It can be argued that when the public is not included as one of the stakeholders, it is not true public participation because the public would be regarded as a separate group with different rights that are not equal to the other stakeholder (groups). Taking all of this into consideration it is logical to say that whether the public is a stakeholder is partly a matter of opinion and perception, though it does matter for the level of public participation.
Therefore, when the term full participation in this Wiki, both stakeholders and the public are involved. Otherwise the term public participation, stakeholder participation, or stakeholder involvement is used. Whether the public is considered a stakeholder or not, is largely a matter of culture. As a reader of this Wiki, it is however important to acknowledge and to at least be aware of these differences.
Stakeholders in ICZM in Europe
Stakeholder participation and, therefore, public participation is an important principle of Integrated Coastal Management and embraces the principle of subsidiarity. In order to understand the importance of public participation in the coastal region, it is first necessary to appreciate that the European Union has established that coastal management is a European issue that is shared by the member states and that problems cannot be solved by a single member state. Our coasts have a common natural heritage; transfers of pollutants and sediments, tourist flows and maritime safety. Furthermore, European policy has a great influence on the development of the coast, in particular in the areas of fisheries, regional policy and agriculture. Finally, there is recognition that there is a need for knowledge and experience exchange in the field of coastal management, especially in areas where there is high political and public demand for the sustainable development and conservation of the coastal zone.
The European Commission, based upon socio-economic costs and benefits of ICM, have stated that one of the most essential features of ICM is “stakeholder consultation and commitment”. Nonetheless, although the public is, more or less, generally accepted to be a stakeholder or an actor in ICM, it is not possible to determine the level of public participation. This is most likely to differ in each Member state.