The Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) aims to achieve Good Environmental Status (GES) in Europe's Seas. The requirement for regional sea authorities to identify and prioritise issues for management has meant that standardized methods to assess the current level of departure from GES are needed. The methodology presented here provides a means by which existing information describing the status of ecosystem components of a regional sea can be used to determine the effort required to achieve GES. A risk assessment framework was developed to score departure from GES for 10 out of the 11 GES descriptors, based on proposed definitions of 'good' status, and current knowledge of environmental status in each of the four regional seas (North-East Atlantic, Mediterranean Sea, Baltic Sea and Black Sea). This provides an approach for regional evaluation of environmental issues and national prioritisation of conservation objectives. Departure from GES definitions is described as 'high', 'moderate' or low' and the implications for management options and national policy decisions are discussed. While the criteria used in this study were developed specifically for application toward MSFD objectives, with modification the approach could be applied to evaluate other high-level social, economic or environmental objectives. Crown Copyright (C) 2012 Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.