Brooks Tigner, Brussels
The 28 nations within the European Union (EU) on 24 June gave approval for the European Commission (EC) to flesh out the details for an EU maritime security strategy.
Their decision means the EC can now draw up concrete initiatives to boost exchanges of maritime awareness and surveillance data across Europe’s civil and marine authorities – including navies – and propose other support measures such as dual-use technology development, common training, and multinational research programmes.
The potential development of a maritime strategy represents “a significant step forward in safeguarding the EU’s maritime security interests against a plethora of risks and threats in the global maritime domain”, said Greek Foreign Minister Evangelos Venizelos, after approval was granted by EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg. Greece holds the EU’s rotating six-month presidency until 30 June.
The ministers’ decision was based on a set of ideas contained in a 6 March 2014 policy paper presented by the Commission. The paper outlines future actions needed to secure the EU against a wide range of risks to its maritime security interests, including: international organised crime; restrictions on freedom of navigation such as piracy and armed robbery at sea; proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; terrorist acts against ships, cargo and passengers, and ports and other critical maritime infrastructure; cyber attacks on maritime or navigational information systems; and environmental risks.
The EU’s maritime security will be reinforced by promoting the pooling and sharing of capabilities among the 28 member states, and increased EU funding for targeted dual-use technology development. Additionally, crisis response times and the protection of critical maritime infrastructure will be strengthened with common risk analysis, said the EC. As the 6 March paper noted, maritime surveillance “is still largely organised along sectoral and national lines. This may result in a sub-optimal use of available surveillance capabilities.”
In a statement issued after the ministers’ decision, Maria Damanaki, European Commissioner for maritime affairs, said “today’s threats call for a co-ordinated response”. She added that the EC will define a rolling action plan by the end of 2014 to implement the strategy.
The gestation of the European Union’s maritime security strategy has been long, although for a number of years European nations (both individually and collectively) have been focusing on how to improve maritime security in European waters. With input from a number of senior retired naval and government personnel known as the ‘Wise Pens’, the EU’s thinking on the premises around which to build such a strategy have gradually been coming together.
The EU was of course quick to put support for some of these premises into practice, rapidly standing up Operation ‘Atalanta’ to take on the task of countering Somali piracy. Central to this move was the need to protect member state trade, and especially energy, security interests. Indeed, the issue of energy security is a key driver in the evolution of the EU’s maritime strategy thinking: with Cyprus, for example, making significant offshore resource finds but being unable to provide security for them, there is an argument that such a matter is the responsibility of the EU as a whole; as member states also look to protect energy supply from regions such as the Arctic, the need to develop a maritime security strategy to support protection of supply at distance is an important factor in why the EU is looking to have greater influence over Arctic security matters, and indeed to have an enduring EU presence in the Indian Ocean.
It will be interesting to see how the co-operative, pan-European strategy will reflect approaches taken by individual nations, such as the United Kingdom in its recently published national maritime security strategy.
For a number of years, debates about what the EU should do to improve maritime situational awareness have focused on improving surveillance capacity. This is of course key in broadening coverage. However, with many European member states reducing naval force and other maritime security asset levels, this raises the question of the extent to which EU navies and maritime agencies have the capacity to react at sea to an increasing number of risks that the broader surveillance capability in principle will reveal.
In terms of surface ships, collectively the EU member states have a large number of assets which, if pooled and shared, could provide a value greater than the sum of the parts.
Whether more ships could be procured in a more cost-effective manner, at a time of enduring budget challenges, raises the question of the extent to which individual member states within Europe could find ways to co-operate more regularly in terms of shipbuilding.
Dr Lee Willett¬†, Editor,¬†IHS Jane’s Navy International