The oceans and the seas hold a key for present and future economic development and prosperity for all nations, as well as their security. Europe has the second largest costal territory in the world and seaborne trade as well as maritime dependent industries are a major source of its economic development and prosperity. The EU is the second largest exporter and the third biggest importer at international level. 90% of the European exports flow through the maritime routes and, as a global actor, its interests span across the world. The relevance of maritime security cannot be understated and it is of particular strategic importance to the European Union.

In Focus

Ensuring free, safe and open seas

The importance of maritime security also goes well beyond just the maritime domain and interlinks with other areas – e.g. economy (including the ‘blue’ economy), energy and transports (supply chains), tourism, access to and conservation of marine natural resources, critical infrastructures (including offshore and underwater infrastructures). Although it is essential, maritime security is nevertheless affected by a growing number of challenges arising from traditional (e.g. piracy, geopolitical rivalries, overfishing) and new or non-traditional threats (organized crime, various forms of illicit activities taking place at sea like smuggling, dumping waste), all of which require multiple forms of cooperation to provide enduring responses.

Given the cross-sectoral nature of maritime security challenges, the European Union has developed a comprehensive policy framework on the subject and elaborated a dedicated strategy, the 'European Union Maritime Security Strategy’ (EUMSS). The EU Maritime Security Strategy has been adopted in 2014 and is accompanied by an Action Plan. Its overall aim is to prevent, deter and counter the multiple security threats and challenges that affect the oceans and to enhance a rules-based order at sea. The EUMSS sets a general approach for this purpose with guiding principles to ensure coherence and complementarity between the EU's diverse and sector-specific policies and strategies that contribute to secure the maritime domain. A revised Action Plan has been agreed in 2018 to further guide and facilitate the implementation of the EUMSS.

The EUMSS and its Action Plan cover both the internal and external aspects of the Union's maritime security. They aim to promote a cross-sectoral approach to the maritime domain and maritime security, gathering all relevant maritime sectors (e.g. maritime safety, fisheries control, marine environment protection, customs, border control, law enforcement, defence, research and development), instruments, policies and strategies under their aegis. The EUMSS contributes to protect and defend the EU maritime interests with regard to security and peace; rule of law and freedom of navigation; external border control; maritime infrastructure (ports, underwater pipelines and cables, windfarms etc); natural resources and environmental health; climate change preparedness. To that end, the Action Plan focuses on several key areas (international cooperation; maritime surveillance; capability development, research and innovation; risk management; education and training) as well as on several maritime regions of strategic importance for the EU (e.g the Atlantic, the Mediterranean, the Black Sea, the Baltic Sea, the Indian Ocean).

Coherence in implementation is ensured with other EU policies and strategies such as the Integrated Maritime Policy (IMP), the EU Global Strategy for Foreign and Security Policy (2016) and the EU agenda for International Ocean Governance. The EU Global Strategy in particular reflects the importance of maritime security by underlining the importance of ‘ensuring open and protected ocean and sea routes critical for trade and access to natural resources’ and by pointing out that ‘The EU will contribute to global maritime security, building on its experience in the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean, and exploring possibilities in the Gulf of Guinea, the South China Sea and the Straits of Malacca’. The EUMSS and its action plan also contribute to other EU key political commitments such as the European Green Deal and the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

In April 2021, the EU adopted Council Conclusions on an EU Strategy for cooperation in the Indo-Pacific to ‘reinforce its strategic focus, presence and actions in the Indo-Pacific’ aiming to contribute to the ‘stability, security, prosperity and sustainable development of the region, based on the promotion of democracy, rule of law, human rights and international law’. The EU Strategy for cooperation in the Indo-Pacific seeks in particular to promote maritime security in this vast and strategic region through an open and rules-based regional security architecture, including secure sea lines of communication, capacity-building and enhanced naval presence in accordance with the legal framework established by the UNCLOS.

The importance of maritime security has been acknowledged in the Council Conclusions on Security and Defence of 10 May 2021. They convey an enduring political commitment and interest in the maritime domain at the level of EU Member-States and EU institutions and reflect the joint desire of EU Member-States in ‘further strengthening of the EU’s role as a global maritime security provider to promote international law, in particular the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS), to defend the EU’s interests, to uphold freedom of navigation including by using EU Member States’ naval assets in the context of maritime diplomacy and to deepen the maritime cooperation with partners in the framework of the EUMSS and its action plan’. Additional European port calls around the world are highlighted as an instrument for cooperation and broadening the network of partner countries.

While security threats in the maritime domain become increasingly multifaceted and complex, the EU reaffirmed in its Council conclusions on maritime security of 22 June 2021 its intention to increase its role as a global maritime security provider. The EU reaffirms in this regard its commitment to “maritime multilateralism” and emphasizes the key importance of cooperation at all levels. The Council Conclusions on Maritime Security also emphasize the growing impact of climate change and environmental degradation on international stability, including maritime security and maritime infrastructures, and point to the need for collective responses. Moreover, EU Member-States recognize the need for further efforts in enhancing maritime security across all maritime sectors, improve resilience against cyber-attacks and address maritime security under the Strategic Compass.


Coordinated Maritime Presences

The EU possesses the technical capacity, the resources and the political will to address the many maritime security issues, from tackling criminal activities at sea to disaster response. And thanks to our CSDP naval operations but also to the European Defence Agency (EDA), we have developed a strong substantial operational expertise and technical capability to deal with complex maritime challenges.

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