Members' Research Service By / March 8, 2023

Charting a course through stormy waters: The EU as a maritime security actor

The EU sees itself as a global maritime security provider. As already evidenced in the 2016 EU Global Strategy, the maritime domain lies at the junction between commercial, security, and political interests.

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Written by Sebastian Clapp and Eric Pichon.

On 8 March 2023, the European Commission is set to adopt an update of its first EU maritime security strategy from 2014. The EU is a one-of-a-kind maritime actor, a fact that brings both opportunities and responsibilities. It has been argued that, if the EU-27 were to combine the capacities and capabilities of their navies, they would form one of the world’s largest maritime powers. There is therefore space for better integration of capabilities and greater coherence among the EU’s tools to promote its multi-dimensional strategic maritime interests. As around 90 % of global goods are traded via maritime routes, freedom of navigation, security, sustainability and respect for international law are crucial for the EU. These routes are, however, becoming increasingly contested and restricted, reflecting new patterns of global power distribution.

The EU’s common security and defence policy instruments, particularly its missions and operations abroad, are the most visible manifestation of its maritime actorness. The EU currently has two naval military operations: EUNAVFOR Atalanta in the western part of the Indian Ocean, and EUNAVFOR MED Irini in the central part of the Mediterranean Sea. In following the orientations provided by its maritime security strategy and the Strategic Compass, the EU is aiming to increase its capacity and reliability as a maritime security actor. One example is its coordinated maritime presences (CMPs), launched in January 2021 with a pilot case in the Gulf of Guinea, and another CMP launched in February 2022 in the north-western Indian Ocean, to boost the EU’s maritime capacity and global outreach. Another is the EU’s action to boost its maritime defence capabilities through the various post-2016 initiatives that aim to incentivise collaborative projects. Finally, the EU has also enhanced its cooperation with partners, in particular with NATO, in ensuring maritime security in the transatlantic space, although political obstacles remain.

This updates a February 2021 briefing by Tania Lațici, Eric Pichon and Branislav Stanicek.

Read the complete briefing on ‘Charting a course through stormy waters: The EU as a maritime security actort‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

European maritime security landscape

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