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

25-02-2021

The European Union (EU) is a one-of-a-kind maritime actor, which brings both opportunities and responsibilities. It is 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 for 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. In the security and defence field, 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 maritime dimension of the EU's security and defence policy has been put in the spotlight by Portugal, the holder of the EU Council presidency in the first half of 2021. Two of the 17 EU missions and operations are naval military operations: EUNAVFOR Somalia Atalanta in the western part of the Indian Ocean, and EUNAVFOR MED Irini in the central part of the Mediterranean Sea. EU Member States also participate in multinational maritime coalitions as well as in NATO's own maritime operation, Sea Guardian, patrolling the entire Mediterranean Sea. In following the orientations provided by its maritime and global strategies, the EU is aiming to increase its capacity and reliability as a maritime security actor. One example is its coordinated maritime presences, launched in January 2021 with a pilot case in the Gulf of Guinea 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 NATO in ensuring maritime security in the transatlantic space, although political obstacles remain.

The European Union (EU) is a one-of-a-kind maritime actor, which brings both opportunities and responsibilities. It is 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 for 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. In the security and defence field, 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 maritime dimension of the EU's security and defence policy has been put in the spotlight by Portugal, the holder of the EU Council presidency in the first half of 2021. Two of the 17 EU missions and operations are naval military operations: EUNAVFOR Somalia Atalanta in the western part of the Indian Ocean, and EUNAVFOR MED Irini in the central part of the Mediterranean Sea. EU Member States also participate in multinational maritime coalitions as well as in NATO's own maritime operation, Sea Guardian, patrolling the entire Mediterranean Sea. In following the orientations provided by its maritime and global strategies, the EU is aiming to increase its capacity and reliability as a maritime security actor. One example is its coordinated maritime presences, launched in January 2021 with a pilot case in the Gulf of Guinea 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 NATO in ensuring maritime security in the transatlantic space, although political obstacles remain.