This article is part of Conceptualization of “Maritime Security” in Southeast Asia, a series of analyses produced by experts convened by the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.
The European Union’s definition of “maritime security”
The European Union’s official definition for maritime security is included in the European Union Maritime Security Strategy (EUMSS), which the Council of the European Union, that is the representatives of all member states, unanimously adopted in June 2014. It reads: “Maritime Security is understood as a state of affairs of the global maritime domain, in which international law and national law are enforced, freedom of navigation is guaranteed and citizens, infrastructure, transport, the environment and marine resources are protected.”
The European Union’s key documents for defining and understanding maritime security
Issued immediately preceding the EUMSS’ adoption, the March 2014 Joint Communication to The European Parliament and the Council “For an open and secure global maritime domain: elements of a European Union maritime strategy” elaborates on why the European Union found it necessary to have a maritime security strategy. This Joint Communication emphasizes Europe’s dependency on maritime trade and highlights the importance of fisheries and aquaculture for its prosperity. It refers to discussions about Europe’s maritime security interests dating back to 2010 and a comprehensive study on the evolving geostrategic challenges to the European Union and its member states from 2013.
Maritime security issues had been considered even earlier, as part of the independent process for establishing a common policy on ocean governance that led to the issuance of the European Union’s Integrated Maritime Policy (IMP) in 2007. The revised IMP of 2009 complemented the comprehensive policy for strengthening the European Union and its member states’ capacities and competitiveness with a sub-section entitled “Ensuring maritime safety, maritime security and freedom of navigation.” This emphasis on the freedom and security of navigation as interests of “paramount importance” to the European Union is a logical consequence of the assertion in the 2007 version of the IMP that “the seas are Europe’s lifeblood.” The passage on the freedom and security of navigation reflects the concern with the threats of piracy and armed robbery at sea. These had become so severe that the European Union, in 2008, launched the European Union Naval Force Somalia (EUNAVFOR) – Operation Atalanta for combating piracy off the coast of Somalia and the Horn of Africa, and followed up through the Critical Maritime Routes program in the wider Indian Ocean and West Africa (CRIMARIO and GOGIN).
The EUMSS, which had been developed under the Greek Presidency of the Council, builds on the IMP process and the instruments that had been developed for the conduct of anti-piracy operations. It aims to better link them with the European Union’s Common Security and Defence Policy and the EU Global Strategy on Foreign and Security Policy. This integration works through the identification of the European Union and its member states’ strategic interests across the global maritime domain. That is, the EUMSS covers both the internal and external aspects of the Union’s maritime security. It is, thus, meant to contribute to “the full use of the growth potential in the maritime domain” in accordance with the principle of subsidiary, and aims to “foster mutual support between Member States and to allow for their joint security contingency planning, risk management, conflict prevention and crisis response management.”
The EUMSS provides a political and strategic framework that aims to foster a shared unity of purpose and effort by all actors involved with maritime-related policies. It seeks to achieve this through improving cross-sectoral cooperation between and across civilian and military authorities. As such, it does not create new institutions. Neither does it reallocate competencies or responsibilities. Its principal function is the clarification of the principles and objectives, maritime security interests, the maritime security risks and threats to these interests, and to define the main areas of implementation.
As with other EU strategies, the EUMSS has been implemented through a pertaining Action Plan. The first plan was issued in December 2014. A revised version appeared in June 2018. It is aimed at promoting international cooperation, maritime multilateralism, and the rule of law at sea.
Elements of the European Union’s approach to maritime security. Environmental protection, mariner safety, fisheries management, resource management (other than fisheries), counter-terrorism, law enforcement, naval operations, deterrence?
All the above-mentioned elements are part of the European concept of maritime security, which is very inclusive and favors a global approach of a civil-military nature. The European institutional setup in the maritime field is particularly complex. To a certain extent, it corresponds to the classical distinction between traditional security (deterrence, naval operations) and non-traditional security (environmental protection, fisheries management, Blue Economy). Thus, the Integrated Maritime Policy with its emphasis on the Blue Economy including fisheries management, environmental protection, and marine resources balances the more military vision contained in the EUMSS.
Evolution in the European Union’s usage of the term “maritime security”
Around 15 years ago, the distinction between traditional and non-traditional maritime security began rapidly eroding in the European Union. The European Union’s Integrated Maritime Policy in 2007 advanced this reconceptualization by interlinking maritime safety, maritime security, and freedom of navigation. As Blue Economy thinking became more prevalent, economic resilience and environmental concerns were also brought in as elements of a more widely conceptualized maritime security. The 2014 EUMSS and 2018 Maritime Action Plan also incorporated experiences made with the anti-piracy operation Atalanta and the diverse maritime operations and policing missions related to border management, such as Sophia and Frontex in the Mediterranean Sea. The more formalized approach puts greater emphasis on international cooperation by seeking synergies with the United Nations, NATO, African Union, and, more recently, ASEAN. Internally, the European Union has strengthened the interoperability and interconnectivity of national and European Union-level maritime surveillance systems.
Now eight years old, the EUMSS is problematically out of date. In particular, the MSS has come to show some inconsistencies with the European Union Strategy for Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, and more inconsistencies are expected upon publication of the Strategic Compass, which will form the basis for the new European defense doctrine. The EUMSS also trails a general rise in perceived threats and risks related to the maritime domain. Foremost among these are threats to free and open access to maritime spaces is the territorialization of the seas in the Mediterranean and the South China Sea. Piracy and armed robbery in locations such as the Gulf of Guinea and the Singapore Strait and geopolitical tensions in strategic straits such as Suez, Malacca, Ormuz, and Bab el Mandeb, also warrant a European response. To face these challenges, the European Union is aware that it must be more present and ensure better coordination of its naval deployments. The mechanism of Coordinated Maritime Presence will help to maximize these efforts.
 Council of the European Union, European Union Maritime Security Strategy, Document No. 11205/14, Brussels, June 24, 2014, page 3.
 High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Joint Communication to The European Parliament and the Council “For an open and secure global maritime domain: elements of a European Union maritime strategy”, Brussels, March 6, 2014.
 European Parliament, Directorate-General for External Policies of the Union, The Maritime Dimension of CSDP: Geostrategic Maritime Challenges and Their Implications for the European Union, EP/EXPO/B/SEDE/FWC/2009-01/Lot6/21, January 2013, https://op.europa.eu/en/publication-detail/-/publication/a761c0ee-0300-45fc-bd96-f1b2dce380c2
 Commission of the European Communities, Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of Regions “An Integrated Maritime Policy for the European Union”, Brussels, October 10, 2007.
 Commission of the European Communities, Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of Regions “Developing the international dimension of the Integrated Maritime Policy for the European Union”, Brussels, October 15, 2009, p. 6.
 Supra note 4, p. 2.
 Supra note 1, p. 3.
 Supra note 1, pp. 4-15.
 Council of the European Union, European Union Maritime Security Strategy (EUMSS) – Action Plan, Brussels, December 16, 2014.
 Council of the European Union, Council Conclusions on the revision of the European Union Maritime Security Strategy (EUMSS) Action Plan, Brussels, June 26, 2018.
 Sophia, formallyEuropean Union Naval Force Mediterranean (EU NAVFOR Med), was a military operation that was established in reaction to the April 2015 Libya migrant shipwrecks with the aim of neutralizing established refugee smuggling routes in the Mediterranean.
 Frontex is the EU agency in charge of border management including coast guard functions. Coast guard functions comprise tasks related to safety and security at sea (search and rescue, border control, fisheries control, customs activities, law enforcement and environmental protection). Three European agencies support the national authorities in performing their coast guard tasks: he European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex), the European Fisheries Control Agency (EFCA), The European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA).
 EU Strategy for Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, Brussels, September 16, 2021. EU Strategy for Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific – European External Action Service (europa.eu)
 A Strategic Compass for EU, Brussels, November 11, 2021. A Strategic Compass for the EU – European External Action Service (europa.eu).
 Josep Borrell “A strategic compass for EU”, Project Syndicate, November 12, 2021. A Strategic Compass for Europe by Josep Borrell – Project Syndicate (project-syndicate.org)
 Council of the EU , Gulf of Guinea : council conclusions launching the pilot case for the Coordinated Maritime Presences concept, Brussels, January 25, 2021. Gulf of Guinea: Council conclusions launching the pilot case for the Coordinated Maritime Presences concept – Consilium (europa.eu)