Maritime security: Council approves revised EU strategy and action plan

The Council today approved a revised EU maritime security strategy and action plan, aimed at addressing security challenges at sea.

The strategy and its accompanying action plan were first adopted by the Council in 2014, with the action plan being updated in 2018. Together, the two documents have provided a comprehensive framework for tackling various threats and challenges at sea, such as illicit activities, competition for natural resources and threats to freedom of navigation. The strategy has helped promote rules-based governance at sea and has given a boost to international cooperation.

The aim of the revision is to ensure that the EU has a wide range of effective tools at its disposal to address new and evolving security threats and challenges, including growing strategic competition for power and resources in the sea basins around the EU and beyond, environmental degradation, and hybrid and cyber-attacks targeting maritime infrastructure. The revised strategy provides a framework for the EU to take further action to protect its interests at sea, and to protect its citizens, values and economy, also in the light of Russia’s unjustified and unprovoked military aggression against Ukraine.

With the update, the strategy and its action plan have also been aligned with recent EU policy frameworks and instruments, such as the Strategic Compass for Security and Defence.

Six strategic objectives

The revised EU maritime security strategy and its action plan have been drawn up on the basis of a joint communication by the Commission and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, published in March 2023, and include contributions from the member states. The communication followed a request by the Council in 2021 to assess the need for such an update.

The revised strategy is structured around six strategic objectives, which have been translated into around 150 concrete actions in the accompanying action plan:

– Step up activities at sea

To step up activities at sea, the EU plans to organise maritime security exercises, including annual naval exercises by member states’ navies and coast guards, and to reinforce existing EU naval operations (Atalanta and Irini).

The aim is also to develop further coastguard operations in European sea basins and to coordinate the presence of member states’ naval and air assets in new maritime areas of interest, based on what is known as the “Coordinated Maritime Presences” concept.

Other key actions include stepping up the fight against illegal and illicit activities at sea, such as piracy and armed robbery, organised crime, including smuggling of migrants and trafficking in human beings, and irregular, unreported and unregulated fishing. Maritime port security inspections in the EU will also be reinforced.

– Cooperate with partners

Under the revised strategy, the EU also plans to step up partnerships with likeminded countries and with regional and international organisations, to promote dialogue and best practices and uphold the rules-based order at sea, notably the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The EU will also intensify its cooperation with NATO on maritime security, building on the results achieved to date and in line with the third Joint Declaration on EU-NATO cooperation of January 2023.

– Lead on maritime domain awareness

Regarding maritime domain awareness, the emphasis will be on enhanced information collection and exchange among the different civilian and military authorities responsible for monitoring and surveillance activities.

The EU will continue to use and develop the common information-sharing environment (CISE) and strengthen the MARSUR maritime surveillance information exchange network to enhance the secure exchange of information and coordination among national and EU authorities on maritime surveillance.

Some other key actions include integrating space-based solutions and reinforcing coastal and offshore patrol vessel surveillance to boost maritime situational awareness.

– Manage risks and threats

The revised strategy also places a strong focus on improving the collective resilience and preparedness of the EU and its member states to manage different maritime security risks and threats.

A key line of action under this objective is to increase the resilience and protection of critical maritime infrastructure, such as gas pipelines, undersea cables, ports, offshore energy facilities and LNG terminals in all sea basins around the EU and to step up cooperation on developing a regional surveillance plan for underwater and offshore infrastructure.

Further key actions include conducting regular live maritime exercises at EU level focused on areas such as harbour protection and cyber and hybrid threats and improving early warning and strategic foresight on the effects of climate change, such as sea-level rise and storm surges.

– Enhance capabilities

Another strategic objective concerns the development of civilian and military capabilities in the field of maritime security, involving industry as appropriate.

Proposed lines of action include developing common requirements for surface and underwater defence technologies, building interoperable unmanned systems to monitor critical maritime infrastructure, and stepping up work on several Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) projects related to maritime security.

– Educate and train

The strategy also aims to ensure a high level of specialised education, skills and training, which is indispensable for the EU to tackle present and future maritime security challenges.

Some of the key actions in this area focus on the skills needed to tackle hybrid and cyber threats, and on conducting dedicated training programmes open to non-EU partners.

Next steps

Following their approval today, the revised strategy and its action plan will be implemented by the EU and its member states, in line with their respective competences, building on the achievements of the 2014 EU maritime security strategy, using existing instruments and policies and following the overall guidance of the Strategic Compass.

Implementation of the strategy will be evaluated in three years, in a joint progress report to be drawn up by the Commission and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

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