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ILS conference on the European Union as a Global Actor in Maritime Security

On Thursday 25 and Friday 26 October 2018, the Europa Institute organized a conference within the framework of ‘Interaction between Legal Systems (ILS): Policing the High Seas’ and in cooperation with four Interest Groups of the European Society of International Law. The event brought together representatives from academia and practice to discuss legal questions concerning EU maritime security.

‘Maritime security interests are not invented in Brussels’, observed Esa Paasivirta (European Commission) at the end of two days of conference debates. Paasivirta guided the audience through the EU’s Maritime Security Strategy while tying together the papers that had been presented during several panels, each addressing specific aspects of maritime security. It emerged from the discussions that ‘maritime security’ is a broad and complex issue which – while still in its infancy as a specific subject of legal studies – is steadily growing in scope and importance. Maritime security is highly diverse, covering various aspects from fisheries and environment protection to human smuggling and inter-state security. Moreover, security interests are localized and context specific. Despite these two characteristics, the EU and its Member States have taken several initiatives over the last two decades to address these issues in an integrated and cooperative manner. This, of course, raises a plethora of legal questions, including whether the law can keep pace with emerging practices and other fast-moving developments in maritime security. The conference panels contemplated these problems.

"The ‘Robotics revolution’ has reached the sea”

Anna Petrig (Basel) kicked off the conference, discussing the legal issues arising from the entry of unmanned systems into the maritime domain. Petrig’s presentation was a tour de force and raised a question which would return several times throughout the conference: Can lawyers adapt to new security phenomena and practices at sea through interpretation or do we need new instruments?

Law enforcement jurisdiction and human rights at sea

The first panel (Chair: Stefaan Smis, VU Brussels; Discussant: Marta Bo, Asser Institute) discussed law enforcement jurisdiction and human rights at sea. Sofia Galani (Bristol) explored what kind of human protection concerns arise in the maritime context and which jurisdictional elements can function as a nexus for human rights obligations of flag, coastal or port states. Subsequently, Ralph Wilde (UCL) asked how human rights affect what happens to pirates when states suppress the latter’s conduct at sea. The next speaker, Fulvia Staiano (National Research Council, Italy) addressed the basis for universal jurisdiction as developed by EU Member States and Eastern African States respectively, focusing on the current state practice in the Horn of Africa region. Lastly, Thea Coventry (Leiden) argued how treaty drafters have over time delegated interpretation to state practice in order to fill in the scope of enforcement powers over stateless vessels.

Panel 1

Fisheries and environment

The theme of panel two (Chair: Jorrit Rijpma, Leiden; Discussant: Arron Honnibal, Utrecht) was maritime security issues related to fisheries and environment protection. Mihail Vatsov (Edinburgh) discussed how the EU’s action against IUU fishing plays an important role in providing maritime security, in general, and how such regulation can have an immediate impact on, in particular, the safety and security of people at sea. Pascale Ricard (Sorbonne, Angers) looked at fisheries, environment protection, and marine biodiversity policy through a particular lens, namely that of inter-institutional interaction and how exclusive and shared competences of the EU affect decision making and the negotiation of treaties. Lorenzo Gasbarri (UCL) used the EU’s activities related to IUU fishing to debate certain fundamental legal questions such as attribution and the scope of due diligence obligations in light of the specific nature of the EU as a global (legal) actor. Finally, Borja Montes Toscano (Seville) discussed climate change as a maritime security issue and the extraterritorial dimensions of the EU’s regulatory action in this regard.

Border control and search and rescue

Panel three (Chair: Eugenio Cusumano, Leiden; Discussant: Moritz Baumgärtel, Utrecht) was opened by Violeta Moreno-Lax (Queen Mary, London), who provided the audience with an insight into the application against Italy before the European Court of Human Rights for the former’s involvement in the Libyan pullbacks of migrants at sea, inter alia setting out the gist of the applicant’s development of a ‘third model’ for human rights jurisdiction. Richard Collins and Aphrodite Papachristodoulou (both at UC Dublin) tackled – whilst sharing a series of interesting empirical information – one of the trickiest questions when it comes to the EU’s role in maritime security: its international legal responsibility, in particular with regard to ‘pulling back navies’ and ‘pushing back migrants’. This panel debate was completed by Richard Kilpatrick (Northeastern Illinois) with an intriguing analysis of a field of actors in practice that is often overlooked: that of merchant shipping and how evolving SAR policies threaten and undermine compliance with search and rescue obligations at sea.

Actors and governance

The final panel of the conference (Chair: Melanie Fink, Leiden; Discussant: Florin Coman-Kund, Rotterdam) brought about a thought-provoking interaction of theoretical analyses and views from practice under the header of ‘actors and governance’ in EU maritime security. Raphael Oidtmann (Mannheim) analysed the EU’s ‘actorness’ from a political science perspective while investigating how its quality as an actor in international politics affects its (legal) role in the maritime security domain. Subsequently, André Panno Beirão (Naval War College, Brazil) gave an insight into the role of third states in EU maritime security by looking at the South Atlantic states and at how maritime security issues emerge and are perceived at the local, regional and global level. To conclude the panel, Richard Ares Baumgartner (Frontex) and Vytautas Lukas (EFCA), provided a view from practice on European cooperation on coast guard functions, touching upon, inter alia, information sharing, surveillance, capacity building and capacity sharing.

EU Maritime Security Strategy

Esa Paasivirta (European Commission) reflected upon two days of debates in his closing lecture. Showing how the EU is driven by security interests and how the EU Maritime Security Strategy is largely silent about competences and the law, Paasivirta analysed the ‘why’, ‘who’, ‘what’, and ‘how’ of EU maritime security.

The conference was partially sponsored by the Leids Universitair Fonds.

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