Mediterranean is reacquiring a long-expected centrality in European geopolitics and economy. In better words, it is nearly appropriate to refer about the return of a geo-economic role for Mediterranean Sea, not only regarding Europe but also and above all about its Southern Coast, namely the Northern Africa’s shores and the Levant.

Mediterranean relevance is once again due to its role of connection between the North and the South of the World. Thanks to the Russian revanche, the Chinese dynamism (Silk Road approach), the Indian will to acquire a dominant role in the Indian Ocean, the Iranian return on the international market of goods and commodities (after the end of nuclear sanctions in January 2016), Mediterranean is the junction point of commercial and logistic vectors coming from both the East and the South.

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In the years of the increased relevance of intermodal transport (railways, ship’s containers, trucks), the potential or effective menace brought to the Mediterranean stability and its connected logistics, security terms must encompasses a deeper collaboration among States (not only the EU Members). A shared vision, with the primary role of EU and the contribution of NATO, that security assessment and active strategy is the first step, even for implementing economy and transports, must be stubbornly expressed and sustained by Mediterranean policymakers.

Therefore, the proliferation of transnational threats to Mediterranean security, such as terrorism or uncontrolled migration, requires day-to-day military, intelligence and policy activities, a hard task for European States, frequently stressed by budgets’ limitations. But criminals and non-State actors are threatening European security and the Mediterranean viability as fundamental economic vein for both the Old Continent and the Southern and Eastern shores.[1]

Ports, nuclear facilities, LNG facilities, urban areas, bridges, chemical plants and other critical infrastructures are all potential targets for terrorist attacks in Europe. In particular, being the direct point of entry into Europe, ports constitute a key element in the comprehensive security system of Europe. In February 2002, the Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia-Pacific (CSCAP) defined maritime terrorism as “[…] the undertaking of terrorist acts and activities (1) within the marine environment, (2) using or against vessels or fixed platforms at sea or in port, or against any one of their passengers or personnel, (3) against coastal facilities or settlements, including tourist resorts, port areas, and port town or cities. […]”[2] This definition is perfectly suitable for the European and Mediterranean case.

After the tragedy of 9/11, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has amended the 1974 Safety of Life At Sea (SOLAS) Convention to include new ‘Special Measures to Enhance Maritime Safety’. These measures include the International Ship and Port Facilities Security (ISPS) Code, which requires governments to carry out security assessments to “[…] identify and evaluate important assets and infrastructures that are critical to the port facility as well as those areas or structures that, if damaged, could cause significant loss of life or damage to the port facility’s economy or environment. […]”[3] Integrated Intelligence, perhaps by sharing Satellite data, may offer benefits to Europe’s maritime regions and marine environment. Indeed, satellite technologies have already enabled the EU and its agencies to monitor large numbers of ships sailing its waters under the Long-Range Identification and Tracking System (LRIT), and have enhanced security by tracking ships that could carry lethal weapons, logistic material or terrorists themselves. Member states can now assess the security risks posed by a ship and take action to reduce it.

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Still there is a clear lack of political will, a lack that, due to the enlarged Mediterranean basin relevance, risks deepening the imbalance between the North and the South.[4] This conjuncture would be, in the present days, a terrible waste of occasion to use economy and the more integrated world shaped by the new balance of world power, to make closer the Mediterranean shores.

Ports’ security, immigration monitoring, counter-terrorism intelligence and investigation have to be increased promptly in order to secure, or better, to create the necessary stability for seizing the opportunity offered by current international economy and geopolitics’ trend to the Mediterranean.

Stefano Lupo

Researcher at Wikistrat


[1] Germond, Basil. “The Naval and Maritime Dimension of the European Union”, paper presented at the Conference The EC/EU: a world security actor? An assessment after 50 years of the external actions of the EC/EU, European Union Institute for Security Studies (EUISS), Paris, September 14–15, 2006.

[2] Quentin, Sophia. “Shipping Activities: Targets of Maritime Terrorism,” MIRMAL, 2, January 20, 2003.

[3] “The International Ship and Port Facility Security Code – ISPS Code,” Orient Overseas Container Line (OOCL). See: http://www.oocl.com/eng/resourcecenter/customeradvisories/usacanada/Pages/ispscode.aspx

[4] Ruzittu, Salvatore. “The new roles of European navies: the maritime and air surveillance,” Assembly of the WEU, Lisbon, September 18, 2007.