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Polish Presidency of the EU and piracy off the coast of Africa and the Indian Ocean

Submitted by on 14 Apr 2011 – 14:39

Marek Gróbarczyk MEP, former Polish Minister of Maritime Affairs and maritime affairs expert in the Polish President’s Office

Every Presidency is the chance to call the attention of the European Union to matters, which in the mind of the country are important for the whole of Europe. During my work in the European Parliament as the coordinator of the ECR Committee on Fisheries, I have paid attention many times to the fact that the relevant regulations contained in the Strategy for the Baltic Sea not only create the perspective of maritime development in the region in terms of fisheries development but also provide an opportunity for projects of an industrial nature in the creation of adequate infrastructure for economic growth and shipbuilding ports. It should be emphasized that the maritime industry has a huge impact on the economies of individual countries, and thus the EU as a whole. Caring for the appropriate maritime economy is one of the most effective forms of prevention of a global crisis. Tangible examples of this are the arrangements in China and South Korea, where the public sector by stimulating the development of the maritime economy saved those countries from structural unemployment in these areas, and indirectly hampered the impact of a global crisis. I believe that one of the main priorities of the Polish presidency should be the development of a maritime economy based on the Strategies for the Baltic.

By the end of the Polish presidency it is necessary to close the trade negotiations with several countries outside the EU, due to work schedules and EU negotiations. Almost half of these contracts, directly or indirectly relate to maritime affairs, and especially fishing. This creates an extraordinary opportunity to influence the position of non-EU countries where piracy is
a well known phenomenon that has taken place for many years. I want to draw attention to two types of piracy associated with different marine areas. The distinction between these types should provide a variety of ways to fight piracy.

The first type of piracy, for which the EU does not have a prescription or perhaps even any real influence is piracy in the Far East, especially in the Straits of Singapore (Singapore Strait).

This type of piracy is a historically conditioned, mental-culture, based on
specialized criminal groups, equipped with technologically advanced equipment, bent on plundering high value goods such as electronic equipment. The crews of commercial vessels are warned and required to comply with the area’s anti-piracy procedures. As a former navy officer, I witnessed the use of those highly effective procedures for the protection of transport and the security of ships in the area. The first type reminds me in some ways of the age-old Italian mafia-type Camorra or Japanese Yakuza.

The second type of piracy that is mainly characteristic for East Africa, is more primitive and reminiscent of gangs of hooligans equipped with weapons from baseball bats to Russian Kalashnikovs. Of course, the two forms of banditry are dangerous, but ways of dealing with them should be different. The European Union in its program ATALANTA focused on
a convoy of merchant ships to deter pirate boats in the waters off East Africa. Unfortunately, for the moment this method is not very effective and in the long term will be very expensive.

The main reason for this second type of piracy is widespread poverty, hunger, lack of jobs and prospects. Sailors who have suffered pirate attacks off the Somalia coast described the behavior of these pirates showing clearly that they are simply hungry people, and thus very aggressive. I believe that this type of pathology must be fought primarily by way of prevention through the development of an educational infrastructure as well as economic and technological development in these countries. The point is not to spend more money on development programs, but better and more efficient placing of them, which today takes into account the existing social base for the phenomenon of banditry and piracy in these countries.

A further proposition, this time of a political nature, is the consideration of ways to combat piracy during the negotiations of international agreements between the EU and the countries where this practice takes place. In order to realize this political proposal a much greater transparency in the negotiations should be guaranteed, which can be obtained by the inclusion of the European Parliament for the creation of the EU’s agreements with the countries of East Africa. In this case, the access of EP members to the EU negotiating team would ensure control by Parliament in the security domain, therefore taking part in international agreements to combat piracy.

I come to that conclusion after deep reflection on the problems of piracy and based on my personal experience as a former navy officer and a member of the European Parliament.