The EU is testing an effort to coordinate the naval presence of its countries, under a new security pact that could in future be extended to cover the Strait of Hormuz, the EU’s foreign policy chief said Thursday.
Federica Mogherini said the maritime initiative is designed to respond to growing threats to the freedom and security of vessels, and would see countries share information and analysis in a voluntary cooperation effort designed to improve the response to attacks.
“We discussed … the concept of [a] coordinated maritime presence in certain areas of strategic interest for the European Union,” Mogherini told a press conference following an informal meeting of defense ministers in Helsinki.
The technical work is still at an early stage and the mechanism will first be tested in the Gulf of Guinea, “an area different from the Strait of Hormuz,” she said.
With the strait — which lies between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman — under close political scrutiny, expanding the coordination to that region “could be an option in the time to come … but we are still at an early stage,” Mogherini added.
The U.S. has been looking for allies to launch a naval mission to protect ships in the Strait of Hormuz after oil tankers passing through the waterway came under attack in May and June.
Washington has blamed Iran for the attacks, an accusation that Iranian officials have rejected. The U.K., Bahrain and Australia are the only countries to join the U.S led-operation in the strait — through which about a fifth of the world’s oil passes in transit.
Both Germany and France have publicly rejected the U.S.’s request to join its mission, with EU diplomats expressing concern that doing so could escalate tensions between Iran, Washington and EU countries. London, Paris and Berlin are all signatories to the international nuclear deal struck with Iran during Barack Obama’s time as U.S. president, from which Donald Trump later withdrew.
France and Germany previously discussed launching a European initiative, which would be “aimed at defusing tensions and facilitating de-escalation. It differs from the American approach of maximum pressure,” a spokeswoman for the French ministry of foreign affairs said last month.
Mogherini said the EU initiative announced Thursday is “first conceived from our side a few months ago” and is “not in particular related to the tensions around the Gulf of the Strait of Hormuz.”
Stating that maritime security is under threat from “growing geostrategic rivalries” as well as piracy and organized crime, the EU diplomat said: “We are seeing a growing demand for the European Union role as maritime security provider not only in our region but also further away, [for example] Asia or the Pacific, the Indian Ocean.”
The ships involved will remain under the command of their national authorities, she said, adding it would not substitute EU military operations but would be “an additional tool.” She said she hopes the concept will be finalized in the next couple of months.