UK loses EU anti-piracy missions to France and Spain

NATO soldiers arrest pirates off of the coast of Somalia. [NATO]

The headquarters of the EU’s anti-piracy missions off the coast of Somalia will be moved from the UK to France and Spain next year as EU leaders revealed the latest consequence of Brexit.

EU leaders announced on 30 July that the EU NAVFOR Operational Headquarters will relocate from its base of Northwood in North London, to the Spanish coastal town of Rota after March 29 next year, when the UK leaves the EU.

The Maritime Security Centre Horn of Africa (MSCHOA) will be relocated to the French city of Brest, meanwhile.

EU leaders also agreed to extend the missions’ mandate until December 2020.

The mission, which is also referred to as Operation Atlanta, was launched in December 2008, aimed at protecting ships belonging to the World Food Programme and African Union Mission in Somalia, which has been waging war on jihadist group Al-Shabaab. Its mandate was broadened to cover tackle piracy and armed robbery off the Somali coast and to monitor fishing activities in the region.

The move is no surprise. Spain and France launched their joint campaign for Rota and Brest to take over the missions in late March. The decision has been forced by the June 2016 referendum when Britons voted to leave the EU – under EU law the bloc’s agencies cannot be located in non-member states. Last year, the London-based European Banking Authority and European Medicines Agency (EMA) were awarded to Paris and Amsterdam respectively,

Spain's navy wants big role in post-Brexit European defence

With naval power Britain at the EU’s exit door, Spain has gone on the offensive to be the next major player defending European shores.

However, it does highlight the possibility that Britain’s EU exit could reduce its standing as a military and defence force in the world.

Last month, news reports and military sources suggested that the EU anti-piracy missions would be formally relocated from the UK once post-Brexit security arrangements between the EU and UK had been agreed.

Operational Commander, Major General Charlie Stickland, stated that “the transition is being planned with the utmost consideration to ensure it is smooth and seamless with continued cooperation and collaboration with all stakeholders throughout the region”.

He added that the mission would “be conducting business as usual with the Force Headquarters and ships remaining deployed and conducting deterrence of piracy and protection of WFP shipping.”

Meanwhile, Vice Admiral Antonio Martorell Lacave from the Spanish Navy has been appointed to take over as new Operation Commander from Stickland after Brexit day.

The number of attacks off the coast of Somalia in the Indian Ocean has dropped in recent years from a peak of 176 in 2011 to seven in 2017. Only one has been recorded so far in 2018, according to the International Maritime Bureau.

The decision by EU leaders also sees Italy, which bid for EU NAVFOR, lose out again. The Italian government had put Rome forward as its candidate city. It also put Rome forward to host the EMA –  losing out following a draw of lots –  and threatened to take legal action against the European Commission early this year when it was revealed that the new office premises in Amsterdam would not be ready in time.

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