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Within the European Union, there are more than 300 civilian and military authorities responsible for carrying out coast guard functions. There is therefore a need to ensure a close cross-border and cross-sector collaboration and coordination between these authorities in order to avoid duplication and redundancy of efforts and to build up synergies.

In the EU and the European Economic Area, the European Fisheries Control Agency (EFCA), the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) and the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) support national authorities in carrying out coast guard functions. To provide this support at national and EU level and, where appropriate, at international level, the founding Regulations of each of the three agencies were amended in 2016 with a common article on European cooperation on coast guard functions. The common Article identifies five areas for cooperation, as follows:

  1. Sharing, fusing and analysing information available in ship reporting systems and other information systems hosted by or accessible to those agencies, in accordance with their respective legal bases and without prejudice to the ownership of data by Member States;

  2. Providing surveillance and communication services based on state-of-the-art technology, including space-based and ground infrastructure and sensors mounted on any kind of platform;

  3. Building capacity by drawing up guidelines and recommendations and by establishing best practices as well as by providing training and exchange of staff;

  4. Enhancing the exchange of information and cooperation on coast guard functions including by analysing operational challenges and emerging risks in the maritime domain;

  5. Sharing capacity by planning and implementing multipurpose operations and by sharing assets and other capabilities, to the extent that these activities are coordinated by those agencies and are agreed to by the competent authorities of the Member States concerned.'

The development of a ‘Practical Handbook’ on European cooperation on coast guard functions was also foreseen in the common article of the amended founding regulations of the three agencies, as described below:

The Commission shall, in close cooperation with the Member States, the European Maritime Safety Agency, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency and the European Fisheries Control Agency, make available a practical handbook on European cooperation on coast guard functions. That handbook shall contain guidelines, recommendations and best practices for the exchange of information. The Commission shall adopt the handbook in the form of a recommendation.’

The Practical Handbook provides, in one document, a transparent compilation of services and information available through the three EU agencies. Accordingly, it can help to create synergies and avoid duplication and/or redundancy of effort in the cooperation between Member States and the agencies.