EDA chief: EU can no longer afford to ignore defence policy

Written by Rajnish Singh on 29 March 2016 in Opinion
Opinion

2016 to be 'key year' for Europe's defence policy, says Jorge Domecq.

Following the November Paris terrorist attacks and the extraordinary security lockdown in Brussels, security and defence issues both within and outside Europe have become a key issue for the EU's leaders.

After years of ignoring security and defence as policy issues, and member states drastically cutting funding, the EU is now working on three major policy initiatives.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini launches her 'EU Global Strategy on Foreign and Security Policy' in June, the Dutch EU Council presidency will shortly present its 'Defence Action Plan' and the Commission is planning its own 'European Agenda on Security'.


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European Defence Agency (EDA) CEO Jorge Domecq says that, "2016 is going to be a key year, not only in the defence and security sector but also to keep Europe relevant in world affairs."

The Portuguese official, who has been in the job for just over a year, admits it has been a 'challenging start'.

However, he is a seasoned diplomat, with 31 years' experience, including a Nato posting. "This can be the year where we get things done correctly, allowing Europe to remain relevant in defence terms."

However, he warns that; "We cannot think Europe will remain relevant if it does not have a 'weight of its own' in terms of hard power."

Yet with three different policy papers being advanced simultaneously, is there a risk of policy confusion and duplication? He feels not, adamant that, "all three documents are complimentary processes." He adds; "All three are necessary and must be completed quickly. Security is an urgent matter."

For Domecq, the main challenge for Europe is to provide its own effectively security. However, he stresses part of this, "will entail a strong relationship with Nato."

For him the big challenge is that there are no longer 'clear-cut' differences between civil and military. "We have our armies on the street doing law enforcement roles while our navies in the Mediterranean carry out border control operations."

A major priority for the Dutch EU Council presidency is revitalising the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). Is this an admission that EU member states have not taken it seriously? 

Domecq points out that since its establishment, there have been 30 military missions across the world under the CSDP

Yet he admits, "since these missions were done on an ad hoc basis with no command structure, there have been drawbacks. The main challenge for Europe is to try to make defence cooperation a systematic feature."

Of course, any expansion of security capabilities depends on more government spending. However, with only four Nato countries out of 28 members meeting the defence organisation's guidelines to spend at least two per cent of their GDP, the European Commission is releasing more money to help Europe's security forces.

However, Domecq remains adamant that EU money is not "a substitute for national funding. It should be used to incentivise defence cooperation."

However, he believes that, "it is even more important for governments to spend their money better, which means spending together."

Although Europe spends roughly half of the US budget, it only produces 15 per cent of the operational units.

"There is undesirable fragmentation of our defence capabilities." The EDA is pushing a policy of "pooling and sharing" to help improve effectiveness.

A key success for this policy has been military helicopters, with over 12,000 people trained. Other areas include cyber warfare training, satellite communications and buying and using of anti-tank missiles.

Yet in a world where the difference between civil and military security is increasingly blurred, the emerging new "hybrid" warfare is now challenging military strategists. Domecq describes this as "a concept in which all instruments are used by government and non-governments actors to achieve strategic objectives."

Domecq firmly believes that; "The EU is best placed to help countries meet the dangers of hybrid warfare." The EDA has already organised a major exercise in March featuring 80 experts. 

Although Nato will be the lead organisation, the EU through the EDA will be busy, especially in areas and capabilities, "where Nato, for one reason or another, is not focused."

These include satellite communications, cyber warfare and air-to-air refuelling where European countries fill an important gap.

Another key area for the EU is enhancing its defence industry. The Commission is concentrating on strengthening the industrial and technological capabilities within the sector. 

However, Domecq warns that; "A big problem for the European defence industry is fragmentation of demand and duplication. We can only overcome if we have real commitments from member states to a common European defence strategy. This is why it is important to agree to a global strategy in June." The EDA chief also stresses that the "the European Parliament will play an important role."

The first test will be the mid-term review of the multiannual financial framework 2014-20. Domecq calls on MEPs to fully support defence orientated research programmes and the next multiannual financial framework for 2021-2027. However, he accepts that MEPs "face lots of competing priorities" for finances. 

He warns, however, that, "defence has been disregarded for too long. It cannot be ignored for much longer. Europe's changing security situation requires a push to support defence."

 

About the author

Rajnish Singh is commissioning editor of the Parliament Magazine

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