EU must boost defence cooperation

Written by Christian Moos on 21 August 2017

RAF Tornado fighter | Photo credit: Press Association

The EU must be more strategic when thinking about military capabilities, writes Christian Moos.

The EU was founded in order to maintain peace in a continent which had been shattered by two world wars in the space of only 30 years.  

The Union - which has spread to 28 member states and is based on human rights, democracy and solidarity - has proved to be the right remedy against war and for the stabilisation of peace. 

But the EU is no sacred island: in its very neighbourhood, just across the Mediterranean Sea, a brutal war has been raging for many years. 


The Middle East remains an unstable region, and the situation in Ukraine and other parts of its neighbourhood and the world is a source of concern for the EU. Finally, while the Nato umbrella remains key to Europe's security, the policy of its most important member, the United States, has become less clear, giving reason for concern over its future commitment and ultimate reliability. 

For all these reasons and many more, the EU must be more strategic when thinking about military capabilities. 

Diplomacy must always be the top priority for securing good relations and peace. However, it is necessary to secure freedom and security also through military capacity. This cannot be outsourced or left to our transatlantic Nato partners: the EU has an obligation to protect its citizens and contribute to stabilising its neighbourhood. 

While Nato remains the foundation of European security and common defence, inner-European defence cooperation must be boosted, as cooperation will make Europe's defence capabilities more efficient. The creation of a permanent structured framework, such as a European defence union (EDU), would forge cooperation and also strengthen European cohesion.

The treaty of Lisbon provides for such a structured cooperation. All that is needed to make it a reality is the willingness of member states.  

Europe's defence market is excessively fragmented, causing inefficient allocation of resources, duplicated structures, a lack of interoperability and technological gaps. 

In order to save costs and enhance its military clout, Europe should align and closely integrate its defence industry and create a common defence market. 

France and Germany recently announced their intention to cooperate on building new fighter jets. 

However, the common defence market should not be limited to the main producing countries. By including defence research and defence projects, more member states will be interested in joining and motivated to enhance their commitment to the common cause. 

Member states should disclose national capabilities and check what needs to be done to optimise the interoperability of civil preventive and military defence capabilities and which capabilities must be modernised. The result should feed into a roadmap for a comprehensive EU-wide security of supply regime, which the Commission should develop. 

Budget constraints across the EU will motivate member states to step up cooperation once the Commission shows the way forward.

While existing European funds must not be used for defence purposes, the establishment of the European defence fund is a major step towards targeted investments in military capability. 

With the above mentioned roadmap and proper implementation of the two defence directives, member states should be encouraged to fulfil their requirements and to contribute extra money from national budgets to a common defence framework. 

Military research must not be financed at the expense of research in other sectors. This, however, does not mean that possible synergies between civil and defence research should not be exploited. 

Research, for instance in cyber-security technologies, can have civilian as well as defence purposes. It goes without saying that such innovation and development can and even must be funded also by existing European programmes like Horizon 2020. 

It is clearly important for Europe to have a sound and sustainable defence, industrial and technological base. The challenge will be to finance and implement such a base without making Europe dependent on defence exports. 

Arms exports must be limited to strategic partners and allies and must not be driven by economic considerations when there is a danger of contributing to fuelling conflicts in other parts of the world. The EU must ensure that arms exports are subject to close democratic scrutiny. 

Therefore, the EESC welcomes the planned coordination committee with military, industrial and civil society representatives as advisors, while reserving decision making to political representatives and giving a seat and voice to the European Parliament.  


About the author

Christian Moos is a member of the European Economic and Social Committee

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