Security and defence-related issues will be at the heart of the European political debate this term. In the EU’s close neighbourhood, there are now ongoing military conﬂicts.
The changing geopolitical context has led Member States to strengthen cooperation in the ﬁeld of common security. Initiatives such as the Coordinated Annual Review on Defence or Permanent Structured Cooperation offer a political answer to this new reality.
European leaders agree that we must do more for our own security, which currently depends largely on the transatlantic alliance, as President Trump repeatedly points out.
Fortunately, contrary to what President Macron has recently stated, NATO is far from “brain dead.” One only needs to look at the so-called “Eastern Flank” to see effective day-to-day cooperation between NATO members.
For the time being, EU-level initiatives can only complement, rather than replace, this cooperation. That being said, the Union should gradually make its support more explicit.
“European leaders agree that we must do more for our own security, which currently depends largely on the transatlantic alliance”
Looking solely at the Member States’ dependence on importing defence products from third countries, it is legitimate to think of a way to change this trend. At the same time, we should try to increase the competitiveness of Europe’s defence industry both within Europe and on a global scale.
The European Defence Fund (EDF) is the ﬁrst comprehensive EU programme to fund joint research and develop defence technologies and is one example of this type of reasoning. The Fund aims to intensify cross-border cooperation between EU-based defence companies, allowing them to work together to produce the products and technologies needed by Member States more efficiently.
The EDF is meant to put an end to the fragmentation of EU defence capabilities, symbolised by 17 different types of battle tanks and 20 different types of ﬁghter planes currently used by European soldiers.
Crucially, the regulation applies to the R&D phase only, meaning that the Fund will not ﬁnance the ultimate production of weapons. The objective of the EDF is to promote a more intense and inclusive cross-border cooperation.
What will be crucial for its success will be the participation of SMEs and mid-cap companies. In fact, the largest European defence companies have been cooperating successfully for years without the support of EU funds.
One should therefore expect wider cross-border cooperation between companies from different Member States, including those not previously active in the defence sector. They represent considerable unexploited industrial potential.
“The Fund aims to intensify cross-border cooperation between EU-based defence companies, allowing them to work together to produce the products and technologies needed by the Member States more efficiently”
In many countries, the Fund should offer the opportunity for a genuine defence industrial revolution. However, securing a partial agreement on the EDF regulation was not an easy task; supporting the defence industry with taxpayers’ money is always a politically-sensitive topic. Legislative negotiators faced difficult questions at many stages.
The most controversial of these was transparency in the ethics checks procedures for projects submitted for funding.
Eventually, the negotiating parties managed to strike a compromise that sets up effective ethical scrutiny of EU ﬁnanced projects, while guaranteeing legal certainty for the entities involved. It is important to stress that the EDF will not support the development of lethal autonomous weapons without meaningful human control.
Another hot topic was the Fund’s alleged lack of openness to companies from third countries. Yet the Fund does not exclude participation by non-EU entities in consortia, provided that they are established in the Union and do not represent any threat to our security interests.
This balanced approach should prevent discrimination against Member States with defence industries that are partially owned by entities from non-European countries and from the EU’s closest military partners, such as the US or a post-Brexit UK.
One needs to remember that they equally contribute to European economic growth by providing jobs to European citizens and paying their taxes in the EU.
This pragmatic decision will both release the potential of each Member State’s defence sector more equally and convince our NATO allies of our good intentions. The EDF represents a step towards making Europe stronger in the world, although only in terms of its industrial competitiveness, rather than its military power.
This is why the Fund does not mean the beginning of EU militarisation. The Fund’s success will depend on its ability to provide a genuine European added value for the entire defence industry, rather than a backdoor way of subsidising the biggest companies.
The EDF should be perceived as one possible answer to repeated calls for more balanced burden-sharing between NATO members, rather than as a threat to NATO’s unity