Latest news

European Defence Matters

450 key decision makers from the European Union defence community, including Member States, European institutions, research bodies, think-tanks, industry and the media, along with 17 high-level speakers, met at the annual conference of the European Defence Agency (EDA) yesterday in Brussels to discuss how Europe can enhance its capabilities at a time of decreasing defence budgets.

“When in November 2011 Defence Ministers approved eleven Pooling & Sharing priorities they sent a clear signal that, in times of austerity, complex operations and highly advanced technology, acting together is essential if Europe is to preserve and develop the capabilities it requires,” said Claude-France Arnould, Chief Executive of the EDA, introducing the event.

The European Council will discuss defence topics during its December 2013 summit; conference speakers and delegates agreed that this meeting will have to take critical decisions on finance and empowering European institutions to speed initiatives such as Pooling & Sharing if Europe is to meet its defence and security commitments.

But the gap between the political rhetoric on cooperation and the speed with which it is being introduced by national administrations was a key feature of the  debate at the EDA annual conference, entitled “European Defence Matters.” 

Capability gap

“We face critical capability gaps,” according to Cathy Ashton, head of the EDA, who underlined what could be done through successful EU cooperation in defence. She also mentioned the efforts of EU operations, such as seeing piracy drop by 95% over the last three years in Somalia, while over 3,000 Somali troops have been trained.

“If current trends continue by 2017 we risk losing 17% of the European expenditures since the economic crisis started,” said Mr Van Rompuy, President of the European Council. It was a strong message echoed by many speakers, with serious consequences for the European defence industrial base. “My main concern is not so much CSDP as such or “EU defence”, but rather the state of defence in Europe. That's how Presidents and Prime Ministers look at these issues together” declared President Van Rompuy. “The same goes for their joint responsibility for our continent's defence; there also, decisions in one country, will affect others. There is too little public awareness of this, and in that respect precisely, Presidents and Prime Ministers are uniquely placed to convince a wider public opinion, and thereby to set things into motion. (…) Upon receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo last December, [European leaders] said the European Union stands by those in pursuit of peace and human dignity. To fulfil such responsibilities, we should make sure we have the means at our disposal.”

“For the defence dimension of our discussion in December, for me the important thing is to make concrete progress on three key issues: (1) priorities for future investment and equipment procurement; (2) strengthening our industrial base, so that it remains competitive and innovative; (3) and finally, the preparation and availability of forces.” stated the President of the European Union.

Industrial base

According to Tom Enders, Chief Executive of EADS, unless serious action is taken Europe risks losing key elements of its defence industrial base as skilled personnel either leave or transfer to civil industry. “We are facing a challenge of political drift,” said Mr Enders, “it is unlikely that EADS which was formed in 1999 could be created in 2013.”

“The biggest threat to European defence today is shrinking budgets. We need some light from Heads of States.” said Mr Danjean. So what are the options? According to Claude France Arnould, Chief Executive of the EDA it would be unrealistic to expect a 20% increase in the budget of the EDA - but if more Member States came forward to support  individual Pooling & Sharing programmes that would be an excellent start.  “Money is not just the only sign of support,” said Ms Arnould.  

Concurring with Tom Enders saying that more money should be given to EDA, Mr Klich, Senator of the Republic of Poland and former Minister of Defence also stated “But I have doubts about the current budget of the EDA”, suggesting that as the EDA was the only European organisation actively working to increase defence cooperation it would need more resources to undertake its role.

Success in cooperation

Many speakers pointed out some of the success stories of what has been achieved through cooperation in recent years. General de Rousiers, Chairman of the Military Committee of the EU, gave the example of the European air transport command which had been created in a relatively short time and the working being undertaken to exploit civil observation satellite assets for military operations. “Pooling & Sharing is one of the greatest European defence achievements of the last two to three years,” said Mr Klich.

The priorities for European defence leaders were also discussed – Mr Missiroli, Director of the European Institute for Security Studies suggested these were securing the European homeland, securing the European neighbouring areas, securing global commerce and ensuring access to energy. Delegates also discussed the “quick wins” which the European Council could sanction such as improving military access to space resources, coordinating cyber defence activities, opening access to remotely piloted air systems (RPAS) in the European sky and developing air to air capabilities through Pooling & Sharing.

“Cooperation between NATO ACT and EDA is essential and well-functioning” said General Palomeros, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Transformation. “There is a pressing need to balance defence commitments from both sides of the Atlantic, and European partners will need to deliver their full share in capabilities.” In some areas, such as developing a single European requirement for an RPAS MALE system, European defence departments have already missed the boat, but in others, such as the A400M military transport, consolidated capability requirements had delivered positive results.

But not all European states faced the same problems. Mr Krystowski, CEO of Poland’s BUMAR group clearly said some states in central and Eastern Europe had different defence priorities to those in the West and a more vibrant economy which should be taken into account.

Task force on defence

A critical input into the Council’s meeting later this year will come from the European Commission’s task force looking at bolstering the continent’s defence industrial and technological sector. Mr Calleja, Director General of the Enterprise and Industry Directorate General of the European Commission underlined some of the priorities already identified by the task force, including enhancing the common security and defence policy, building a strong industrial base, strengthening the internal defence market, developing an industrial base to include SMEs and their access to finance and improving R&T levels of funding. Another priority was energy conservation. “Europe’s military spends around €1 billion a year on energy,” he said, “the same as a small European state.” 

Despite the problems the EDA has made significant progress over the last year in meeting capability gaps through Pooling & Sharing, said Peter Round, Director Capabilities at the agency. Ten Member States are now working on a joint procurement programme to acquire urgently needed air-to-air refuelling assets in the long-term. A further procurement initiative was underway to access satellite communications services from the civil sector for a range of operational needs. Another multi-national initiative has been launched to provide medical hospitals for troops in the field.

“We must now close the gap between rhetoric and reality” concluded Claude-France Arnould. 

More information:
  • Speech by Herman Van Rompuy, Council President
  • Speech by Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs & Security Policy, Vice-President of the European Commission and Head of the European Defence Agency.
  • Welcome by Claude-France Arnould
  • Speech by Alan Shatter TD, Irish Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence
  • Pooling & Sharing: Early Results for Operations. Presentation by Peter Round, EDA Capabilities Director
  • Pictures on Flickr
  • Event summary on Storify
  • Video report on YouTube