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Annual Conference: Ministers join high-level debate on future of EU defence

After the opening by the Head of Agency and keynote speeches by European Commission Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier and the Chairman of the EU Military Committee, General Claudio Graziano, attendees of EDA’s 2019 Annual Conference witnessed a lively and inspiring high-level strategic debate on the future of European defence featuring three Defence Ministers: François Bausch of Luxembourg, João Gomes Cravinho of Portugal, and Thomas Starlinger of Austria.

Moderated by EDA Chief Executive Jorge Domecq, the debate showed a common understanding on the fact that all EU Member States' armed forces have a lot to gain from enhanced defence cooperation and a more coherent and integrated capability planning and development framework in Europe, both in terms of efficiency (cost savings) and interoperability. "We lack efficiency and could be much more effective and save money if we worked closer together", said Minister Bausch.

All the required tools for moving into that direction are now in place with the revised Capability Development Plan (CDP), the Coordinated Annual Review on Defence (CARD), the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) and the European Defence Fund (EDF), "but the crucial task laying ahead of us now is to create a smooth and efficient workflow among them", including with the European Commission's new DG on Defence Industry & Space, "and to implement and use them in the right way", said Minister Starlinger. Three aspects are particularly important in this respect, the Austrian Defence Minister added: first, that Member States remain in the driving seat when it comes to prioritisation of the defence capabilities needed; second, that we don't reinvent the wheel and, instead, use the tools, processes and assets we have already in place; and third, that we ensure there is coherence among the various EU defence initiatives and the actors driving them.

Portuguese Minister Gomes Cravinho thought that the successful setting up of CARD, PESCO and the EDF showed that the EU was "on the right track" at a technical level.On the political level, however, more needs to be done to move towards a more common defence policy in Europe, he stressed. The need for progress on the political level, especially with a view to shaping a common defence policy, was highlighted by all participants. Things are moving into the right direction with the new EU tools which show that, in the capability domain, "we are going from a national, industrial driven process to a multilateral, European approach", said Minister Starlinger.

The three Ministers also agreed that EU defence cooperation was in no way directed against NATO,"which will remain the cornerstone of our collective defence" as Minister Bausch put it, but that, on the contrary, a stronger European defence will also strengthen NATO. "NATO's efficiency will also rely on how successfully EU countries can strengthen their respective defences", said the Luxembourg Minister.

Asked what the most urgent next steps would be in order to move the Europe of Defence forward, the three Ministers agreed once more: it is the need to develop a common defence policy in Europe which goes beyond purely national interests, "because no country alone can face the new challenges ahead of us"

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