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Annual Conference closes with call to boost defence innovation

EDA Chief Executive Jiří Šedivý closed the Agency’s 2021 Annual Conference devoted to ‘Innovation in European Defence’ with a call for Member States, and Europe as a whole, to invest more and better in defence innovation “and to do it together”, reflecting a general assessment expressed throughout the conference.

He also expressed the hope that 2022 will become “the year of European defence” and that Europe will take further decisive action to live up to its defence aspirations, also with respect to innovation. “The choice is clear”, he said repeating what many speakers and panelists expressed throughout the day: “Either we innovate in defence or we will become defence irrelevant”.

Main takeaways

Mr Šedivý singled out a number of commonalities expressed during the conference which could serve as the main takeaways of today's event, such as:

  • in terms of defence innovation, Europe is clearly stagnating vis-a-vis its main competitors, especially the US but also other global powers. This widening gap could, at some point, put at risk Europe’s interoperability with its partners;
  • to catch up, Europe needs to be open to partners both in Europe and outside, also across the Atlantic: “We need complementarity with NATO rather than competition. Openness also means a readiness to work with civil industry, SMEs and start ups;
  • to boost innovation, there is a need for cultural change and a change of mindset throughout Europe’s Ministries of Defence, including a tolerance for failure;
  • the final test of European defence innovation will be in its operational output, i.e. the capacity to deliver usable high-end capabilities that are needed by our Armed Forces;
  • Europe’s defence relevance will also stand or fall with the robustness, resilience and competitiveness of its defence industrial and technological base, including the security of supply chain;
  • EDA’s role in innovation is unique because, under the same roof, it deals with capability prioritisation and development, research and development, industrial synergies and civil-military cooperation as well as support to PESCO, CARD and the EDF. “Innovation is in the Agency’s DNA since its very start”; now, it is the time to use its expertise and experience to bring defence innovation forward in Europe.

EIB Vice-President Kris Peeters: “Hope that next year will be the year of defence”

Conference attendees also witnessed an interesting fire side chat with Kris Peeters, the European Investment Bank’s (EIB) Vice-President. He recalled the Bank’s decision, back in 2017, to launch the ‘European Security Initiative’ with a budget of 6 billion euros of which, so far, 4 billion have already been invested in dual-use projects benefiting to security and defence. 47% of those 4 billion euros have gone into innovation, Mr Peeters said, stressing that the funding was allocated as loans to both Member States and private companies (including start-ups) as well. Even though security and defence are still “sensitive” topics at the EIB which, as a European organisation, “is defending European values”, one should not forget that against the backdrop of increasing threats everywhere, “security and defence are also important values for European citizens”. “If we don’t invest in this sector, we cannot talk about European strategic autonomy, sovereignty or resilience. We must not be naive”, he said. There is a “momentum” to push for more investments in security “and I hope that next year, 2022, will be the year of defence”.

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