Following the opening speeches by Head of Agency HR/VP Borrell and European Council President Michel (see previous news), EDA’s Annual Conference 2021 continued on 7 December with a first high-level conference panel moderated by EDA Chief Executive Jiří Šedivý and featuring no less than three Defence Ministers: Belgium’s Ludivine Dedonder, Slovenia’s Matej Tonin, and Poland’s Marcin Ociepa (Deputy Defence Minister).
Belgian Minister Ludivine Dedonder said defence innovation should have three main characteristics: “It should be collaborative, capability-driven and, at the same time, adaptive and continuous”. Collaboration is crucial especially for countries of moderate sizes such as Belgium because for them, it is not possible to analyse, evaluate, develop and finance all new defence innovations on their own, the Minister stressed. At the same time, avoiding duplication is also imperative “because we cannot afford to finance duplicative programmes”. Innovation must remain capability-driven, she added, “as one of its goals is to deliver top-notch military capabilities in support of the security and defence policies of our nations and the EU”. And it must be constantly adapted to the changing operational needs of the Armed Forces, Ms Dedonder insisted. EDA has a pivotal role to play “as it brings together research, technology watch, innovation, capability development and wider links with industry”. Creating synergies with other actors, including NATO, is also a role the Agency can take on, avoiding unnecessary duplication, the Belgian Minister said. “Innovation is key to make our Armed Forces more robust, more resilient, more agile and more precise in their engagements. In short: to build a better European military instrument of power”, she concluded.
Slovenian Minister Matej Tonin said that for ensuring its strategic autonomy and upholding the credibility of its security and defence policy, Europe needs “fresh, cutting-edge ideas and innovative thinking” in order to be able to face today’s new threats and keep up with the technological developments that are driving both the civil and military world. “In this respect, I want to put a special emphasis on the small and medium-sized enterprises, the SME’s, which can be vehicles for development because they are able to adapt and respond rapidly to innovative ideas”, he stressed. Mr Tonin also underlined the need for Europe to cooperate also with its allies, especially NATO. He expressed Slovenia’s support and appreciation for NATO’s work, especially the recent efforts to establish a Defence Innovation Accelerator for the North Atlantic (DIANA) and a NATO innovation Fund, stressing the need of avoiding duplication with those initiatives. Creating a European Defence Innovation Hub within EDA is “a step in the right direction”, the Minister said, “but it should not create additional layers of administrative and financial burden” for Member States: “Complementarity and non-duplication between the EU and NATO are key”.
The Polish Deputy Minister, Marcin Ociepa, called on Europe and its Member States to be “open” to all types of stakeholders and innovation players, inside and outside Europe, “because the broad spectrum of threats and challenges today requires a broad-spectrum response”. “We are all witnessing today the power and unpredictability of hybrid warfare. Therefore it is crucial to enhance cooperation on developing creative and innovative defence capabilities to protect our citizens, borders and values”. In this respect, the technological independence of Europe is of great importance, Mr Ociepa pursued: “By all means, we should continue to develop the mechanisms facilitating the cooperation and protecting the European innovations and technologies. We cannot, however, curb the collaboration opportunities with other like-minded partners such the US, South Korea, Japan, Australia to just name a few (…) we all face the same challenges and threats. Defence innovation is a team game”. We also have to invest in defence innovation, “but in a smart manner”, the Deputy Minister said: “Increasing our defence budgets is not always the only answer. We have to make sure that each and every mechanism is complementary and coherent with existing EU funding instruments, namely the European Defence Fund, Horizon Europe or the European Innovation Council. We cannot afford to duplicate our efforts”. With NATO doing its work through the Defence Innovation Accelerator for the North Atlantic (DIANA) and a NATO innovation Fund, “EDA, as the potential host of the European Defence Innovation Hub, could and should facilitate EU-NATO cooperation in this domain and create interlinks between the instruments of both organisations”. And Mr Ociepa to conclude: “You can count on our support on this and on other topics”.