End of June, HRVP Federica Mogherini presented the new EU Global Strategy, aiming at setting out the European Union’s strategic security and foreign policy priorities. The Commission is also working on adopting the European Defence Action Plan (EDAP) by the end of this year, which will turn these objectives into concrete EU military capability priorities.

Strengthening Europe’s security capabilities is a challenge that requires strategic planning and an efficient use of resources. Existing projects or initiatives taken by the European Defence Agency (EDA) already prove how the implementation of the circular economy principles in the field of defence can help achieve this objective. Yet, increasing transfers of knowledge between the civilian and the military sectors and integrating a longer-term perspective in the production process could bring even further benefits.

Modernising and improving the competitiveness of the defence sector through the Circular Economy

Modernising our economy is a priority for this Commission. We believe that the future of competitiveness lies in advanced manufacturing and smart and sustainable value chains.

Since this Commission took office, we have therefore made every effort to ensure that Europe’s industries – and in particular SMEs – can benefit from a growth-friendly framework. This means not only facilitating investments into innovation, but also supporting new technological solutions and new business models which implement circular economy principles by suggesting more sustainable production, consumption and waste management.

Our Circular Economy Action Plan, published in December 2015, aims at introducing these principles along the entire value chain, therefore addressing all industrial sectors.

Defence industries are no different – resource efficiency, security of supplies are as much, if not more, important to defence industries than to the civilian sector. The transposition of the circular economy principles in the defence sector can benefit the European industry and economy in many ways. Optimising the use of existing resources, encouraging developing new materials, and promoting the use of secondary raw materials will create new incentives to innovate. And we are not talking only about big manufactories here – defence supply chain includes plenty of SMEs and midcaps. This will in turn contribute to preserving and creating new jobs. In an environment of reduced government public spending, the focus on waste reduction will also help the industry reduce its costs, and improve its competitiveness and efficiency targets.

Many civilian businesses have already understood that the ‘old fashioned linearity’ of business models and products will soon add to operational risks. They are therefore integrating resource efficiency and circularity logic more systematically in their production processes.

Positive developments are also noticeable in the military sector where the efforts of the European Defence Agency have already materialised beyond expectations. Very concrete examples include the EDA’s Energy and Environment Programme which supports Member States Armed Forces through the introduction of low-carbon and energy-efficient actions in the fields of capability, armaments and research perspectives; or, the ‘Go Green’ project which encourages Armed Forces of seven Member States to produce their own electricity from renewable sources, thus generating additional revenue for defence budgets.

Well-planned dual-use research is essential to fully benefit from Circular Economy initiatives

The defence sector could also reap the benefits of the R&I dimension of our Circular Economy Action Plan. Through the initiative ‘Industry 2020 in the circular economy’, the European Commission will grant over EUR 650 million in 2016-2017 to research and innovation. Undoubtedly, the emergence of a growth-friendly framework, as attested by the recent launch of ‘Innovation Deals’, could have a positive impact on investment into innovation and may create other positive spill-overs in the defence sector. For these spill-overs to materialise, knowledge transfers between the civilian and the military sectors are fundamental. The EDA has already carried out considerable work to encourage synergies between civil and military policy initiatives, in areas such as the Single European Sky, Energy Efficiency, Maritime Security Strategy, Space, etc.

New opportunity for the EDA

The Circular Economy Package provides a new opportunity for the EDA to use its enriched stakeholder network and experience in identifying mutual benefits to broaden this cooperation. The participation of the defence sector in the transfer or knowledge to and from the civilian industries on the recycling, remanufacturing, or reparability aspects in defence industries will be key to ensure the success of this process. In concrete terms, this means that lifecycle assessment will need to be considered if civilian use is being planned at the end of service life in the defence sector.

Here again, some practical examples already exist. Building upon years of successful dual use research in materials and nanotechnology sciences, the EDA’s CapTech Materials & Structures now embraces new advanced materials with extremely interesting features for defence. Among them, smart materials are expected to be further developed, allowing not only reductions in weight or increased strength, but also self-repairing or condition monitoring of deployed personnel. However, challenges remain in the price of these products or in the complexity associated with the repairing and disassembling processes. This is precisely where encouraging dual research and development activities could be mutually beneficial by providing the necessary resources for the industry to embrace the circular economy principles already in the design phase.

The implementation of the Circular Economy Action Plan presents numerous opportunities for the defence sector. Taking this new approach could help the industry modernise and become both more efficient and more competitive. Better integrating innovation principles through a deepened collaboration with the civilian sector could also accelerate the development of new technologies and materials, hence providing better equipment for our troops.

Development opportunities exist and the Commission has set the ground for investment into innovation to take off. But to fully reap these benefits, a long-term perspective will need to be factored in at early stages of the production process – including in tendering and design phases.

The circular economy is a long-term challenge which requires comprehensive handling at every stage of the process. I have complete confidence that the defence sector will naturally integrate this approach, and appreciate its interests in this development.

Jyrki Katainen

is currently Vice President of the European Commission responsible for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness. He joined the college in July 2014 as Vice-President for Economic and Monetary Affairs and the euro. Before that he served as Prime Minister of Finland (2011-2014) and Minister of Finance (2007-2011).

More details about the Commission’s Circular Economy Strategy are available here.

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