However there’s another initiative, less well known to the general public, which will very likely have a significant long-term impact on defence planning and capability development of the EU Member States. It’s called the Coordinated Annual Review on Defence, or CARD. Its overarching goal: to provide, over time, a comprehensive picture of the European defence capability landscape and foster more consistent defence planning between Member States.

Formally created by the Council in November 2016, CARD’s mechanisms will collect information from the Members States on their defence plans, spending and related programmes for aggregation at EU level.

Based on a cyclical two-year process, CARD will build up a bird’s eye view of the extent to which the Member States collectively use and implement the 11 priorities of the EU’s Capability Development Plan (CDP). Those priorities represent the baseline and main driver for coherent capability development from a European perspective. Ultimately, CARD’s output will support senior political and military leaders and their decisions affecting the EU’s defence sector.

Identifying trends and cooperation opportunities 

Although, the CARD will not function simply as a snapshot of today’s defence landscape. It will also point to future likely developments in defence capability development such as technology trends and the industrial capacities to exploit them. It will also look at the actual and planned activities of national defence ministries as an indicator of their likely impact on the EU defence landscape, including equipment upgrades, modernisation and replacement. The CARD will also offer a perspective into the Member States’ operational activities, and the identification and promotion of opportunities for multi-national collaboration.

All this is an important distinction from the ‘old school’ defence planning approach, predicated on comparing existing capability shortfalls against a given level of ambition. Instead, the CARD will analyse defence expenditure trends among the Member States by collecting actual and forecasted budgeting figures for each of the domains relevant to military capability development (land, air, maritime, joint etc.). This approach should reveal, in concrete terms, where national capitals are actually putting their money (aircraft, tanks, warships, etc).

“It is one thing to say you are planning to do something, but it becomes much more concrete if you are actually funding it,” said Philippe Leopold, the European Defence Agency’s (EDA) Head of Unit for Cooperation Planning. “Our approach will provide trajectories and perspectives of capability development at European level, including the impact of the EU’s recent defence-related initiatives.”

Trial run & lessons learnt

CARD’s first formal cycle began in autumn 2019. Prior to that, the Agency and the EU Military Staff ran a trial exercise to test the waters. It was fed by preliminary information from EDA’s own databases and enriched by additional budgetary, programmatic and other kinds of defence planning information provided by the Member States. CARD’s trial run report was submitted to Defence ministers in November 2018.

A first encouraging outcome of the CARD’s trial was Member States’ growing awareness and use of EDA’s ‘Collaboration Data Base’, or CODABA. Created a decade ago within the Agency and steadily populated with national updates since then, CODABA now offers more than 7000 searchable files on the capability plans, programmes and in-service equipment of all EU Member States, plus Norway, Serbia and Switzerland. CODABA users can pinpoint capability ideas either for national planning or cooperation which makes it an essential tool for identifying collaborative opportunities to be then followed-up in the CARD framework.

Furthermore, a trio of lessons learnt emerged from the trial’s analysis.

The first was that all agreed that the Agency’s consultation and liaisons with national capitals worked well and that it provided added value in support of the overview. “For the first time the trial CARD gave us a view on how the Member States are implementing the CDP priorities and whether they are approaching this only at national level or in cooperative ways with other EU countries,” observed Jorge Domecq, EDA’s Chief Executive. “That view will become sharper as more information is gathered in future CARD iterations.”

The second lesson suggested ways to strengthen the CARD process by expanding the scope of its information. “The trial CARD’s focus was mainly on national capability development budgets and programmes. For the future, we are expanding that to include the Member States’ research and technology efforts and industrial aspects related to capability development, in order to provide a larger and richer analysis of the European defence landscape” said Mr Leopold. 

“We know R&T is sensitive for some countries, so the required granularity of the R&T information still requires some adjustments. There are also some sensitivities in gathering information from Ministries of Defence about industry since some of them are not in a position to talk about activities due to concerns over confidentiality”, he added.

The third and final lesson learnt was one of timing and how in future to integrate CARD’s cycles with other defence activities in Europe. CARD’s bilateral visits and consultation with the Member States will take place every other year, beginning in September and ending in February. It is important that these align in the best way with PESCO’s framework and with NATO’s defence planning consultations to benefit from the latter’s data collecting effort, while avoiding any unnecessary burden on the Member States. PESCO’s upcoming strategic review in 2020 and the next CARD report (November 2020) will offer opportunities to adjust the overall timelines of these different processes.

“The CARD will provide the necessary overview and indications to help bind together national planning, multinational PESCO projects and the European Defence Fund, all the while remaining complementary to NATO’s defence planning targets,” said Mr Domecq. “If it works as we intend, the CARD will provide the overview of the entire European capability landscape, and thus function as a pathfinder to support related political decision making”, he concluded.

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