The French EU Presidency defence priorities were initially focused on the adoption of the EU’s Strategic Compass. Instead, it’s the Russian invasion of Ukraine that dominated everything. How big a game changer you expect this war to be for EU defence cooperation?

The adoption of the Strategic Compass on 24 March 2022 by the European Council is a major milestone in the development of a collective European military action capability. This unprecedented event stems from a thorough and shared analysis of the nature of our strategic environment. Competition between powers, in all environments including the exo-atmospheric and cyber ones as well as in the information domain, possibly even reaching the confrontation stage, is indeed considered in this paper.

The Strategic Compass thus integrated the possible occurrence of such a military action on the European continent. I think, by the way, that the EU’s rapid reaction is rooted in this reflection initiated as early as 2020. If the Member States have understood the urgency of the situation, it is because they share a common set of references.

Indeed, the Russian behaviour has triggered an increased awareness regarding European security and defence. The most innovative decision has been to decide, within a few days only, to pay hundreds of millions of euros of lethal equipment for a third country and to ensure the coordination of the deliveries. Furthermore, for the first time, the EU has blamed a cyberattack on someone. This Russian attack targeted the KA-SAT satellite network, one hour before the invasion. We must capitalise on this dynamic and anticipate possible military contributions to face the excesses of war.


Whereas many see the Ukraine war as a confirmation of the need for a more integrated European defence, others take it as the ultimate proof that only NATO can protect Europeans. What’s your assessment?

Opposing NATO and the EU is unproductive. The cornerstone of our collective defence capability is NATO. The stronger European military capabilities are within NATO, the more efficient collective defence is, and the better Europe is protected.

NATO provides a very suitable framework for military action, especially owing to the standardisation of procedures. This is an indispensable common ground for interoperability. The European common security and defence policy (CSDP), for its part, allows to enforce more easily a comprehensive approach. Indeed, the EU also has tools complementing the mere military capabilities, such as economic sanctions or cooperation and development policies. This possibility is a genuine asset, as the European reaction to the war in Ukraine proved.

According to me, beyond the alleged EU/NATO opposition, the war in Ukraine confirms the need for the Europeans to define a long-term strategy to ensure the defence of Europe. I am convinced that now is the time to agree on common goals, to reinforce our strategic solidarity and to reorganise consequently. The complementarity between the EU and NATO is obvious, including vis-à-vis our American ally who could be forced to privilege his posture in the Pacific.

  • Aircraft carrier GDG (© État-major des armées - France)

The war has made everyone in Europe realise that there is an urgent need for increasing investments in defence, and more funding is already being made available. Is this not the moment for a quantum leap in joint European development and procurement of defence assets?

The French Presidency of the Council of the EU wanted to integrate this question to the agenda, and the war has certainly helped to focus Member States’ attention and interest. Clear signs show that the Europeans are increasingly aware of the need to start, right now, increasing investments in defence.

It is of paramount importance to talk about common procurement processes and to propose an inciting framework in the spirit of the Versailles EU Summit. In the very short term, this could enable  Member States to regenerate their ammunition stockpiles and to replace the equipment divested to Ukraine.

In the medium term, beyond the consequences of the war in Ukraine on the cost of raw materials and energy, I also see here a solution to the rise of the costs of equipment which increasingly entails efficient but expensive technologies.

In the longer term, we need to invest in the EU’s strategic autonomy, focusing our efforts on high-end capabilities to develop the area of competence of the EU's Defence Technological and Industrial Base (EDTIB) and collectively try to reduce our dependencies.

In any case, militarily speaking and in view of developing a collective capability in Europe, armed forces using common items of equipment will undoubtedly be far more interoperable. Gains are therefore not only financial.


At the same time, there is a risk that all the short and medium-term defence spending will serve to buy off-the-shelf equipment, mainly from non-European suppliers. Is that a realistic scenario, and what can be done to avoid it?

It seems to me that we need to have a balanced approach and not to desperately cling to positions in principle. Off-the-shelf procurement can sometimes be a very relevant solution for a dilemma between the immediate military need and budget constraints, especially when dealing with strategic stakes.

Whenever possible, we must choose the EU. When equipment exists, but the problem lies in its price or in its manufacturing capabilities, it might be wise to group the purchases. It will then enable European defence companies to face the industrial constraints thanks to economies of scale. The incentive measures taken by the European Commission also encourage to buy in Europe.

It is however also important for the EDTIB to get ready to propose satisfactory and sustainable technical and financial solutions, matching the pace in which the nature of conflicts is evolving. This sometimes also requires the willingness to take risks.

In the end, we should focus on long-term stakes in order to avoid finding ourselves in a situation in which the EDTIB would have no solution to propose to the expressed military needs. The idea is to set up a virtuous system, driven by common interests, and not by idealism.


From your military end-user perspective: why is it still so difficult to develop and acquire capabilities together, in a more coordinated way, despite the benefits?

If we put this question in perspective, one should admit that EU Member States have made progress in that domain since 2017. The Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), the Coordinated Annual Review on Defence (CARD), the Capability Development Plan (CDP) and the European Defence Fund (EDF) are tools which brought major enhancements in little time. The European Patrol Corvette (EPC) project is a good example of the coherence achieved owing to these tools.

Much remains to be done, since these are new processes which need some warm-up time. We will have to capitalise on the successes, as well as on the failures to perpetuate these dynamics.

Regarding the EPC project, the modular approach based on an open plug-and-play architecture enables to better meet the requests of the countries. It seems to me that this is an interesting approach since it simplifies the statement of requirements. Depending on operational demands, each partner can thus adapt more easily, and it reduces tensions.

Finally, I think that we need to remain sober regarding technological innovation. Indeed, when it is fantasised, it is often a source of over-expenditures and delays before fielding. The effects are especially damaging for an armament programme led in the framework of a cooperation.

  • État-major des armées - France

How will France contribute to bringing collaborative capability development in Europe forward?

Collaborative capability development is a necessity for France. We are resolutely committed in that direction. The French contribution to European collaborative programmes has increased by 36% in the 2019-2025 Military Programming Act, compared with the previous period. This commitment is based on the fact that acting in partnership enables to create the lever effects indispensable to solve at least part of the quality/cost equation.

Besides, from a military perspective, collaborative development promotes the emergence of a common operational culture. This is the advantage expected from the CaMo programme (standing for: motorised capabilities) focused on ground combat vehicles developed in a partnership between France and Belgium. I also forecast this in the Future Medium-size Transport Cargo (FMTC) that will create a European tactical air transport solution. We must underline here that these European capabilities represent also an added-value for NATO.

I often ask myself “with whom?” and I encourage the headquarters to do the same. Beyond the operational engagement topic, it is always interesting to turn to others to optimise financial contributions or to put skills in common. In some high-end capabilities, this approach is absolutely essential since it offers the ability to manage technical complexity. It is in that spirit that France coordinates the Defence of Space Assets (DOSA) project in the framework of PESCO.


Europe lacks major, strategic cooperative defence projects. Now, even the Future Combat Air System (FCAS) programme is arduous because of partners’ diverging industrial perspectives. How worrying is that and what can be done to improve the implementation and efficiency of such big European projects in the future?

Developing a system in common is a strong political choice, in line with the objectives of the Strategic Compass. This is a coherent set, a brick for the construction of a European strategic autonomy. Compromising and looking for efficiency are ways to serve this ambition.

Generally speaking, I think that the operational end state of armament programmes must not be forgotten. The purpose of developed equipment is to be used and then to help provide credibility to a country.

We should therefore wonder about the proper technological level to be integrated into military equipment. Besides, we sometimes tend to hush up the question of costs or sustainability, as if the only purpose was to present artefacts in an armament exhibition. Research guidelines and technological development should not be separated from the needs of the Armed Forces, since we are looking for operational efficiency and not for the ultimate weapon.


The EU’s Strategic Compass foresees the establishment of a strong EU Rapid Deployment Capacity of up to 5,000 troops for different types of crises. How does France intend to contribute to it?

This rapid deployment capability will be a key component of the European military toolbox. It is a concrete military incarnation of the Strategic Compass. France is determined to take its right share of this collective burden.

Beyond the symbolic figure of 5,000 personnel, we have to look at the critical capabilities: logistic or medical enablers, ISR, C2, etc. We see indeed in the Ukrainian conflict that they are the tools of operational success.

As of next year, we will identify ground (combined arms battlegroup), air (jet fighters, refuelling tanker and transport aircraft) and maritime (frigate and maritime surveillance aircraft) capabilities which can be projected more than 3,000 km away from France. We will also man the EU alert battlegroup during the entire first half of 2024.

In the short term, I think we need to be pragmatic in the design, implementation and structure of command. We must use NATO standards to reach an operational employment more rapidly, since we need concrete actions to clearly show the European determination. Waiting for the decision for them to join NATO, a deployment to Sweden or Finland in the framework of reassurance could be a good example of that.

Given the unpredictable geopolitical context we are confronted with and the wide range of missions which will have to be carried out, including in non-permissive environments, a single model would not be advisable. We have to remain agile while not trying to duplicate capabilities already provided by NATO.