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.