When I started my term as High Representative in 2019, I regularly told hesitant EU leaders and lawmakers that the European Union needed to learn to speak the “language of power”. We need to be able to act on the world stage, not just express concern. We are a bloc of 450 million people with an economic output nine times larger than Russia. Collectively we spend almost three times more than Moscow on defence but it was as if the EU had forgotten its collective power.

But, it is still by no means enough. Europe is in danger. Russia, which has common borders with five EU countries, is waging a brutal war of aggression against Ukraine, neighbour to four EU countries. The Russian leadership is openly seeking to divide the EU, fight our democratic values and destroy Europe’s security. The post-Cold War order, with reduced defence spending and the United States taking the lead on Europe’s security, does not exist anymore. We must do more for our own defence. However, we must not only do more, we must do it better: either we overcome longstanding national goals to collaborate in defence or we repeat the duplication of the past and waste our resources.

EDA and the European Commission have recently highlighted our defence investment gaps. The latest EDA data shows that, in 2021, Member States allocated 18% of their spending for new equipment to European collaborative procurement projects – still below the benchmark of 35%. While defence expenditure rose 6% in 2021, there is still the temptation for Member States to protect national defence industries or simply purchase off-the-shelf products. Despite understandable differences between our Member States, we must remain united where it really matters and not allow a string of carve-outs and projects at the national level to undermine our common defence industrial strategy.

The Strategic Compass, our overarching plan to define future threats and ambitions in defence, provides a common sense of purpose to our response. It sets out new ways to improve our collective ability to defend our citizens and specifies clear milestones to measure progress. We need to reinforce our civilian and militar y missions and operations, develop an EU Rapid Deployment Capacity to be able to swiftly deploy up to 5,000 troops in times of crisis, to strengthen our command and control, to boost our intelligence capacities, to develop our cyber defences and to fill our capability gaps.

Member States have just approved a 15% increase in the EDA budget for 2023, reflecting our higher level of ambition for the agency in support of growing national defence efforts. We must build on two decades of defence collaboration and harness the power that could come from our collective action to sustain our EU defence industrial base.

Progress is underway. The Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) has promising projects, such as the European Patrol Corvette, the Cyber Rapid Response Team and Future Medium-Size Tactical Cargo. The creation of EDA’s Hub for European Defence Innovation (HEDI) has been a first deliverable of the Strategic Compass. EDA’s work with Member States to review the Capability Development Plan (CDP) in 2023 is of huge importance just as a new NATO Defence Planning Process (NDPP) gets underway.

The Commission too is trying to reduce barriers to working together by providing financial incentives to cooperation, such as the European Defence Industry Reinforcement through common Procurement Act (EDIRPA). The EU Defence Investment Programme (EDIP) regulation is set to allow a VAT exemption if at least three Member States buy capabilities developed collaboratively within the EU. The European Defence Fund (EDF), launched in 2017, supports collaborative defence research and development projects. We have the responsibility to shape a credible, sustained European defence together. The future of European security is in our hands.

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