The creation of a DG Defence and Space: a cultural revolution

(B2) In the whirlwind of the establishment of the new European Commission, one development could go unnoticed: the creation of a new Directorate General responsible for the defence and space industry. An eminently political act

The headquarters of the European Commission, where the creation of DG Defence was decided (credit: European Commission)

Some might see it as a bureaucratic epiphenomenon of no consequence. Others, as a communication measure, symbolic but without a future, or ramble over the Defence ‘tropism’ of Ursula von der Leyen, the new president of the European commission (read: Mon objectif : créer l’Union européenne de sécurité et de défense d’ici 5 ans). It would be a misinterpretation.

The even is a rare one

This ex nihilo creation is quite a rare one. Within the European executive, there have been in the past divisions or regroupings within directorates general (DG). Measures for administrative purposes and with political symbolism. But nothing more. Generally, these were powers which were already taken into account in the head of the European commission, or even in the title of the directorate (1).

Sign of an institutional transformation

There have also been some deeper developments, which were wanted by the institutional perspective. The latest similar creation is the transformation of the former task force ‘Justice Home Affairs’, that existed within the general secretariat, into a fully-fledged directorate general under the Prodi Commission. An act which followed the ‘communitarisation’ of these issues, introduced by the Treaty of Amsterdam and the European Council of Tampere. In other words, a very political act. More recently, in 2011, we saw the disappearance of the European Commissions’s DG Relex (responsible for external relations) towards the creation of the European External Action Service (EEAS). There too, it is the consequence of a transformation that was wanted by the Treaty of Lisbon.

A cultural revolution

The creation of a new DG responsible for the Space and Defence industry is part of these institutional transformations, even if it was not preceded by a Treaty act. It shows the acquisition of a new competency by the European Commission, which gives it an exceptional status. It is therefore not surprising that the future president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, mentioned it specifically in the presentation to the press of her team of commissioners at the beginning of September.

A political logic

This creation is nonetheless not surprising for those that follow defence issues. These last few years, in particular, defence issues have emerged has one of the main priorities of the European Union. Driven by Juncker-Barnier-Bieńkowska-Katainen-Mogherini, initiatives abounded. The implementation of the permanent structure cooperation between 25 of the 27 Member States, the funding made available for military mobility (six billion over seven years), for defence research and then for the future European Defence Fund (thirteen billion of euros over seven years), for space (Galileo and Copernicus) are not trivial facts. It was logical that at some point this political development would result in an administrative transformation. It is now a sign that everything that is ‘defence and space’ is not entirely foreign to the ‘Union building’ or to the competencies of the European Commission.

The act was not entirely spontaneous. The file was well prepared beforehand, discreetly, by the team of the general secretariat, driven by Martin Selmayr, and especially under the last commissioner for Industry, Elżbieta Bieńkowska. “For the last two years, we have prepared ourselves to the division of this general directorate. I was sure it would happen“, she had said in front of the European Parliament. Now, a real challenge awaits the European Commission. It will have to recruit and prepare itself for a cultural revolution. The new DG (called DG DEFIS, read : La DG Défense et Espace verra le jour le 1er janvier. Petit nom : DG DEFIS. Organigramme) will need “to acquire skills and know-how. […] The culture of defence must be cultivated within the Commission“. It could not be clearer.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

Article published in collaboration with Euractiv.eu 

  1. DG Justice Freedom Security was split in two from July 2010 onwards : Justice on the one hand and Security, renamed Home Affaires, on the other. The TREN directorate was divide in a DG Transport and a DG Energy at the beginning of 2010, returning to what it was in the beginning of the 2000s. Conversely, the general directorates Industry and Internal Market were regrouped into one within DG Grow in 2014. Meanwhile, Civil Protection left DG Environment and joined Humanitarian Aid.

Nicolas Gros-Verheyde

Rédacteur en chef du site B2. Diplômé en droit européen de l'université Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne et auditeur 65e session IHEDN (Institut des hautes études de la défense nationale. Journaliste depuis 1989, fonde B2 - Bruxelles2 en 2008. Correspondant UE/OTAN à Bruxelles pour Sud-Ouest (auparavant Ouest-France et France-Soir).