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Claude-France Arnould: “A flexible research lab with unsuspected possibilities”

(Exclusive interview) Claude-France Arnould took over as head of the European Defense Agency in January. She told Brussels2 about her first impressions upon arriving, the qualities of an Agency (which has sometimes been criticized) and the priorities for the future. The new director believes in the potential of this agency, especially in this period of economic crisis. And she illustrates it with precise and numerical examples. For those who are interested, Claude-France Arnould will be the guest, on February 22, of the “IFRI Tuesdays“, the French Institute of External Relations (in Brussels). And I can only recommend attending because the exchange promises to be interesting.

You arrived at the beginning of January, what is your first impression?

I was impressed by the quality of the people and the work they do. This is exactly in line with what is expected of us. A compact, collected, efficient structure, of 120 people, which operates in a totally decompartmentalized way, not at all administrative. Here we are closer to a research lab in spirit and in the way it works. It is very striking. We have different trades: soldiers, engineers, but also lawyers and financiers. Specialties that are needed today to help Member States; financial analysis today is just as important for pooling and sharing.

What is the main challenge?

Seeing this Agency work from the inside, and its unsuspected possibilities, I think it is enough to explain what it does and what it can do. There is a potential there that the Member States have and which we just have to tap into.

In your opinion, is this the Agency's main asset?

Yes. Undoubtedly, its flexibility and availability. We have the possibility of carrying out à la carte programs which can satisfy the most demanding Member States. It's absolutely free: a Member State can take the projects it wants, participate or not, invite others to come and participate (or not invite them). All at minimal, marginal cost. We don't impose anything. Our role is to propose. If the Member States do not want to participate, we leave that aside.

The other particularity of the Agency is to have a “bottom up” approach. We spend a lot of time working with capacity specialists from member states. This is where common capabilities emerge. An invisible work, difficult to illustrate but essential. We thus offer an informal network for discussion between the Ministries of Defense. However, this approach must be supplemented by an impetus at the political level (what is called the “top down” approach). This is what makes initiatives like the one recently taken by France and the United Kingdom so successful.

The agency did “pooling and sharing” before the letter.
We must develop it make proposals to go further

How exactly do you view relations with the Member States?

They are not going to commit to 80 projects identified by the Agency. The question is rather what are they ready to commit to together. You have to listen to them. I'm starting a tour of the capitals. After The Hague, I will be in London on February 28, then Paris and Warsaw. Without forgetting the informal meeting of Defense Ministers (February 24, in Budapest-Gödöllo).

So you intend to invest in "Pooling & sharing" which is becoming the top priority in terms of defence?

We are already doing it. It's like M. Jourdain (who wrote prose without knowing it). Helicopter pilot training, the counter IED laboratory, maritime mine clearance… All of this is already “pooling and sharing” before the letter. Now we have to develop it, accelerate the movement, we have to make proposals to go further.

If you had a concrete project to put forward?

I have many. Take helicopter pilot training. This project works. To date, we have trained 114 crews (63 of which are deployed in Afghanistan) and 1300 personnel (pilots, etc.). The next exercise will take place in June in Italy. We are here at the heart of the Agency's work: coordinating an increase in capacity for Member States, which they can deploy where they deem it most useful and how they want.

These crews are deployed mainly in Afghanistan today. Can we imagine other places?

Yes of course. The training was based on the need for deployment in Afghanistan because it was a request from the Member States: with flights at night, at height, in hot places (with training in the desert) and cold (with training in the mountains). All training that some crews lacked. We can very well imagine that this training will be useful in other missions. States remain completely free to deploy their trained crews.

The priorities will ultimately be those
on which the Member States will be prepared to commit

Other priorities?

The priorities will ultimately be those on which the Member States are ready to commit. They can range from the EATF – European Air Transport Fleet project (NB: the letter of intent was signed by the Member States in November 2009) and around the arrival of the Airbus A400M in the fleets, examining how training and maintenance can be shared with drones (UAV), observation satellites (MUSIS), and communication satellites (SATCOM) through a “wing helicopter” project (NB: a project which is starting just now, the first meetings have just taken place).

Does the Agency also have a role in research & technology?

Yes. I want to identify needs and solutions. It's a good lever of action. Our operational budget is less than €9 million. But in the end it is between 100 and 200 million euros that the Member States pool, a large part for research and technology. We can also help the Ministries of Defense to get involved in initiatives such as the Single Sky and Sesar, the radio spectrum, space... In fact, our vocation is to work on the military and security side of projects initiated by the European Commission.

We talked about a group of wise people (Wise Pen) on “Pooling and Sharing”. What will they bring?

I believe that behind the idea of ​​“Sages”, there is the need to create a non-bureaucratic, informal relationship of trust. This need is essential. Several of our States are currently engaged in a painful process of reform. And it is not always easy to publicly identify certain priorities. It could be easier, informally, in complete confidence, for “peers” to identify under what conditions we can cooperate. What matters is that concrete initiatives are quickly put in place. The Franco-British agreement is, here, a good model: identified areas, a precise commitment.

Americans seem very interested
by what the EU can do. The Russians too!

Turkey is knocking at the Agency's door. How do you intend to resolve this issue?

I would not like to address very institutional questions right away. It is not really up to the Agency to resolve these political issues managed at the highest level. On the other hand, we are seeing with our NATO counterparts, particularly ACT, what we can do, in a useful, pragmatic way.

The number 2 of the Pentagon, William J. Lynn, was recently with the Agency. A sign of interest?

Certainly yes. Lynn came to Brussels to talk about cyber defense. But he also wanted to understand the role of the Agency. The Americans seem very interested in what the EU can do, in terms of operations and the development of defense capabilities. In particular, he proposed having a discussion on the reform of the defense goods export regime (NB: a simplification of this regime is underway in the United States). I have the impression that they want to invest in the Agency. They are not the only ones. In the first letters of congratulations after my appointment that I received, there was that of V. Chizov (Russian Ambassador to the EU), who offered to identify possibilities for joint work.

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Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).

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