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Defense capabilities: the Agency goes concrete

(BRUSSELS2) Pooling and sharing, a beautiful project whose outlines have until now been outlined in a literary manner. The meeting of the board of directors of the European Defense Agency (EDA) – in ministerial format – which took place this afternoon was an opportunity to get down to business and test the various ministers of their willingness to commit to projects. The challenge of this Council, as Claude-France Arnoult, the executive director of the Agency, explains in an interview with B2, is “ to have commitments from Member States on specific projects ". We are no longer in “ words but in concrete actions, to find capacities that are lacking in our operations. " We have a " interest undoubtedly more marked today » than yesterday due to budgetary constraints. Eleven projects were selected, such as support for tankers, pilot training, intelligence, satellites, medical support, etc. (see upcoming paper).

Fairly rapid maturation at the European pace

This is the result of an evolution, of a fairly rapid maturation on a European scale, especially in a sensitive sector like Defense. “ We went from a general concept (informal in Ghent), to a work mandate in May. We then consulted Member States, used the knowledge and reports of high-level experts who (toured the capitals) and worked confidentially. Then the agency carried out an internal analysis and finally selected, by mutual agreement with the countries concerned, the projects which seemed ripe to us. » Not all countries will participate in all projects. This is the principle of “free choice”: each country chooses from the list of selected projects those it wants to follow and support, or even lead. On most projects, the principle of a pilot state was retained. But the fact that there is not yet one for some does not drop the project ". It is enough that there are countries which are willing to carry it out.

A smart selection

What is interesting is the way in which this selection was made. In NATO, we could almost say that it is a “smart selection”. “These are perhaps not dream projects but concrete projects. We have selected projects on which States are ready to commit (financially, humanly) and to implement, projects which allow savings to be made”, specifies C.-F. Arnould. These projects will not in fact require major initial investment. “ What could have been an obstacle today ". But they will “ultimately allow operating savings. That’s what we’re banking on.” Many of them are in fact part of a longer process: an immediate operational need is identified – such as satellite communication services – then a longer-term, heavier need must be studied – for example to prepare the future generation of satellites.

Europe must show that it is taking its share of the burden

In this awareness, and the search for concreteness, the last words of Gates and the first of Panetta, the former and current US Secretary of State for Defense played a role. " It's undeniable. But these are not just words again. The United States is engaged in a process of budget cuts. And they won't stop it for us. “specifies CF-Arnould” To help them, we have to show them that we are taking our share of the additional burden in European defense ". It will be helpful" also to demonstrate to Congress the need to maintain an effort on Europe and to maintain an interest in Europe » while all eyes, on the American side, are turned towards Asia.

Americans interested in the agency's work

The Americans wish to participate actively in the Agency's activities. They could thus be associated, or rather “invited” to certain meetings of a technical nature. At the Agency, we consider it interesting to develop a special relationship with them, particularly on markets and their regulation. So the Americans should be present at the next committee of arms directors in the spring. Interesting meeting since the United States is in the process of revising its Altar system.

No duplication with NATO

Important point, and one that most Defense Ministers insisted on, the projects of the European Defense Agency are not the same as those carried out by NATO. Here too the discussion has evolved, a few months ago, some were wondering why do at EU level what could be done at NATO. Today the countries call for good cooperation between our two organizations. And this is a point on which we are very attentive ". And to clarify: What will be done at the Agency will not be done at NATO. And vice versa. We will ensure that the projects we carry out benefit from the work already underway at NATO. ". This is for example the case for the medical support project which will benefit from the process initiated at NATO on the standardization of the different modules, in particular to ensure that the different modules are interchangeable.

Claude-France Arnould will not admit it. An elegant gesture, no doubt. Reality obliges us to say – as a national expert told us – that the NATO machine is a little heavier and slower to get going. And, it is a paradox, it is less advanced in the various “pooling and sharing” projects than the European Defense Agency. Moreover, it does not automatically have the habit of mixing civil and military interests like the EU, or of combining capabilities, industry and regulation. The Agency benefits from the multi-competence of the EU which has control over questions of trade, the single market and the opening of markets. It should also be added that the projects adopted today are rather precise, quick to implement and generate savings or strengthen efficiency in the short or medium term, while NATO sometimes works on larger-scale projects which require more investment.

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).