Blog AnalysisEU Defense (Doctrine)

The Commission is looking into defence… Window dressing or real progress?

The in-flight tanker project will certainly be one of the flagship projects of the Defense Council - a C135 accompanied by Rafale and Mirage on July 14 (Credit: Ecpad/French Ministry of Defense)(BRUXELLES2) The skeptics will content themselves with saying. " There's nothing in there » ; the jaded " All that for this » ; the ignorant " Ah good ". To those, we can say, it is perhaps time to take a few days of vacation... or to follow the princely births. Without being the event of the century, the communication which will be adopted in a few hours by the European Commission is something relatively unexpected. We have already commented on it extensively for subscribers of the Club from B2 (to subscribe)

A collective debate

First of all, the very fact that the Commission is addressing the issue of the security and defense sector is in itself important. Until recently, talking about defense, the military, etc. was taboo in the corridors. Certainly there had already been two texts – on public defense procurement and licenses for transfers of military equipment within the EU – proposed in 2007 and adopted in 2009. But these went relatively unnoticed ( except specialists and B2 readers ;-). Certainly we have started to talk about cybersecurity or internal security, but always with a civil angle. But there had never been a general debate on the subject, involving a good half of the commissioners, each trying to add their personal touch. Sign of the general interest, President Barroso has decided to join the two commissioners Tajani (industries) and Barnier (internal market) for the press conference which will be held shortly at the Commission headquarters.


Displaying ambition

Behind a fairly conventional title: “Towards a more competitive and efficient defense and security sector“, the first words placed at the top of the communication (at least of the project as we have seen it leave no doubt about the ambition of the document). Using the terms of a speech on the State of the Union delivered by President Barroso last September, they set the ambition “high”: “The world needs a Europe capable of deploying military missions to help stabilize the situation in crisis situations. We must strengthen our common foreign affairs and security policy (CFSP) and a common approach on defense issues.” (*)

Interesting proposals...

In the fifteen pages of the document, we can identify a certain number of actions that deserve sustained attention. We can separate them in two. Some concern the continuation of work started or already decided: the announced end of offsets, the clarification of certain exclusions for public defense contracts, improving the licensing system, exploiting all possible energy savings in military matters, etc.

…or even new projects

Others are more new. We can cite three.

1° Financing – through Community funds – of projects aimed at supporting the CSDP (common security and defense policy).

2° The establishment of public procurement schemes for prototypes.

3° The acquisition of “proper” capabilities provided that they do not have a purely military purpose but can be used for dual military and civil uses… Which is becoming today – apart from pure and simple armament hard – a standard. All heavy equipment — for example the A400M transport plane, BPC ships, drones, “cyber” means of combat or communication satellites — must today comply with civil (as well as military) standards and can have a dual military and civil application (transport for humanitarian purposes, internal security, justice, financial protection, etc.).

A call to member states

The communication ends with a “call” to Member States and Heads of State and Government to:

  • – define a “strategic approach” (diplomatic term for what could generally be a free white paper on Defense)
  • – make the CSDP “truly effective” by committing “fully” to a common European arms and capabilities policy
  • – truly define a “European defense industrial strategy” based on one principle: maintaining a certain degree of strategic autonomy for Europe in certain critical technological areas
  • – exploit all possible civil and military synergies,
  • – spend the (rare) available budgetary resources in the most efficient way by reducing operational costs, harmonizing military needs, pooling demand, etc.

The end of a taboo, the end of an illusion

The roadmap for the European Defense Council in December is laid out. The European Commission is adopting a work program for several years to come. In fact, it does not broaden its skills in the legal sense of the term but its field of vision. The words “defense”, “military”, “strategic autonomy”, “own capabilities” are no longer taboo. It's not nothing ! Let us have no doubt that she will be able to continue this work – provided that we do not put too many obstacles in the way.

But above all, the Commission's communication puts an end to several often-held illusions: “I am sovereign”; “I can do everything on my own”; "Leave me alone" ; “The Americans are there anyway”… The reminder of reality is here today. The Americans have repeatedly and bluntly told the Europeans that it is time to become adults and begin to be autonomous (a speech that is sometimes double-speak, we will come back to this, but which has the merit of existing). Europeans are realizing that, in matters of defense tomorrow, as in financial matters today or in agricultural matters yesterday, no Member State has the strength to do everything alone. Defense budgets are decreasing regularly (195 billion euros in Europe in 2011 for the 27). And the context is evolving according to common standards and an increasingly thorough harmonization of different spaces: data protection, air space, maritime space, etc. The example of the drone sinking Euro hawk German shows it: building or adapting a device is not bad, financing it is better, but without thinking about its insertion in a common space, the project is doomed to failure.

(*) It is also surprising not to see Catherine Ashton, the High Representative (and Vice-President of the Commission), giving her point of view, even if she participated in the debate. Finally “not too much” emphasizes a spokesperson. Adding a bit of irony “that’s why communication has content”…

Read also: Europe must have strategic autonomy (Michel Barnier)

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).