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 there, we can say, it may be time to take a few days off... 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 has something relatively unexpected about it. We have already extensively commented on it for the 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 defence, the military... was taboo in the corridors. Admittedly, there had already been two texts - on public defense procurement and licenses for the transfer of military equipment within the EU - proposed in 2007 and adopted in 2009. But these went relatively unnoticed ( except specialists and B2 readers ;-). Admittedly, we have started to talk about cybersecurity or internal security, but always with a civilian angle. But there had never been a general debate on the subject, involving a good half of the commissioners, each trying to bring his personal touch. Sign 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 Commission headquarters.


The display of an ambition

Behind a rather conventional title: "Towards a more competitive and efficient defense and security sector", the first words placed at the head of the communication (at least of the project as we have been able to see it leave no doubt about the ambition of the document). Taking up the terms of a speech on the State of the Union pronounced by President Barroso last September, they place ambition "high": “The world needs a Europe capable of deploying military missions to help stabilize the situation in crisis situations. We need to strengthen our common foreign and security policy (CFSP) and a common approach to defense matters”. (*)

Interesting suggestions...

In the fifteen pages of the document, we can identify a number of actions that deserve sustained attention. You can separate them in two. Some concern the continuation of work begun 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 newer. Three can be cited.

1° The financing - by 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 "own" capabilities provided that they do not have a purely military purpose but can be used for dual military and civilian uses... What becomes today - apart from armament pure and hard - a standard. All heavy equipment — for example the A400M transport plane, BPC ships, drones, "cyber" means of combat or communication satellites — must now comply with civil (like military) standards and can have a dual military and civilian 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 globally be a white paper on Defense)
  • - make the CSDP "really effective" by committing "fully" to a policy of common European armaments and capabilities
  • - really define a "European defense industrial strategy" based on one principle: to maintain a certain degree of strategic autonomy for Europe in certain critical technological fields
  • - exploiting all possible civil and military synergies,
  • - spend the (scarce) budgetary resources available 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 has been laid down. The European Commission is adopting a work program for several years to come. In fact, it does not widen its competences 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 ! We have no doubt that she will be able to continue this work - provided that we do not put too many spokes in the wheels.

But above all, the Commission's communication puts an end to several often-maintained illusions: "I am sovereign"; "I can do everything on my own"; "Leave me alone" ; "Anyway the Americans are there"... The reality check is here today. The Americans have repeatedly and emphatically told the Europeans that it was time to become adults and to begin to be independent (sometimes double-talk, we will come back to this, but which has the merit of existing). The Europeans are in the process of realizing that, in matters of defense tomorrow, as in matters of finance today or in matters of agriculture yesterday, no Member State has the solid backbone to do everything alone. Defense budgets are steadily decreasing (195 billion euros in Europe in 2011 for the 27). And the context is evolving according to common standards and increasingly advanced harmonization of the different spaces: data protection, airspace, maritime space, etc. The example of the sinking of the drone 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), give her point of view, even if she took part in the debate. Finally "not too much" underlines 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).