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Is the failure of the European Defense Agency irremediable?

CouncilAdminAgencyEuropDefense@UE151119
a meeting of the European Defense Agency 'board' - at ministerial level (credit: EDA)

(B2) has decided to give the floor to several speakers from the sector. Jean Pierre Maulny inaugurates this new series (and section). The deputy director of IRIS underlines how the idea of ​​the European Defense Agency, beautiful and ambitious at the start, quickly found itself derailed by the weight of realities and the divergences of the Member States. For lack of anything better, the European Commission took over. Which is not automatically negative. J.-P. Maulny proposes to put an end to the ambiguities – which are numerous in the construction of European defense – and to completely transform the Agency…

“12 years ago the countries of the European Union bore on the baptismal font the European Defense Agency (EDA). The EDA was born out of the enthusiasm that reigned in the early 2000s to build a Europe of defence. It was the last stage of the rocket of the European institutions in this field.

The last stage of the rocket of the European institutions

The idea of ​​its creation had emerged during the European Convention in 2002 and we did not wait for the new treaty (Editor's note the Treaty of Lisbon succeeded the late Constitution) to be adopted to start operating this agency in 2004. Agency, it was to be the transmission belt which was to make it possible to develop European armament programs starting from the identification of the military capacities necessary for the European Union passing through the organization of the European armaments industry and through joint defense research.

An ambitious idea of ​​a political entity

The idea was all the more beautiful and ambitious since such a tool, which reflects the Union's desire for political existence, does not exist anywhere in any other international organisation. The EDA was proof that the European Union was a political entity with its own existence, unlike NATO.

three digits

Twelve years later, the results of the European Agency reside in three figures:

– “120” such as the number of people who work in this agency,

– “30” for the 30 million euros of its budget and a maximum of 150 to 200 million euros of research budget managed within it,

– “0” such as the number of armament programs that have been born within this agency, even if the AED plays a useful role in the joint purchase of equipment, as we have seen recently with supply ships.

For comparison, the DGA in France has nearly 10.000 personnel and manages 10 billion euros in contracts for armament programs.

An observation of failure which cannot be explained by two causes

Faced with this observation, which must be described as a failure, the discourse held, in France in particular, is eternally the same and could be summed up in two sentences:

  1. “We support the European Defense Agency and wish to develop its activity”
  2. "The British, who refuse to increase the Agency's budget, are responsible for the sluggishness of this organization"

If the report on the British blockage is not false, it is not enough to explain the current situation.

States look elsewhere

The truth is that the States which were supposed to promote the EDA have gradually turned away from it. The Agency's lack of resources certainly played a role, but the Agency suffered from the need to agree to 28, which is the rule in this intergovernmental CSDP body.

The inability of the three large states, France, Germany and the United Kingdom, to agree on an ambitious role for this structure did the rest even though certain states that we were not expecting played the game. This is the case of Poland, for example, which entrusted part of its defense research budget to the Agency.

The vacuum filled by the European Commission

As a result, it is gradually the European Commission which has taken control of these issues. Through communications, through its power to regulate the market with the two directives on defense and security markets and on intra-community transfers, the European Commission has become the center of gravity in matters of armaments.

The preparatory action in the area of ​​defense research will undoubtedly complete this seizure of power because the Community body will certainly become in the future the institution which will manage the bulk of European funds for defense: one thinks in particular of the 9rd PCRD for the years 2021-2027 where a line of defense research credits of a significant amount will be created.

AED as subcontractor

And, in fact, today we see the EDA working more and more as a subcontractor to the European Commission, as will be the case with the preparatory action on defense research, the Agency having the scientific skills that the commission does not have to monitor the projects that will be financed.

A symbol of how Europe works

The history of the European Defense Agency is, in fact, emblematic of the functioning of the European Union today. Failing to be able to agree among themselves, the Member States of the Union delegate to the Community institution the task of taking initiatives and abandon the intergovernmental instruments which have been made available to them, which will only come to note their failure to agree. .

The community has an advantage that the intergovernmental does not have

The community institution has an advantage at this level, it allows the States to move forward without having to assume responsibility for the decisions that are taken. It is only in the case of serious crises, those which directly concern the unity of the Union and the essential interests of the States, that the Member States regain control through the European Council, as we can see today with questions of terrorism and migration and as we have seen in the past with the Greek crisis.

A not negative development for the defense

As far as defense and armaments are concerned, the development we are currently witnessing is not necessarily negative in the sense that the main handicap of European defense and armaments policy is the lack of harmonization national policies in a sector where the useful reference framework can no longer be the national framework. No one in Europe can take up the security challenges on a national level anymore. We see it with the issue of migrants or terrorism. No one can build an armament industry at the national level that allows it to have significant strategic autonomy.

A temptation to disagree that remains

The fact remains that the current transition is taking place without the States having really endorsed this development or even being really aware of it. It also remains that these States do not always have identical options in terms of foreign policy, that they do not always share the same security interests and that they do not always have the same vision of what should be the strategic autonomy, i.e. ultimately the degree of independence and ambition of the European Union as an actor on the international scene.

A necessity: removing ambiguities, changing the statutes

All these ambiguities will have to be resolved in the coming years, at 28 or within a more restricted framework. Because if it is necessary to move forward within a collective framework in terms of defense and armaments, we must know where we want to go, how and with whom. As for the European Defense Agency, and if we continue in the current perspective, it will be necessary to consider changing its status to that of a delegated agency of the Community institution »

Jean Pierre Maulny
deputy director of IRIS (the Institute of International and Strategic Relations)
and member of the board ofARES group (think tank on the defense and arms industry)

The comments made are those of the author alone – intertitles and editorial layout

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).

One thought on “Is the failure of the European Defense Agency irremediable?"

  • Francois LUREAU

    My opinion is much more nuanced and the armaments departments and especially the EMAs have major responsibilities in this lack of success. That said, the question remains that posed by the first director of the agency Nick Witney: on what perimeter can we move forward?
    F. Lureau former CEO

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