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For defence, European research is vital

(Credit: EDA)
(Credit: EDA)

(BRUSSELS2) Europe is preparing for a major change in defense matters, by opening up the possibility for the defense sector to benefit from European funding for its research. Jorge Domecq, the director of the European Defense Agency, took up his pen, on the eve of the informal meeting of Defense Ministers, to explain why this change is important...

The Galileo example

Research is vital. Take the example of the Galileo project. The European Union and the European Space Agency agreed to launch this ambitious program in 2003. Inspired by the genius of one of Europe's greatest thinkers, Galileo was not just about propelling Europe to the top of the market world of satellite navigation systems — a market of 175 billion euros — but should also benefit European services and users, stimulate innovation and create jobs.

Its applications are colossal, ranging from search and rescue services to scientific research and positioning services (GPS) used in cars, but also for air, maritime, rail and even pedestrian traffic. Galileo ensures Europe's independence in terms of access to satellite signals. From a political or economic point of view, setting up such a program was not easy. But the benefits – innovation, skills, jobs, growth and strategic independence – were well worth it. Galileo demonstrates the strengths of teamwork: leveraging individual strengths to achieve common goals. We must now apply this recipe for success to European defence.

A multitude of challenges

Today, the European Union faces a multitude of challenges. Growing skepticism about its goals, financial uncertainty and security threats require an in-depth debate on the future of a strong Europe. Some 82% of respondents in a survey across Europe1 confirm that they want a greater commitment from the Union in the fight against terrorism; 66% would like the European Union to intervene more in security and defense policy.

Europe does not live in a bubble

The Union's recently published Global Strategy emphasizes the increasingly blurred dividing lines between internal and external security. Defense does not live in a bubble. It is inextricably linked to security and prosperity. Europe must therefore be a reliable security provider for its partners while protecting its citizens.

National defense is stronger at several

In order to achieve this objective, defense can no longer be viewed solely from a national perspective. Defense cooperation is not an abstract concept. Like Galileo, European defense is greater than the sum of its parts. This means greater cooperation in innovation, advanced equipment, research and technology. And it must be done now!

The beginnings of a joint research program

In response to a call from European leaders, the European Commission recently proposed to invest 90 million euros in defense research, between 2017 and 2019. This preparatory action has a very modest amount compared to the last American initiative of defense innovation — some $18 billion! — or even in relation to the Galileo programme, which requires an investment of around 5 billion euros. But it's a start and it's important. For the European Union, this is a revolution. For the first time in its history, the European Union is paving the way for a substantial defense research program from 2021 (under the next multiannual financial framework). This implies using the European Union budget for defence, something unthinkable barely three years ago!

A need to think about equipment programs

The equipment programs entrusted to the European Defense Agency are a start. But we need to look at longer-term development if we are to retain Europe's ability to be a credible security provider, using advanced technologies. We have to do it now. The development of military equipment takes time. The use of the Community budget for defense R&T should in no way replace national efforts, but will help to generate critical mass, to network European research entities and, very importantly, to increase interoperability and standards. Furthermore, like the Internet or the GPS, we know that defense research will generate concrete and beneficial spin-offs for everyday life.

Research, a condition of strategic autonomy

R&T is not an asset, it is an essential prerequisite for developing the capabilities of the future and thus ensuring the security of our citizens. It also supports Europe's strategic autonomy, boosts its industry, creates jobs and fosters growth. The commitment of European institutions, Member States and industry is needed to make this happen. But a preparatory action that is fully operational and has the appropriate resources is an opportunity not to be missed. The European Parliament and the Council of the EU will be asked to endorse this crucial step in their budgetary decisions. I sincerely hope they will.

Jorge Domecq – Executive Director of the European Defense Agency

Spanish diplomat, Jorge Domecq has been Executive Director of the European Defense Agency (EDA) since February 2015. Previously, he was his country's ambassador to the OSCE and to the Philippines. He has also held various positions in the Spanish Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Defence, as well as in NATO.

1 Special Eurobarometer of the European Parliament, published in June 2016

NB: The European Defense Agency (EDA) is an intergovernmental agency of the Council of the EU created in 2004 to support Member States in developing their defense capabilities and military cooperation, stimulating research and technologies (R&T) and to strengthen the European defense industry. The agency is based in Brussels.

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