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Blog AnalysisEU Defense (Doctrine)

Financing the defense industry. A taboo is broken

(credit: Airbus)
Fleet of "Team Birdport" drones, finalist in one of the ideas competition (credit: Airbus / Archives B2 May 2015)

(BRUXELLES2) When you quickly read the defense action plan presented by the European Commission on Wednesday (November 30), it may seem a little vague, with a lot of conditionals, references, and literature (1) . One searches in vain for the famous and vaunted "European Defense Fund". And we find only one window » opportunities for capabilities. It seems low... Don't worry! This vagueness is not entirely insignificant. It's even wanted...

We walk on eggshells...

Defense is not quite a sector like any other. It is an area where, at the same time, there is a clear influence of national sovereignty, in terms of defense choices (nuclear or not, territorial or expeditionary, etc.) as well as the format of the army (conscription or professional) or equipment (the national supplier or the "historical" ally will always be preferred). A choice dictated as much by objective elements as strictly historical or even psychological ones. To believe that these fundamentals can be changed by a simple political impulse, the installation of market instruments, or by an incantatory discourse is illusory. For the European executive, it is therefore necessary to go, in homeopathic doses, to install the idea that, yes, defense is today a very European question worthy of a real industrial policy...

May 1968... upside down

The starting point for European reflection is to see: 1) what is lacking in European defence, 2) what can be done. Everything converges on a fundamental point: funding and the incentive to cooperate. It is thus to a real small revolution (all things considered) that the Juncker Commission invites tomorrow. On the one hand, the European executive no longer refrains from financing the construction of defense capabilities by the Member States, either with financial engineering (loans, leasing, loan guarantees, etc.), or even or even directly using Community instruments. It's written in black and white !

“The Commission is ready to examine all possibilities for funding the 'capabilities window' from the EU budget, in compliance with the Treaties. »

It is the lifting of a prohibition, what am I saying, of a dogma that has operated for years and still causes some turmoil within the institution. It's no longer under the cobblestones... the beach. But under the tar, the drone 🙂

Capabilities led by Member States

Of course, it is in no way a question of giving the European Union its own capabilities. There are no helicopter units, special forces platoons, armored vehicles that are going to be parked in the bowels of the European Commission, ready to pounce on the intruder, knife between their teeth 🙂 That, c is good for films and the unfulfilled fantasies of a few utopians or British tabloids with a Turkish headache... It is indeed the Member States which retain the upper hand in defining the capacities which they lack, which will build, use and ultimately order them. The rule of national sovereignty is fully respected.

A welcome boost

Simply states will now be able to call on Europe and benefit from (serious) incentives to work together. One of the only solutions is therefore to inject new money into the system and a certain new spirit, to work more together. No one will find fault with it. If the Member States together define joint capability purchasing projects on specific targets (meeting needs), Europe is ready to fill the gap with some of its means... This is rather surprising for an organization civilian, which is said to be weakened. Even NATO, with its intrinsic strength, has never arrived at such a possibility of "raising funds" (2).

Clear the road

The objective of this Commission document is, before taking actual 'action', to "clear the road" - to obtain a mandate from the European Council - which will then make it possible to determine the road to follow - to define options, concepts, framework contracts — to pave and asphalt the road — if necessary with European funding. This is the issue...

This may seem very puny in the eyes of the usual detractors of the European 'thing' who as soon as they hear the word 'Europe' hasten to rush headlong, like a bull on a red rag. This may seem very timid in the eyes of some utopians who still believe that Jean Monnet is alive, that Europe is being built at Six and that the EDC (the European Defense Community) would have been such a beautiful thing...

Catch up

In fact, it's a real qualitative leap that has just been taken. If it is endorsed by the 28 Heads of State and Government on 15 and 16 December next, if it is properly followed, it should make it possible to initiate a whole series of measures. They will probably not make it possible to make up for a delay of several decades, in a few months. But this will at least allow us not to accumulate any more delays and to try to fill in some gaps. It is concrete, useful, in a word strategic.

Tomorrow, defense will not be a community policy in the classic sense (like agriculture or transport) but rather a European policy, shared, common... Here is what is at stake, beyond technical terms, in this action plan. Because no state today can deal with all the threats present in Europe on its own.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

Funds for defense, key elements of the European Commission's action plan (V3)

Read also: The 10 myths that plague European defense

(1) Even if the exercise of a 'communication from the European Commission' remains above all a technocratic exercise, this action plan is worth reading. Some passages read very well, are very well written, almost like a novel.

(2) NATO is also very interested in European projects. A lunch was to bring together yesterday, Jean-Claude Juncker (European Commission), Donald Tusk (European Council), and Jens Stoltenberg (NATO) in a restaurant in Brussels select, De Warande, a stone's throw from the United States Embassy in Brussels.

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).

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