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Defense. Europe must take its responsibilities (V2)

(credit: General Staff / B2 Archives) The "launch pad" of the Ariane rocket in French Guiana

(B2) This is the message that President Juncker, flanked by his two Commissioners, Elżbieta Bieńkowska and Jyrki Katainen, and the High Representative of the Union, Federica Mogherini, should send on Wednesday (7 June), presenting, a reflection document to launch a public debate on how the "EU at 27" could strengthen its defense by 2025.

The limits of soft power

« Although Europe is proud to be a soft power of global importance, we must not be naïve. Soft power is not enough in an increasingly dangerous neighborhood will indicate the Commission, considering that President Juncker's commitment made when he was enthroned in the European Parliament in July 2014, that the EU " become a stronger global player must become a reality.

A Europe expected by citizens

« Europeans expect a Union that defends and protects them” argues the Commission. In almost all EU countries, defense is cited in the top three priorities. And, on average, in all countries, three out of four Europeans are in favor of a more common security and defense policy. The nature of the threats faced by EU countries has changed, the Commission also points out. Whether it's terrorism or cyberattacks, " lNational borders are not enough to counter them”. L'threat intensity increases ". Internal security and external security issues are intertwined. Reality sets in: states will be more effective working together”.

A drastic reduction in budgets

This maxim is verified more at the economic level and military capabilities. During the financial crisis, Europe cut its defense budgets by 11%. An austerity cure which adds to the "peace rent" resulting from the fall of the Berlin Wall, which saw defense budgets drop sharply. Result: all countries combined, European budgets reach 227 billion euros per year, against 545 billion euros on the other side of the Atlantic (according to figures given by the Commission). A figure that should get even worse in the future (read: Defence: when Europe broke away from the United States. The cost of non-Europe…).


Unnecessary duplications

Today, " 80% of purchases and more than 90% of research and technology investments are managed nationally according to statistics from the European Defense Agency. Joint purchasing, like joint research, becomes negligible. Each state wants its little industrial and military "toy". As a result, in Europe, there is " 178 different weapon systems compared to 30 in the United States, 17 different types of battle tanks in the EU against only one in the United States”. And this dispersion concerns all weapons: “There are 29 types of European frigates against 4 in the United States; 20 types of fighter planes against 6 in the United States ». There is " more helicopter producers in Europe than governments capable of buying them quipped the Commission. " This national approach also leads to unnecessary duplication and has a negative impact ».

At least 25 billion spent unnecessarily

The lack of cooperation between Member States in the field of defense and security has a cost: Europe thus wastes “between 25 and 100 billion euros annually”, according to the Commission. If Europeans worked more together, and pooled their purchases, we could save “ jup to 30% of annual defense expenditure ". It's not nothing.

NB: in saying this, the Commission is aiming for the opposite of Donald Trump's objective who, under the pretext of transatlantic solidarity, wants above all that Europeans contribute to American spending. For the EU, it is a question of spending, possibly more, but above all better.

Scenarios for the future

The Commission intends to encourage everyone to think about the future that European defense could take. It has thus drawn up three scenarios: from a very cautious, classic approach aimed at strengthening European defence, to a quasi-European army.

  1. The first scenario aims to strengthen the current cooperation, according to the same methods, of the policy of small steps, with industrial and operational projects, based on voluntary work, and decisions and following the best practices, where everything remains in the hands of the Member States.
  2. The intermediate scenario advocates "shared security and defence", in particular with the reinforcement on certain notable subjects: the management of external crises, border control or the protection of critical infrastructures.
  3. The third scenario is the most ambitious, the Commission proposes a "genuine common defence", a defense and security community which " complete NATO ", which is not far from a European army: with a permanent military HQ allowing the conduct of joint military operations (including an executive mandate), further integration between the different armies ready to carry out " operations for the benefit of the Union ", plans designed " at the European level "," synchronized "fixing" european priorities » in particular for acquisitions, with a degree of « solidarity and mutual aid » reinforced.

NB: it will be necessary to read this document precisely between the lines, in particular on the role of deterrence.

Hand in pocket...

Not content to think in theory, the European Commission will also put its hand in its pocket. Which is the most important in my opinion. It has already set up a program for research & technology. The preparatory action is endowed with 30 million euros per year until 2020 and 500 billion beyond (Read: The preparatory action for better endowed defense research in 2018*). It now proposes to set up the following building block: a program for Research & Development – ​​which will make it possible to produce quasi-industrial prototypes. It should be endowed with 250 million euros per year over the period of 2019-2020. And it undertakes to commit more from 2021: 1 billion per year + 500 million for R&T, i.e. more than 10 billion euros over the next period. It's not nothing. A program co-financed from the Community budget (1). Read the details: The second part of the defense fund will soon be presented*

A real revolution

This approach sounds like a real revolution. We are no longer in the timid approach of harmonizing public contracts and the circulation of military equipment (as in 2007-2009), nor in political and symbolic gestures (as for years), or even in programs endowed with a few million euros. The European Union is beginning to weigh, in ringing and stumbling terms. It is the equivalent of the “research” budget of a Member State like Germany, or even more, that it thus puts on the table.

A shared competence

By doing this, we are also, in a way, making defense and its economy appear as a Community objective, subject to classic Community rules (European funding, control by the Court of Auditors or the Court of Justice), but which benefits from rules particular, tailor-made (with the role of the Member States, defense secrecy, etc.). Defense thus becomes not a full and complete Community policy but an objective of "shared" competence, with the consent of the States and... of the populations. A rather rare convergence. Those who say, in a blasé way, "the Europe of defense is something that will never work", will have to revise their arguments...

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

(1) The Commission acts as co-financier, alongside the Member States. It must therefore be able to release a total of five billion euros per year in total (one billion from the EC budget and 4 billion financed by the Member States).

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).

2 thoughts on “Defense. Europe must take its responsibilities (V2)"

  • The commission seems to forget that the USA is a country while the EU is a group of nations. Nations with different visions of defense and foreign policies but also with different “defense” companies.
    The A400M should serve as an example of teamwork. The former Yugoslavia also or the intervention in the Sahel.

    • Working with several people is always more difficult than doing everyone in their corner. But this has the advantage, once established, of not being called into question for a Yes or a No. Quote the A400M is easy. Its economic difficulties should not make us forget that this aircraft, in its segment, is unique and has a bright future ahead of it. There are significant successes: Airbus, Ariane, EATC… It is not negligible. When each country is in its own corner, it's often not very effective...

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