Blog AnalysisEU Defense (Doctrine)

The creation of DG Defense and Space: a cultural revolution

(B2) In the whirlwind of the establishment of the new European Commission, one point could go unnoticed: the creation of a new general directorate responsible for the defense and space industry. An eminently political act

The headquarters of the European Commission, where the decision was made to create DG Defense (credit: Comm. Eur.)

Some might see it as nothing more than a bureaucratic epiphenomenon of no consequence. Others a communication measure, symbolic with no future, or glossing over the 'tropism' defense of Ursula von der Leyen, the new president of the European Commission (read: My objective: to create the European Security and Defense Union within 5 years). This would be an error of interpretation.

The event is rare

This ex nihilo creation is rather rare. Within the European executive, there have been splits or regroupings within directorates-general (DGs) in the past. Measures with administrative aims and political symbolism. But nothing more. Generally, these were skills that already appeared in the head of the European Commission, or even in the title of the directorate (1).

Sign of institutional transformation

We have also witnessed some more profound developments, desired from an institutional point of view. The latest similar creation is the transformation of the old task force 'Justice Home Affairs', existing within the general secretariat, in a real general directorate in its own right, under the Prodi Commission. An act which followed the 'communitization' of these questions introduced by the Treaty of Amsterdam and the European Council of Tampere. In other words, a very political act. More recently, in 2011, we saw the disappearance of DG Relex (responsible for external relations) from the European Commission to the brand new European External Action Service (EEAS). Here too, it was the consequence of a transformation desired by the Lisbon Treaty.

A cultural revolution

The creation of the new DG dedicated to the Defense industry and Space is in this institutional vein, even if it was not preceded by a Treaty act. It reflects the acquisition of a new competence by the European Commission. Which further reflects its exceptional character. It is therefore not surprising that the future President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen mentioned it expressly during the press presentation of her team of commissioners at the beginning of September.

A political logic

This creation, however, is not surprising for those who follow defense issues. In the last two or three years, in particular, defense issues have emerged as one of the main priorities of the European Union. Under the leadership of a Juncker-Barnier-Bienkowska-Katainen-Mogherini quintet, initiatives abounded. The establishment of permanent structured cooperation between 25 of the 27 Member States concerned, the funding released for military mobility (six billion over seven years), for defense research then for the future European defense fund (thirteen billion euros over seven years), for space (Galileo and Copernicus) are not trivial facts. It was logical that at some point this political evolution would result in an administrative transformation. It is a sign now that everything that is 'defense and space' is not entirely foreign either to community building or to the powers of the European Commission.

The act is not entirely spontaneous. The file was well prepared in advance, discreetly, by the general secretariat team, under the leadership of Martin Selmayr, and especially by the commissioner then in charge of Industry, Elżbieta Bieńkowska. “ For two years, we have been preparing for the split of this general management. I was sure this would happen” the person concerned had indicated to the European Parliament. Now, a real challenge awaits the European Commission. We will have to recruit and prepare for a cultural revolution. The new DG (named DG Challenges, read: DG Defense and Space will be created on January 1st. Small name: DG DEFIS. Organizational chart) will need " to acquire skills and know-how. […] Defense culture must be cultivated within the Commission ". Couldn't say it better.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)


Article published in collaboration with

  1. The DG Justice, Freedom, Security was thus split into two from July 2010: Justice on one side and Security, renamed Home Affairs, on the other. The TREN directorate split into a DG Transport and a DG Energy at the start of 2010, returning to what was the case at the start of the 2000s. Conversely, the Directorates General Industry and Internal Market were grouped into one within the DG Grow, in 2014. While Civil Protection left DG Environment and joined Humanitarian Aid.

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).