BRUSSELS --- The European Defence Agency (EDA) Annual Conference 2017 entitled 'Security in the digital age: the added value of European cooperation’ was opened Thursday morning (23 November) in Brussels by the Head of the Agency, Federica Mogherini.
Addressing a 400-strong audience representing the whole European defence spectrum - governments, armed forces, industry, EU institutions, NATO, think tanks and media - Mrs Mogherini said the conference was taking place “in the most important moment for European defence in decades” as bold new initiatives such as the Coordinated Annual Review on Defence (CARD), the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) and the European Defence Fund (EDF) have created an unprecedented momentum for enhanced cooperation.
“Today, we are building a European Union of security and defence. It' not a plan, not a dream anymore, but a reality (...) All the building blocks of a security and defence union are finally there”, she stated. This means that Member States can now project and develop their defence capabilities together: “We can buy together, to ensure that we have all the capabilities we need while also spending efficiently. And we can act together, much better than before, to manage or prevent crises, to strengthen our partners, to make our citizens more secure”.
Acting together is a necessity “because today’s security challenges are too big for any of our Member States alone. Everyone understands this today. Our citizens are asking for more security and more efficient budgets, and the two are only possible if we join forces”, Mrs Mogherini stressed.
The EDA, a leading force
“The Council, the Commission and the European Defence Agency have all played their part in shaping the path towards a European Union of security and defence”, she went on. The EDA was a “leading force” in defining the recent ‘defence package’ and, as far as PESCO is concerned, is already helping Member States assess the value of their projects for cooperation. “This will be central to the success of PESCO”, the Head of the Agency stressed.
The ambition is to move towards a European security and defence union, not re-open the debate on a European army. “But in a way, we are doing something that is much more ambitious. We already have European mission and operation - 15 of them so far - and we have created a single command centre for our training and advisory missions. We are now working to build a truly European defence industry, a truly European defence market, and a truly European defence research which are th basis for a truly European defence. European military trainings are a concrete option. And the possibilities of PESCO are immense”, she stated. The CARD and the European Defence Fund (EDF) are also key instruments in which the EDA has "great expertise, a huge potential - which also means huge responsibilities - to support Member States and the Commission in their decisions".
Cyber defence: clear need for closer cooperation
Turning to the conference topic, Mrs Mogherini said cyber was a defence domain where close cooperation was more than ever indispensable. “Cyber threats require a response that is both civilian and military. To protect our cyberspace, we will need more research, better capabilities, more training and exercises, in constant coordination with our partners”.
Promising new cyber initiatives were taken recently - for example the setting up of a Hybrid Fusion Cell within the External Action Service, the inauguration of the European Centre for Countering Hybrid Threats in Helsinki, the first ever European strategic cybersecurity table-top exercise ‘CYBRID’ co-organised last September by the Estonian Presidency of the EU Council and the EDA, or last year's EU/NATO Joint Declaration which also covers cybersecurity - but more needs to be done: “We have to explore the full range of possibilities that we have built over the last couple of years with the Commission, Member States, the External Action Service and the European Defence Agency”.
With the new tools (CARD, PESCO, EDF) in place, EU defence cooperation has reached a level that was unimaginable not only 60 years ago but even just six months ago, Mrs Mogherini said. “A new exciting journey has just started. Everyone will have to play it role, starting of course from us, from the European Defence Agency and the External Action Service. We will have to find new ways of working together across the institutions – knowing that this is for the entire Union, for each of our citizens, and for a more peaceful and secure world”.