In order to be a credible security provider and to protect its interests, the EU requires the full suite of tools: diplomatic, economic, development, and of course military. But as recent operations have demonstrated, Europeans are still faced with critical gaps in military capabilities.
There is, moreover, fragmentation of demand and supply. Investment in the technologies that will be needed to field the systems of tomorrow is in decline. And because of the rising costs of major defence systems, coupled with the on-going squeeze on defence budgets, no single Member State is able alone to have the full inventory of capabilities. The choice is simple: cooperate to acquire and maintain capabilities, or risk losing them altogether.
The issues are political. What defence needs is a political boost. That’s why the discussion by EU Heads of States and Government at the European Council this December is so important. For it is they, and they alone, who can arbitrate in favour of defence.
Cooperation in defence is not new and the European Defence Agency has been created to facilitate it more systematically. We launched many new joint projects in some vital capability areas such as air-to-air refuelling, counter improvised explosive devices, satellite communications or medical field hospitals. None of these could have been realised by one Member State alone; and all of them are absolutely vital for operations.
Welcome though these projects are, a more systematic approach to cooperation or Pooling & Sharing is necessary, so that cooperation becomes second-nature; so that we avoid the mistakes of the past when, for example, over twenty variants of the same helicopter were produced; so that we extend cooperation beyond the acquisition phase into the whole life of the system; so that we improve interoperability; so that we get as much effect from our hard-pressed Euros.
Three outcomes from the European Council in December would be really significant. First, a commitment to major projects: air-to-air refuelling, Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS, or drones), satellite communications, and cyber defence. Not only are these capabilities a military necessity, our American partners have clearly expressed that they will not go on providing most of the key enabling capabilities. Europeans must be able to act by themselves.
Second, investment in innovation and technology, including dual-use. Europe needs to stay independent when it comes to critical technologies. Europeans have already missed the first generation of RPAS. EDA has made concrete proposals for the next generation of European medium altitude, long endurance RPAS. We have also made suggestions on governmental satellite communications and cyber defence.
All have significant civil and the military applications. It is important to harness synergies, maximise dual-use technologies, generate economies of scale and extend the comprehensive approach into the area of capabilities development.
And third, support to industry, in particular Small and Medium Enterprises, so many of which are at the cutting edge of technological innovation. Defence is vital. But it is not just about the immediate ability to project force based on a healthy defence and security industry which is an essential component of the industrial fabric of Europe that generates growth, innovation and jobs.
It is probably unrealistic to expect defence budgets to increase in the near future. But we need EU Heads of State and Government to take defence to the next level. We have to move away from expensive fragmentation to cost-effective cooperation.