The Guest Blog

Guest post by Antonio Calcara – Ph.D. Candidate at the LUISS Department of Political Science – Rome


The prospect of an integrated EU defence stance at the international level has always been a controversial issue. Despite more than 30 Common Security and Defence Policy civilian and military crisis management missions, EU member states` political, strategic and industrial divergences have made EU defence policy substantially unable to tackle high-intensity military missions.

However, something is changing in the European defence landscape. One year after the EU Global Strategy, Federica Mogherini has declared that “more has been achieved in the last ten months than in the last decade”. In this context, the recent developments in the defence research domain are particularly important. They represent a first step towards greater liberalization in the defence market, traditionally characterized by fragmentation and protectionism. Moreover, the development of a European defence technology and industrial base is one of the prerequisites for supporting a common defence policy at the EU level.

What are the initiatives developed in the field of defence research? Could they represent a paradigm shift towards greater integration in this sector?

On 28th October 2016, the European Defence Agency (EDA) and the EU Commission signed an agreement to develop the first pilot project in defence research. This agreement, worth a total of 1, 4 million, was signed to develop three selected research activities. The Pilot Project marks an important step in the EU defence panorama, because it is the first time that the EU, through its own budget, directly funds research projects in the military field. As noted by an expert of the EU Institute for Security Studies (EUISS): “While the pilot project will run for three years from 2015 to 2018, it sets the groundwork for defence research to become a permanent feature of the EU’s defence efforts. The pilot project could have a snowball effect”.

Despite the initial amount is very limited, the Pilot Project is only a first step in the defence research domain. The EU Commission has promoted a Preparatory Action (PA) on defence research, in order to test a fully-fledged EU defence research programme for the forthcoming multi-annual Financial Framework (MFF 2021-2027). While the Horizon 2020 programme only allowed investments in so-called “dual-use technologies” that provided both civilian and military applications, the new funding program for research will allow to use European funds to develop new technologies exclusively for military purposes. The Commission has already proposed EUR 25 million for defence research as part of the 2017 EU budget, and it expects that this budget allocation could grow to a total of EUR 90 million under 2020. These numbers could certainly grow if the EU funding of military research projects will become a permanent feature in the European context. In June 2017, the Commission launched a proposal for a new ‘European defence fund’ (EUDF), with ambitious spending plans for defence research and procurement of new military technologies.

These recent developments could have important consequences on the EU defence panorama. Over the last decade EU member states have decreased defence spending by nearly 12 % in real terms. Moreover, according to the EU Commission data, the cost of non-Europe in defence cooperative programmes is estimated around 25 billion a year. Defence research at the EU level can, thus, generate a positive fall out on the development of joint operational capabilities. Additional investments in EU defence capabilities could also have a positive impact on the European economy as a whole. A common EU defence research could generate substantial investments in innovative technologies areas such as electronics, meta-materials, encrypted software and robotics. In this case, military and economic interests may strengthen each other.

Defence research also sheds light on some unexplored aspects in the Brexit negotiations. In the first pilot project on defence research UK is involved in two out of three programmes. In order to remain involved in such EU-funded activities the UK could probably negotiate an administrative arrangement with the EDA and thereby contribute to EU capability initiatives. This would be in the interest of both the EU and the UK. “We see EU defence as detrimental to NATO, but if there are major collaborative research projects, we would want to be part of them” said Geoffrey Van Orden, a former brigadier in the British army and now a lawmaker with the European Conservatives group in the European Parliament. Defence issues aside, the UK has been one of the most successful competitors for EU research funding, winning a fifth of all EU grants since 2007, equal to €8.04 billion. This EU funding comprises a quarter of all public research spending in Britain, meaning the UK is more reliant on EU grants than other countries, such as Germany.

However, the recent development in EU defence research has also raised some concerns among EU governments. Indeed, while defence research certainly will benefit the most important arms companies in Europe, smaller nations with less developed technological-industrial base may not be interested in supporting these types of investments. In addition, the Pilot Project and the PA have not made clear yet what are the directives concerning the intellectual property regime (IPR). In the defence sector governments and firms are reluctant to share sensitive information and technologies. As emphasized by a report of the Armament Industry European Research Group: “Managing an IPR regime under the Preparatory Action will necessarily require that acceptable IPR conditions are put in place, otherwise there will be limited buy-in from industry”. Finally, some political groups and associations have denounced anti-democratic elements in the EU defence research framework, stressing that, in the “Group of Personalities” who led this process, more than half of the participants were representatives of big European defence contractors.

What are the next steps to take?

First of all, the European Parliament and the Council have to approve the Commission proposal. In this case, it is necessary that member states and the public opinion understand the fundamental political value that these measures assume in the current geopolitical context.

Second, we need to be sure that funds are spent in the right way, namely to reinforce European operational capabilities. In this regard, it is crucial to focus on the development of ambitious joint military development programs. The EDA has – so far – failed in this task, given the persistence of protectionist policies in the European defence- industrial panorama.

This process will take considerable time and it will require the full involvement of all the EU stakeholders in the defence policy establishment. Geopolitical elements will play an important role in this domain. Trump’s erratic commitment to NATO could be a decisive driving force to reach a greater autonomy of European military forces.



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