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The European Union Strengthens Its Defence

Three Questions to Maxime Lefebvre

INTERVIEW - 21 May 2019

The European Parliament has approved a political agreement on the creation and financial allocation of the European Defence Fund for 2021-2027. The agreement is provisional since neither budgetary nor financial decisions were endorsed. Those are postponed until the overall agreement on the next multiannual financial framework. What does this decision mean for European Defence? Maxime Lefebvre, diplomat and former Permanent Representative of France to the OSCE, comments on this essential part of the European debate.

The next European multiannual financial framework will include the European Defence Fund. What exactly will this European Fund be used for? The agreement on the creation of this Fund is only partial: what remains to be negotiated?

The European Defence Fund, proposed by the European Commission for the multiannual financial framework 2021-2027, will finance military research projects (€4.1 billion) and defence capacity-building projects (€8.9 billion) from European funds (€13 billion provided by the Commission).

The European Defence Fund will finance military research projects (€4.1 billion) and defence capacity-building projects (€8.9 billion) from European funds (€13 billion provided by the Commission).

With the 2016 Defence Action Plan, the Commission had already made funds available until 2020 for military research (€90 million) and capacity-building projects (€500 million). Some examples of projects: the development of a European UAV, the development of cyber defence and artificial intelligence in defence, the security and interoperability of military communications. The European Defence Fund will systematise all this and make it possible to change scale in view of the sums provided by the Commission (almost two billion euros per year). It could finance so-called "structuring" projects such as the European aircraft of the future or the European tank of the future.

The allocation of community funds for defence is a revolutionary step. Until now, defence has not been part of the European Commission's remit. It had only been dealt with by the European Union External Action Service within European field operations, and by an intergovernmental European defence agency.
 
Not only is the European defence effort weak compared to the American one (240 billion euros against 610 billion for the United States), but it is also scattered among the Member States: 180 different weapons systems in Europe, against 30 in the United States. Admittedly, European funds will represent only 1% of total European military expenditures, but the proportion is almost twice as high as compared to the Member States' equipment spending. European funds will make it possible to aggregate national expenditure around co-financed joint projects. They will promote cooperation in the field of armaments, which has always been difficult and laborious. They will make it possible to make programmes profitable on a broader scale than just national markets completed for export.
 
The agreement between the Council, the European Parliament and the Commission, as freshly confirmed in April, will make it possible to launch this European Defence Fund by 2021. Some things remain to be agreed on, in particular the Fund’s value (which will depend on the general negotiation on the multiannual financial framework), but also the terms of partnership with third countries (especially with the United Kingdom) and the "ethical control" procedures.

Negotiations have been amended multiple times. Why is this project dividing the European Parliament?

Developing European action in the field of defence is not in the "genes" of the European Parliament, which generally prefers to defend principles and values, such as human rights, development aid and the environment. The fear that weapons developed on European funds will fuel conflicts and internal repression is particularly widespread in left-wing parties (Social Democrats, Greens, United European Left). The reached agreement met with significant opposition (328 votes in favour, 231 against). Without being involved in the detailed programming of the Fund, the Parliament will yet exercise budgetary control over the use of funds. There will also be mechanisms for "ethical control".

By seeking to protect its defence industry, the European Union is seeking greater European strategic autonomy. Is this objective in contradiction with the Atlanticist position of many European countries or, on the contrary, will a European defence strengthen NATO?

Strategic autonomy has been on the European agenda since 2013 and is included in Federica Mogherini's global strategy for the European Union's foreign and security policy, adopted in 2016. Europeans have also affirmed that "Europe must take greater responsibility for its own security" (European Council conclusions of 28 June 2018).

Developing the European defence industry, making it more competitive and stronger, and increasing European self-sufficiency in military matters, are all part of strategic autonomy. It requires that access by third countries to projects financed by the European Defence Fund be regulated.

Europeans have also affirmed that "Europe must take greater responsibility for its own security".

A European preference system in the arms market would obviously be ideal, but the reality is that many Member States source their supplies from the United States. We can't stop them. On the other hand, it is problematic that the United States, which is asking us to increase our defence spending, is also asking us to buy more American equipment. As the Minister of Defence Florence Parly replied in jest, Article 5 (NATO's security guarantee) is not Article F35!
 
In general, progress must be made towards a European defence that is complementary to NATO. NATO will remain predictably the foundation of territorial defence, for example to face possible Russian threats. But Europeans can organise themselves more, integrate their arms industry and military programming more, develop joint operations in the Balkans, Africa and the seas, and try to establish a European pillar in NATO. This is a challenge for the next parliamentary term (2019-2024), especially for the German (2nd half of 2020) and French (1st half of 2022) presidencies of the European Union.

Copyright : Eric FEFERBERG / AFP

 

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