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).