Commentary: Time for Europe To Turn Words into Actions

  • December 13, 2015

2015 was not a good year for European defence. As the security environment around Europe has continued to deteriorate, the EU has made very little progress to strengthen its Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). It is true that some member states have reversed the downward trend in defense spending; as to European cooperation, however, results have been poor. 

This was particularly evident last June when European heads of state and government came together to assess progress and give further guidance on European defense. The comparison with the last EU defense summit in December 2013 is striking: Two years ago, the council conclusions on defense were six pages long and contained more than 30 initiatives; this year's conclusions were one page long and contained a single concrete initiative — ​to finalize, by June 2016, a global security strategy​. 

"Defense matters" was the explicit theme of the European Council in December 2013. The implicit message of June 2015 was that defense is still not a priority. 

Some weeks later, the European Commission announced in its work program of 2016 a ​ defense a​ction p​lan to strengthen ​European defense markets and industries. 

These announcements are welcome since they indicate an awareness of the need to act. Equally, however, they imply a risk since there is a tendency in Brussels and member states to consider declarations and documents as achievements. We have seen numerous action plans and road maps in recent years, but little determination and few attempts to fill them with substance and translate them into concrete action. Words are, indeed, important and can be powerful, but only if they are followed up. ​2016 will be another test case. 

The only initiative on which we have seen tangible progress is the ​preparatory ​action (PA) on CSDP-related research. The PA is particularly important, since it will hopefully pave the way toward a full-fledged EU research program in the next m​ulti-annual f​inancial f​ramework (MFF) for 2021-​27​. 2015 was the year of consultation and stakeholder engagement (Group of Personalities, workshops, etc.). In 2016, things will become more formal with the establishment of governance structures and budgetary approval by the European Council and Parliament. 

All this is important, but we must not forget that the PA is not an end in itself. In parallel with the implementation of the PA, we must reflect on the organization of the follow-on program in order to be ready to prepare ​the next MFF, which will start no later than 2017-18. 

The biggest challenge in this respect will be to find a governance structure that ensures market uptake for EU-sponsored research via new cooperative procurement programs. 

A global security strategy along with a possible defense white paper, a defense action plan and the PA ​will be the key elements of the debate on European defense in 2016 and beyond. They are opportunities to make progress, provided ​they are not considered as an end in themselves. It is time to act, and the AeroSpace and Defence Industries Association of Europe ​is determined to make this happen. 

By Jan Pie

Defense News: article available here.