A newly created Commission department dedicated to the defence and space industries has given new momentum to the EU’s defence union project. Nathalie Loiseau, head of the European Parliament’s defence committee, answered questions about where the sector is heading.
The aims of the new defence bureau will be to create a joint military-industrial complex and focus on high-tech equipment such as drones and artificial intelligence, according to Commission President-elect Ursula von der Leyen’s mission letter to her Commissioner-designate, Sylvie Goulard.
Goulard, however, last week faced a grilling from MEPs – among the questions only one on defence – and could face trouble securing their approval.
After the hearing, a committee source told EURACTIV, that “it was, frankly speaking, outrageous that the European Parliament’s defence committee did not have the chance to ask enough questions in order to learn where she wants to take the file in the next five years.”
EURACTIV asked MEP Nathalie Loiseau (Renew), chair of the European Parliament’s Subcommittee for Security and Defence (SEDE), about expectations for the new term, especially when it comes to the EU’s defence-industrial policy needs.
The French lawmaker explained that citizens want “a Europe more sovereign in terms of trade, in terms of industrial policy, in terms of foreign policy and security and defence.”
“For this purpose, having a European Defence Fund, encouraging cooperation between companies, between member states and providing support from European money makes a whole difference and we will monitor it very closely,” she added.
Finalising the €13 billion European Defence Fund (EDF) is dependent on ongoing EU budget negotiations. The fund was one of the factors that increased the need for a dedicated Directorate-General working on defence industry and space, the French MEP added.
“We need to strengthen the industrial and technological base of our defence industry; we need to make sure we have European champions and that we can rely on European companies to provide us with the necessary equipment,” she stressed.
“I strongly support dedicating €13 billion to the EDF, it’s much more than what we have been doing in the past, but what we have done then was equaling zero. And in terms of money allocated to the defence budget it’s very little. I think we have to be serious if we intend to support the European defence industry – we have to be able to fund.”
“Negotiating an MFF is always difficult and this time there are many priorities, which means that some member states should not stick to a position of restricting their share of the financing of the European budget to 1% or below at a moment where we have new challenges,” she added.
Common arms export rules
During the EDF negotiations, MEPs and NGOs raised concerns that the fund could face a lack of scrutiny over how and what investments are made and over the lack of common arms export rules across the bloc.
“So far, it’s national competence and we need to enter the topic with the full understanding that without exporting arms there will not be a European defence industry. We have to be clear about it,” Loiseau said.
German curbs on arms exports to non-EU or non-NATO countries have been a thorn in bilateral co-operation between Germany and France for years, blocking consensus at EU level.
A bilateral attempt to create common rules by the end of the summer was unsuccessful.
However, France and Germany announced in early September they were close to an agreement on how to remove obstacles to exporting weapons manufactured in joint programmes, after French firms called for easing German export restrictions.
“What I’m hearing is rather encouraging I think that a lot of progress has been made,” the French MEP said.
“It’s not the smoothest, it’s not the easiest of all relationships, but the time which is spent between these two member states to find a common position – it’s time that it’s speared by the rest of the EU.”
Loiseau also pointed towards bilateral programmes such as the next joint European combat aircraft system (FCAS) manufactured by French-German cooperation. Spain and other member states have expressed interest in joining it.
Europe’s race for space
Asked whether Europe has woken up too late to new realities of space, the French MEP emphasised that “we have a European space industry we have to be proud of” but “have to realise that things are accelerating and changing in nature in space and have to adjust“.
Loiseau pointed towards the process leading up to the creation of Galileo, Europe’s global satellite navigation system.
“Remember years of criticism, years of scepticism about both the necessity and the feasibility of Galileo, now here we are and it’s an asset,” she said.
In a recent committee debate dedicated to EU space policy, lawmakers and the deputy director-general of DG GROW, Pierre Delsaux, discussed the idea of transferring units that deal with space into the newly created DG Defence Industry and Space.
Delsaux then told MEPs there are potential space projects in the pipeline that could be eligible for EDF funding.
“Space is not neutral, it’s not a nice haven, there are also economic issues at stake, defence and space issues are only going to grow in the future,” Delsaux said as MEPs called for increased EU investment in the sector.
Asked whether Europe should become a more forward military player in space, Loiseau stressed that while countries like the US, China and France have created their own space strategies, Europe should be conscious of its own assets like Galileo and Copernicus, its Earth-observing counterpart.
“We have to move ahead with GovSatcom, space surveillance and tracking, because we should not rely on others to know what’s going on in space,” she said.
GovSatcom is an initiative of 16 European countries to provide a reliable middle tier of satellite communications operating between commercial and military systems.
“We have to make sure we keep our assets, make sure we have our voice heard in this new geopolitical situation we witness in space.”
“We have to take our responsibilities in providing with new regulation of space activities as the last regulations come from the past century – Europe is quite good at addressing new challenges and proposing balanced necessary regulation.”
[Edited by Sam Morgan]