Why European defence research matters

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

European defence needs greater cooperation to face its mounting challenges. [Shutterstock]

Defence can no longer be looked at simply from a national perspective. European defence is stronger than the sum of its parts and it needs greater cooperation in defence innovation, in cutting-edge capabilities, in research and technology. And it needs to happen now, argues Jorge Domecq.

Jorge Domecq is chief executive of the European Defence Agency.

Research matters. Let’s take one example: Galileo. In 2003 the European Union and European Space Agency agreed to launch this ambitious project. Inspired by the genius of one of Europe’s finest thinkers, Galileo aimed not only to propel Europe to the top of the €175 billion global satellite navigation system market, but also to benefit European services and users, boost innovation and create jobs.

Its applications are staggering: they range from search and rescue services, through scientific research, to positioning services (GPS) as used in cars but also aviation, maritime, rail, and even pedestrian traffic. Galileo ensures that Europe is independent in its access to satellite signals. Putting the programme in place has not been easy from a political or economic point of view.

But the advantages – innovation, skills, jobs, growth, and independence – have made this worthwhile. Galileo demonstrates what teamwork is about: exploiting the strengths of individual elements for achieving common goals. This recipe for success should now be applied to European defence.

Today, the EU faces a plethora of challenges. The growing scepticism regarding its objectives, financial uncertainty and threats to its security require a fundamental debate on the future of a strong Europe.

Eighty-two percent of respondents to a Europe-wide survey have confirmed they want greater involvement of the EU in the fight against terrorism; 66% want the Union to intervene more in security and defence policy.

The recently published EU Global Strategy highlighted the increasingly blurred lines between internal and external security. Defence does not live in a bubble. It is inextricably linked to security and prosperity. So Europe needs to be a reliable security provider for its partners while at the same time protecting its citizens.

Following a call by European leaders, the European Commission recently proposed to invest €90 million in defence research between 2017 and 2019. This may be modest when compared to the latest US defence innovation initiative of some $18 billion or even the Galileo programme which requires investment of around €5 billion. But it is a start; and an important one.

It is also, for the EU, a revolution. For the first time in its history, the EU is paving the way through this so called Preparatory Action for a substantive defence research programme in the next multiannual financial framework. This means using the EU budget for defence, something that was unthinkable as recently as three years ago.

Capability programmes entrusted to the European Defence Agency are a start but we need to look at longer-term development if we want to retain Europe’s ability to be a credible security provider that relies on state-of-the-art cutting-edge technologies. And we need to do it now.

Capability development takes time. Using EU budget for defence R&T should by no means replace national efforts but it will help to generate critical mass, to network European research entities, and very importantly to increase interoperability and standards. Besides, we know that research in defence has concrete and profitable spill-over effects for everyday life like the Internet or GPS.

R&T is not nice-to-have. It is an essential prerequisite to develop the capabilities of the future and thus to provide for our citizen’s security. It also underpins Europe’s strategic autonomy, boosts its industry, creates jobs and stimulates growth.

Commitment by the European institutions, member states and industry are required to make it happen. But a fully activated and properly resourced Preparatory Action is an opportunity we cannot miss. The European Parliament and Council of the EU will be asked to approve this crucial step during their budget decisions and I sincerely hope they do so.

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