Nato chief calls for closer European cooperation on defence

Anders Fogh Rasmussen: " I think it's a kind of betrayal from the EU side ." [NATO]

Nato Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has called on European countries to step up cooperation on defence yesterday (2 September), arguing in favour of moves towards a borderless EU defence market and intensified integration on military matters.

The Nato chief will join EU defense ministers for an informal meeting in Lithuania this week (5-6 September) where defense cooperation will feature high on the agenda.

“I intend to bring the issue of cooperation between NATO and the European Union on defense matters and the need for Europe to intensify its efforts in capability development and invest more in security,” Rasmussen said at the alliance’s monthly press briefing in Brussels.

“It is important for Europe and it is important for the transatlantic alliance because a strong Europe is also a strong Alliance,” Rasmussen stressed. “As the situation in Syria demonstrates, we continue to face significant security challenges and it is vital that we are prepared to meet them.”

In Lithuania, the EU ministers will discuss a policy paper tabled by the European Commission in July, which called for a relaunching of industrial cooperation on defence, including on drones where Europe currently lags behind the United States and Israel.

>> Read: Barnier urges Europeans to build their own drones

The Commission paper aimed at fostering innovation and growth by supporting small defence firms and encouraging synergies between military and civilian research.

EU heads of state and governments will revisit the matter at their December EU summit in Brussels and decide then whether to re-launch defence cooperation initiatives.

This could prove a daunting task. Previous attempts at launching joint European industrial defence ventures have yielded few results, apart from the Airbus A400M military transport aircraft and the Eurofighter jet developed by British Aerospace, which were both plagued by political interference and rivalry between participating countries.

But the Commission believes that deep cuts in national defence budgets following the financial and economic crisis makes a case for pooling resources. From 2001 to 2010, EU defence spending declined from €251 billion to €194 billion while defence budgets increased significantly in emerging markets, according to the Commission.

“In times of scarce resources, cooperation is key and we need to match ambitions and resources to avoid duplication of programmes,” said José Manuel Barroso, the Commission president.

Rasmussen echoed the same sentiment, saying at his monthly address that “For all of us, the key is cooperation – to work together to make us all strong, not to duplicate each other’s efforts and thereby make us weak.”

The Nato chief sketched a vision where Europe had “effective and modern defense industries, where competition drives innovation, where national borders are no barrier to international cooperation, and where effective equipment is developed in a cost-effective way.”

Rasmussen went further, saying closer cooperation on defense “is a vital part of Europe’s ability to ensure its future security.”

EU leaders will decide in December whether to follow his advice.

More than 10 years have passed since France and the UK launched the European Security and Defence Policy through the St Malo Declaration.

The European Commission attempted to relaunch cooperation in 2007 with a communication which aimed at fostering a more competitive European defence industry.

The EU executive set up a task force on defence industries and markets, outlining that more than 1,350 SMEs are present on the European defence sector. It re-launched its attempt in July 2013, with a follow up Communication on defence and industrial policy.

>> Read: Barnier urges Europeans to build their own drones

  • 5-6 Sept.: Informal meeting of EU defence ministers
  • 19 Nov.: Defence ministers meeting
  • 19-20 Dec.: EU summit to discuss and possibly endorse Commission communication

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