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N°95 - Troisième trimestre 2011

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  Mme / Mrs. Claude-France ARNOULD

Cooperating to Reinforce the EU’s
Defence Capacity: a Must in the
Current Economic Context

By Claude-France Arnould,
Executive Director of the European
Defense Agency (EDA)

One year ago, under the Belgian presidency of the European Union (EU) and spurred on by Germany and Sweden, EU Defence Ministers agreed to enhance their defence cooperation during an informal meeting in Ghent. This move has been bolstered by the actions of the Weimar Triangle of Germany, France and Poland, supported by  Italy and Spain.
These initiatives were sparked by an acknowledgment that is assuming increasing importance: faced with growing budget constraints, as well as security challenges that are only getting bigger, European States must become better organized and manage their expenditure more efficiently. The economic crisis is already having an impact on defence budgets, making difficult decisions necessary.
Our armed forces must have adequate military capabilities, so that we can meet our international commitments (whether under the auspices of the UN, the EU, or NATO), ensure the security of our citizens, and defend our interests. The need to ensure maritime security, for instance, is being met by the EU operation to combat piracy, Atalanta. The recent EU operation in Libya showed that any action undertaken nowadays must ensure an extreme degree of precision, which means we must be adequately skilled in areas such as intelligence gathering, surveillance, reconnaissance, and air-to-air refueling. The United States, speaking through both Robert Gates and his successor as Defence Secretary, Leon Panetta, has warned European countries that they can no longer depend on the U.S. for these capabilities or these types of operations.
From now on, cooperation is not an option: it has become a necessity.
To be successful, this cooperation must fully respect national sovereignty. The European Defence Agency (EDA) – an intergovernmental agency whose Steering Board is composed of the Defence Ministers of participating countries - was created to that end. It is a facilitator working  for its Member-States. Decisions on defence investments are taken at the national level, as is the choice of whether to make use of a given capability.
By fostering “custom-made” projects, the EDA provides the flexibility and confidence needed to ensure effective cooperation. We must be realistic and pragmatic here: European States want to cooperate in certain areas, but in others, they want their defence means to remain purely national. Let us therefore work together in areas where cooperation is desired and within our reach. These range from research and development to maintenance, training, and logistics, all of which are becoming increasingly costly. The Agency has already trained 114 helicopter flight crews, 63 of which were deployed in Afghanistan. This experience can be used as a model for training additional flight crews.
The battle against improvised explosive devices is another example. The Agency has developed a forensic laboratory to analyse these weapons, which have been so devastating for our armed forces. This laboratory is currently being deployed in Afghanistan by Coalition forces. We will not be prepared for the future unless the money that is subsequently saved - or at least a portion of it – is reinvested in efforts to prepare for the future by funding research and development and new programmes.
At the last meeting of the Agency’s Steering Board, held on 30 November 2011, the Defence Ministers of the EDA’s 26 Member-States (Denmark does not take part in EDA activities) moved to the next stage of their cooperation. On a proposal of the Agency, they approved eleven operational cooperation opportunitities, including maritime surveillance, naval logistics, and satellite communications, to mention but a few. Not every country will take part in every project, but most have confirmed they intend to be involved in at least one of the proposed fields, offering a clear sign of confidence in the Agency’s work and methods. These decisions are, of course, only the first step. Over the coming months, the Agency will continue to propose other concrete areas for operational cooperation.
Finally, we must strengthen the European defence technological and industrial base. This is one of the EDA’s primary objectives. European cooperation cannot be successful unless it benefits European industry and thus fosters job creation and investment in Europe. The EDA is supporting its Member-States, so that the unique nature of the defence sector is taken into consideration when the common European defence market (the “defence package”) is put into effect. In order to ensure maximum synergy, we are also working in close partnership with the European Commission on dual-use technologies (civilian and military), in fields such as space, maritime surveillance, CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear , and ) weapons, and cyber protection.
Given the gravity of the financial situation, and the great challenge the handling of it has raised for Europeans and for European construction, it is imperative that Europeans put forward a concrete collective response to tomorrow’s security challenges. They must maintain the technological and industrial strength needed to ensure their common security. The decisions taken at the EDA Steering Board meeting, on 30 November 2011, are an extremely important first phase of this process. They have strengthened the Agency’s determination to put forward concrete operational solutions to the challenges being faced by our defence ministries.     

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