After the Brexit referendum, European solidarity experienced a new boost, especially in the field of Defence. In order to increase its security role, the European Commission would like to create a new Directorate-General (an equivalent to a national ministry) for Defence: analysis.
A new EU military doctrine, a new EU fund for defence, a EU permanent military cooperation, a single EU headquarters for military operations ; these are some of the new and upcoming EU military programs. There already exist institutions to manage all these initiatives, but the European Commission wants to create a new Directorate-General for Defence matters (DG DEF), ensuring its active involvement in some of these programs. Let’s see what DG DEF would be, and which consequences this new branch would entail.
What is DG Defence
Although its prerogatives are small and Member States (MS) stay in control, the European Commission is already dealing with defence and security matters. But it does not have a dedicated defence and security DG. With the new initiatives, and especially the European Defence Fund (EDF), the Commission wants to set up a new DG. The idea itself is not new – EU officials have spoken about it for years -but in August 2018, the goals of DG DEF became more concrete. Internally, an approving majority was formed, and Juncker backed the plan. It is not official yet, but according to plans, DG DEF should become reality in 2020, ready to operate under the 2021-2027 Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) – the EU equivalent to a 6-year long national budget.
It is not official yet, but according to plans, DG DEF should become reality in 2020, ready to operate under the 2021-2027 Multiannual Financial Framework.
We don’t know yet in which architecture DG DEF will be shaped. Several defence actors explain that a DG DEF Commissioner wouldn’t actually be necessary, a senior manager for the EDF would be enough. Other officials in favor of a Commissioner for logistic purposes, claim that “you need to have someone you can identify and who drives the process, I think it would be helpful if there would be one person I could call if there is a problem.”
The existing Defence advisory body in the European Commission, named Group of Personalities (GoP), will certainly be incorporated into DG DEF to give its recommendations. However, critics argue that GoP is not neutral, defending the interests of the arms industry. Indeed, GoP members includes EU arms industry officials, such as the CEOs of Airbus and of MBDA (a company specialized in missiles). An official complaint towards the European Ombudsman against the European Commission has even been made for the suspicious decision-making of the EDF, accusing GoP of ‘conflict of interests’.
DG DEF’s main purpose
The main purpose of DG DEF would be to efficiently manage the upcoming European Defence Fund. The EDF is a new fund under the next MFF which will serve to promote cooperative technological projects between MS in the defence sector. For instance, it will be used for Research and Development (R&D) of military hardware and software, such as jet fighters, ammunitions, tanks, drones, etc. The EDF will have a budget of €13 billion for 6 years. The Commission will be in charge of developing annual programs for the EDF and monitor its good use.
The European Defence Fund is a new fund which will serve to promote cooperative technological projects between MS in the defence and military sector.
The EDF is an initiative that has been pushed by the European arms industries for a long time. For example, the EDF could subsidize the R&D of metamaterial, an expensive material that can potentially hide objects from a radar. Who needs such expensive metamaterial? Airbus and Dassault, which just announced that they will co-build a European stealth fighter.
The economic, institutional and political consequences of DG DEF
The decision to create this fund was because national R&D investments have decreased by 18% (€1.9 billion) between 2006 and 2014. On the one hand, military R&D become increasingly more expensive and MS’ Defence budgets are limited, while on the other hand, each MS is creating similar hardwares on its own. The EFD would limit unnecessary duplication and promote cooperation and common R&D in defence projects across Europe. It could save plenty of money, create new technology, and help to procure more tanks, planes or any kind of defence items that is being produced together.
Institutionally speaking, it is creating a muddle. There already exist plenty of public European bodies dealing with security and defence issues. For instance, we have the European Defence Agency (EDA), EUMC, EUMS, OCCAR, COARM, COPS, NSPA, EEAS, etc. What we need to remember is that DG DEF would make an already complicated European defence sphere even more complex. As a defence expert said, the European institutional scene “will be more confusing with DG DEF”. Moreover, DG could bring along some inter-institutional tensions, especially with the EDA, an official EU agency tasked with the facilitation of pan-European cooperation in defence and armement matters – just like the EDF. With DG DEF, the European Commission could overshadow the work of the EDA, which fears its replacement by DG DEF and wants to play a bigger role in the EDF. Both bodies will need to find a mutually efficient way to work together, or institutional tensions will take place.
DG DEF would make an already complicated European defence sphere even more complex.
Finally, some MS could dislike the fact that the EU, in particular the supranational Commission, would gain more power in the field of defence thanks to DG DEF. However, so far no MS has called to stop the EDF, probably because the know about the financial benefit of such a fund
Although its creation isn’t officially confirmed yet, DG DEF could make sense in order to improve the management of the European Defence Fund. It remains to be seen if the European Commission would use it to widen its prerogatives in the field of Defence and Security, which some MS would not approve. It is also possible that DG DEF would create tensions with other European defence bodies, the Commission should therefore be careful to promote cooperation not just between the MS, but also between the different European defence bodies and institutions. Finally, one could criticize the fact that the EU is going to subsidise arms industries, however, this would allow MS to save money, reduce duplication and procure more military material. Nevertheless, we still need to be alert to the industries’ attempts to lobby DG DEF to their advantages.
Robin Vanholme is a Master student at the Institute for European Studies
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