The European Union has unveiled its biggest defence research plan in more than a decade, reversing cuts amounting to billions of Euros, in a bid to prove to President-elect Donald Trump that it plans to pay for its own security.
As part of a wider strategy to pool defence capabilities across the bloc, the European Commission has proposed a European Defence Fund to support investment in joint research and the joint development of defence equipment and technologies.
The Commission has already proposed €25 million for defence research as part of the 2017 EU budget, but envisions this growing to €90 million by 2020 to fund collaborative research into electronics, metamaterials, encrypted software, robotics and other defence technologies.
In addition, the fund would finance a “capability window” of around €5 billion a year which would act as a financial tool allowing participating Member States to purchase certain assets together to reduce their costs. The capabilities would be agreed by the Member States, who would own the technology and equipment.
Defence research funding by European governments has fallen by about a third over the last decade, with European ministers relying on the might of US spending to produce advances in military equipment.
But during his Presidential campaign, Trump questioned whether America should continue to protect allies who are not willing to invest in their own military capabilities.
In his 2016 State of the Union speech, President Jean-Claude Juncker said it was important for a strong European Union to defend and protect its citizens at home and abroad, something which he said could not be achieved without pooling resources in the European defence industry.
Juncker said: “To guarantee our collective security, we must invest in the common development of technologies and equipment of strategic importance – from land, air, sea and space capabilities to cyber security. It requires more cooperation between Member States and greater pooling of national resources. If Europe does not take care of its own security, nobody else will do it for us. A strong, competitive and innovative defence industrial base is what will give us strategic autonomy.”
According to the Commission, the European Defence Action Plan, adopted on Wednesday, delivers on that vision.
In addition to the fund, the Commission plans to create a single market for defence within the EU, breaking down borders to “help Member States get best value for money in their defence procurement,” a spokesman for the Commission said.
It also plans to invest more in start-ups and SMEs within the defence industry. The spokesman added: “the Commission will support cooperation in the defence sector to ensure people have the right skills and technological ability to generate innovation.”
A 2003 attempt to collaborate on military capabilities failed to win approval from European governments, but France, Italy and Germany are seizing on Britain’s planned departure from the Union to drive forward with plans for military mergers.
Although Brexit will remove one of the largest contributors to the EU budget, it is not yet clear whether Britian will collaborate with the remaining Member States on defence research. Geoffrey Van Orden, a British Conservative MEP and former Army Brigadier, commented “We see EU defence as detrimental to NATO, but if there are major collaborative research projects, we would want to be part of them.”