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Despite several initiatives over the past years, the landscape of the European defence industry is characterised by insufficient levels and quality of investment in the development and procurement of future capabilities. Member States are not cooperating enough, with more than 80% of procurement and more than 90% of Research and Technology run on a national basis. A high degree of fragmentation remains, with 178 different weapon systems in Europe compared to 30 in the US. Too little coordination in defence planning leads to an inefficient use of taxpayers' money, unnecessary duplication and suboptimal deployability of defence forces. There are wide differences in the level of defence spending between Member States. Enhanced solidarity, including through the involvement of the EU budget, is needed to deliver common defence capabilities.
The European defence policy was identified as a key political priority in President Juncker's political guidelines of July 2014. This should be also viewed in connection with the fact that after decades of peace and stability, the Union is facing increased instability and new emerging security threats. This changing security environment demonstrated in a clear way that only through joint efforts in investing in security development and cooperation at all levels can we deliver on the expectations of Union citizens and our partners. For Europe to take over more responsibility for its defence, it is crucial to improve competitiveness and enhance innovation across the Union defence industry.
Cuba poses a major challenge to relations between the European Union and Latin America. The European Union has maintained diplomatic and economic relations with Cuba that have been the focus of special attention, in particular by the European Parliament, since the changes initiated by Raúl Castro's government from 2010 onwards. Among other things, these changes affect the organisation of work, the trade union movement and civil society organisations. The EESC is increasingly engaged with issues of bilateral cooperation, especially with those parts of the world experiencing transformations that bring local organised civil society into the framework of official cooperation relations with the EU. In this regard, the EESC has set itself the aim of ensuring the greatest possible participation by civil society.
At the request of the future Bulgarian presidency of the Council of the EU (January-June 2018), the EESC was asked to prepare an exploratory opinion on the challenges and priorities countries of the Western Balkans are facing in the European integration process, as well as in the area of economic and social cohesion. Western Balkans will be one of the policy priorities of the Bulgarian presidency and a Western Balkans Summit is scheduled to take place in May 2018 in Sofia.
This opinion will be the response to the Estonian Ministry of Rural Affairs' request to the EESC to explore the advantages of the Community-led Local Development (CLLD) approach for integrated local and rural development.