The EESC calls for rapid implementation of EU synergies between the civil, defence and space industries

The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) welcomes the proposed EU Action Plan on Synergies between the civil, defence and space industries. The Action plan can enhance Europe's strategic autonomy and technological sovereignty, improve the security of citizens and boost competitiveness, economic growth and employment. Therefore, the EESC calls for rapid, forceful and ambitious implementation of the 11 actions set out in the Plan.

At its plenary session held on 8 July, the EESC adopted the opinion EU action plan on the defence and space industries, in which it gave its take on the European Commission's Action Plan, which is set to improve synergies between EU-funded instruments, while facilitating cross-fertilisation between the civil, defence and space industries.

One of the most important and long-lasting innovations in the automobile industry originates from the defence industry, here in Europe. After working on ejector seats in fighter jets for a European aeronautics company, Nils Ivar Bohlin, a Swedish mechanical engineer, went on to design a new seat belt for a European car company. Inspired by the harness jet pilots used, the three-point seat belt became a global standard in the car industry and has saved more than one million lives since its introduction.

The EESC considers the Action Plan to be a pillar in the EU industrial strategy and this example illustrates how it can ensure cross-fertilisation between the civil, defence and space industries and can focus on improving the crucial link between space, defence and security.

Among others, a key priority should be the adoption of new digital and other emerging technologies on defence and security. To facilitate this, it should be ensured that relevant civil initiatives take into account defence and security requirements from the outset; this will also help optimise the scope and efficiency of defence- and security-specific funding instruments. Its adoption should apply not just to existing synergies but should also show the way to move forward and have a more systematic approach rather than an ad-hoc approach, said the rapporteur for the opinion, Manuel Garcia Salgado.

Diversity is essential for innovation, including in the defence and space industries. The EESC therefore calls for the greater inclusion of women and young people, through recruitment, staff retention and promotion policies.

Europe today is a global leader in technology, but this leadership is increasingly challenged by massive investment from the US and China in new digital and other emerging technologies such as AI, IoT, Blockchain, etc. This challenges Europe’s competitiveness, but also its autonomy in strategic sectors like security or defence. We must therefore step up our efforts and optimise the way we invest and cooperate. In this context, the Action Plan is a potential game changer, and we must do everything to get its implementation right says co-rapporteur, Jan Pie.

The Action Plan should be strongly linked to SMEs and they must therefore have access to all the measures and financial instruments envisaged. The link with the implementation and monitoring of the Action Plan through an Observatory for Critical Technologies should also be considered and encouraged, the EESC says in the opinion.

The EESC also believes it is important to take EU-NATO cooperation into account and to ensure in particular interoperability between NATO and EU assets, including those for encrypted and secure communications. Commission services should continue to work closely with the European External Action Service (EEAS) and the European Defence Agency (EDA), whose activities should promote synergies and cross-fertilisation.

In its opinion, the EESC looks at each of the eleven proposed actions individually and gives organised civil society's view.

I have emphasised the need to facilitate the transfer of border technologies in different fields. Digital safety, collaborative robotics in the medical surgical sector, expanding SME to EU programmes and land management from the perspective of the environmental energy transition among others. The topic is definitely an example of how to pursue healthy, non-aggressive technological sovereignty, says Pietro de Lotto, president of the EESC's Consultative Commission on Industrial Change.

Background

On 22 February 2021, the European Commission (EC) presented an Action Plan on Synergies between civil, defence and space industries (COM(2021) 70 final) to further enhance Europe's technological edge and support its industrial base. This timely and strategic Action Plan is designed to reinforce European innovation by exploring and exploiting the disruptive potential of technologies at the interface between defence, space and civil uses, such as cloud, processors, cyber, quantum and artificial intelligence.

The main goals of the Action Plan are to:

  • Enhance the complementarity between relevant EU programmes and instruments covering research, development and deployment to increase the efficiency of investments and the effectiveness of results (the synergies);
  • Promote EU funding for research and development, including on defence and space, to ensure economic and technological dividends for European citizens (the spin-offs) and;
  • Facilitate the use of civil industry research achievements and of civil-driven innovation in European defence cooperation projects (the spin-ins).

With these goals in mind, the Commission announces eleven (11) targeted actions that focus on the interplay between civil, defence and space industries.

Read the European Commission's action plan on Synergies between Civil, Defence and Space Industries eleven targeted actions included.

See also