European Defence Fund (Communication)

EESC opinion: European Defence Fund (Communication)

The EESC considers that the European Union must take greater responsibility for its defence and must be ready and able to deter any external threat to its citizens and way of life.

The European Defence Action Plan and the Global Strategy highlight the importance for the EU defence industry to achieve strategic autonomy in order for the EU to become an important and credible player in the defence sector. The European Defence Fund (EDF) has the clear purpose of incentivising cooperation between Member States in research and technology (R&T), development and the strategic procurement of military capabilities. Special attention should be given to bridging R&T and capability development.

The EESC believes that the defence industry plays an important role in the European economy, with 1.4 million jobs being dependent on it. The lack of coordination costs us between EUR 25 and EUR 100 billion a year, which are unacceptable numbers in a global competitive environment.

The EESC strongly recommends that the Member States and the European Commission use the EDF to keep key industrial capabilities on European soil and to ensure that European money is spent on European R&D and on buying European weapons systems.

The EESC supports the competitiveness-driven approach of the EDF, which will both ensure access for all Member States and finance projects that will produce added value and cutting-edge technologies.

The EESC considers that, besides providing financing for the industry, the European Commission should build up the framework for stronger communication between industry players of all sizes across Member States.

The EESC appreciates the special attention that the current proposal gives to SMEs, no matter what country they come from. SMEs are often the source of innovation in cutting-edge areas such as information technology and communications (IT&C) and cybersecurity. The EESC would also welcome SME involvement mechanisms, such as a bonus system, that would enhance SMEs' cross-border cooperation.

The EESC is of the firm belief that it is necessary to build up strong key capabilities that support European interests. These must be defined by the Member States, in accordance with their national defence policies, European objectives and NATO partnership obligations.

The EESC believes that the primary focus must be on technologies that could be decisive in allowing the EU to gain the leading technological edge. This can be achieved through common defence planning and setting up a key capabilities plan.

The EESC recommends that the awarding process for calls for proposals take into account mandatory high social and environmental standards.

The EESC believes that the funding schemes cannot be the same as in other sectors of activity, given the particularities of the defence sector and the suspicions and fear of knowledge sharing between companies or Member States.

The EESC considers that the governance of the EDF must be established as soon as possible and should include the European Union, the European Defence Agency and the Member States, as well as industry. The Commission should explore new options for limiting the level of bureaucracy involved in the implementation of the EDF. The EESC also recommends that the European Parliament should have access to reporting on a regular basis so that it can evaluate how the fund is working.

The EESC recommends exploring the possibility of increasing the minimum number of countries participating in an eligible project to three, as the EDF programme evolves.

The EESC considers that maximising the number of Member States involved in the EDF will reduce redundancy and foster standardisation of logistics and sub-systems. This will also avoid the duplication of current NATO standards and reduce fragmentation of weapons systems. For any awarded projects, therefore, the EDA and the chosen industrial consortium should work together closely in the early stages of development to define common norms and standards.

The EESC has doubts concerning the reasonable expectation that the development will result in procurement, given that military research is full of examples of projects developed and later not procured by states. The EESC calls for clear rules regarding the commitment to purchase the successfully developed capabilities.

The EESC recommends that it should be possible to make use of training programmes co-financed by the European Union in the early stages of the development of projects funded under the capability window. A skilled workforce is key for the development of cutting-edge technologies in the field of defence.

Furthermore, the EESC, as the representative body for organised civil society, is ready to provide expertise and consultation in all matters concerning the economic and social aspects of the EDF.