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The European defence Fund: For what purpose?

The coming back of the European Defence Community idea?

The European Defence Fund (EDF) has been mentioned for the first time by Mr Jean-Claude JUNCKER, President of the European Commission, in his speech on the State of the Union in September 2016: “For European defence to be strong, the European defence industry needs to innovate. That is why we will propose before the end of the year a European Defence Fund, to turbo boost research and innovation”.

From the next 2021-2027 programming period, a Community Fund linked to Defence will be set up for the first time. This clearly reminds us the idea of a “European army” that emerged in the 1950s with the ephemeral project of a European Defence Community (EDC) whose objective was to create a common defence in the context of the Cold War. However, with this EDF, it is no longer the armies that are directly targeted, but those who arm and equip them, i.e. the defence industries. For what purposes? Does this fund hide political and geostrategic ambitions for the birth of a new CED or does it only aim to strengthen cooperation between Member States to make Europeans more competitive in the defence industry in the face of wide international competition?

Since 1998: Which cooperation in the field of Defence?

Since 1998 and the creation of the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), many types of military cooperation between Member States have been established: peacekeeping missions, combat forces for crisis management, anti-piracy operations, or military training missions  (operations partly financed by the EU with the Athena mechanism). However, due to their mainly intergovernmental nature, these actions have so far been limited to external theatres of operation, without cooperate on European defence industry. The European Commission therefore wishes to fill this gap by creating the EDF, with the ultimate aim of continuing the EU’s strategic empowerment process.

The European Defence Fund: What is it?

The EDF must compensate for this insufficient European technological and industrial cooperation. Indeed, it must answer to two objectives: to encourage Member States to join forces within the framework of a European Defence Technological and Industrial Base (DTIB) and to promote the harmonisation of armaments systems. In real terms, for the period 2021-2027, the EDF, with a budget of 13 billion euro, will aim at providing financial support for trans-European projects throughout the industrial development cycle, from research to prototype development and certification, independently of the Horizon 2020 programme. Above all, the EDF responds to an important european ambition: to affirm the EU’s strategic independence, especially in a context where NATO is being challenged. This objective gives rise to the idea of a renewed EDC based on the defence industry, which is a key sector both to make Europeans more competitive and more innovative, but also to strengthen the EU’s position at an international level.

The European Defence Fund: What are its ambitions?

It is not necessary to wait until the next programming period to observe the first projects born out of this ambition to affirm the EU. Indeed, under the European Defence Industrial Development Programme (EDIDP), the Commission has adopted a budget of over 500 million euro for projects for the 2019-2020 period. Two projects have already been selected and will therefore benefit from EDF financial support: the Eurodrone project developed by the Franco-Italian trio Airbus, Dassault and Leonardo, which has received 100 million euro support, and the ESSOR programme, which aims to standardise military radio systems, which has received 37 million euro. Calls for proposals were published in April 2019 and more will follow in 2020, also within the EDIDP.

Therefore, with the implementation of the EDF, the Commission is already affirming one of its ambitions: to become a leader in military technological innovation. The question remains: Will the EDF also enable the EU to assert itself as a political and diplomatic power?



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