MEP Urmas Paet, a former Foreign Minister of Estonia and rapporteur for the European Parliament’s recently adopted ‘European Defence Union’ report, shares his views with us about the current challenges and future prospects of EU defence cooperation, the contribution the Commission’s European Defence Action Plan can make to it and the role of the EDA.
This interview was first published in EDA's European Defence Matters magazine N°12
In your report, you deplore a ‘lack of competitiveness’ in the European defence sector and regret that ‘a sound European defence industrial policy is still missing’. Will the Commission’s EDAP be able to fix this problem?
The EDAP can certainly change things and have a positive impact on the whole environment in which the defence industry operates. I see two main problems to overcome. One is that Member States’ legislations on defence support and procurement differ strongly and that the bureaucratic burdens are often high. The second point is: how can we push European defence industry to cooperate more on innovation and technological developments. Here the Commission may have to play an important role, for example we when we speak about possible future financial contributions to defence research and innovation. This could also push European companies to cooperate. Research, as you know, is extremely costly; therefore, if you can add public money and combine it with private investments, you may see more companies joining in and connecting their forces.
You agree with those saying there is a political momentum now for making progress on European defence?
The short answer is yes. I am however a little bit worried that despite this momentum created by different events and developments, at the end, Europe will again be too late. If you look at past experiences, you will see that the EU often decides to actwhen things have already happened, when problems are already there. Look for instance at terrorism: it’s only after the tragic attacks in Paris and Brussels that the EU came to the conclusion that it needed a European intelligence agency. In the same vein, it was only after we saw the impact of the refugee crisis that the EU found out that it needed a European border guard. I really hope that with defence cooperation and Defence Union, we can be more pro-active so that we anticipate developments and needs before they occur.
Your report calls for a ‘European Defence Union’. What would be its main pillars?
There are some basic elements to be mentioned. First, it is absolutely crucial that EU and NATO cooperate and make the maximum out of that cooperation. Stronger European defence cooperation will not weaken NATO; on the contrary: both organisations will strengthen each other mutually. Therefore, one pillar of the European Defence Union is cooperation with NATO and bringing added value to NATO activities. Here I see for instance a great potential in cyber defence, in hybrid warfare and also in civilian support to NATO military activities, outside and inside of Europe. A second pillar is making sure that all European countries are engaged in such a European Defence Union, including the six EU Member States which are not members of NATO. A third pillar would be that we don’t go for just another round of political statements and slogans but that we clearly link the upcoming activities in this domain to the EU budget. The next Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) should reflect the new defence cooperation (…) When I wrote this report, I often heard from people that defence cooperation and innovation is fine but that we should not give additional money to it. We all need to understand very clearly that we cannot get quality without a certain quantity (of funding). Therefore, my report also makes the same call than NATO: in the EU too, Member States should allocate at least 2% of their GDP to defence. European funding should be added to that, not only for defence research but possibly also for other areas, such as logistics and infrastructural support for defence activities inside the European Union. Again: we cannot expect effective defence cooperation without appropriate funding. And finally, another pillar is the fact that we use existing tools which are already available, especially in the Lisbon Treaty, to move ahead. There is still a lot of potential there to be used.
You say that beyond defence research, the EU could also fund logistical support to defence. What kind of logistics support you are referring to?
We have today the problem that the ‘Military Schengen’ is still missing. It is quite complicated and time-consuming to move troops and equipment from one EU Member States to another. This can sometimes take days if not weeks. However, when there is a crisis looming and we want to be pro-active, we have to be much more effective and quicker in this domain. Therefore the rules and procedures applying to moving troops and military equipment inside the EU should be reformed. Some EU funding from the Structural Funds could go to projects which support our Armed Forces such as roads, bridges, barracks, etc. In these domains, the EU can be much more supportive to European defence.
You also want a European Commissioner for defence and more regular meetings of defence ministers.
Yes, for me that would be only logical. We currently have 28 Commissioners and if you look at the responsibilities of each of them, you will see that they are very different in size. High Representative and Commission Vice-President Federica Mogherini has in her responsibility the full world as well as defence and security issues. At the same time, other Commissioners have portfolios with less substance. It’s time to redistribute the portfolios and with defence and security becoming an ever bigger and bigger topic, I certainly believe that there is a case for having a dedicated Commissioner for Defence and Security. In addition to that, European defence ministers also need to meet in Defence Councils much more often because one of the core aspects of increased defence cooperation is trust between countries and the people who deal with it. This trust can only develop if people meet regularly. Change is also needed in the European Parliament. It’s now time to upgrade the subcommittee on defence and security (SEDE) into a fully-fledged parliamentary committee of the EP.
In your report, you encourage EDA Member States to establish a ‘common European capabilities and armaments policy’. What exactly should such a policy encompass?
Ideally, it could mean that there is a clear overview made of what the different Member States have in terms of military capabilities and what their plans and needs are. A second step could then be that they draw conclusions from that overview for future cooperations. It would make sense because there is no point in having each Member State develop and invest in all areas of defence capabilities because this is very expensive. It would be much more adequate if Member States could conclude agreements about which country concentrates on what sort of capability. Of course, we need a lot of trust for this and also adequate plans. We would then also need plans to make sure that these capabilities are made available to everyone in case of crises. This could and should be the objective (…) The EDA should promote this by proposing very concrete and practical examples, proposals and business cases, within the existing legal framework. As long as there is no general defence leadership in the EU, the EDA should pro-actively promote defence cooperation by putting on the table very concrete and practical steps.
‘The EDA still needs to be harnessed to develop its full potential’ is also stated in your report. Which specific areas or topics are you thinking about?
There are several areas where concrete proposals are needed. Hybrid warfare or cooperation with NATO on cyber defence, for example, are two of them. The EDA should not be hesitant or afraid, nor should it always wait for the political will to be fully existent in the capitals. I think that the time has come for the professionals, the very few professionals on defence we actually have in the EU, to bring in their full potential. The EDA can contribute a lot in this respect, especially at this moment in time.