On 22nd March 2012, European defence ministers met in Brussels, and offered renewed political momentum on defence cooperation. They endorsed the European Defence Agency’s work so far, and mandated it to continue work in new areas.
Air-to-Air Refueling has been identified as a vital capability gap for European forces, a fact that was brought home by the Libya campaign. In this field, ministers took action, signing a Political Declaration indicating that Pooling & Sharing efforts in Air-to-Air Refueling should get underway, facilitated by the European Defence Agency. The EDA is consequently working on potential solutions, including a Strategic Air Command-model. The aim is to increase tanker capacity by 2020 in a manner that delivers flexibility, cost-effectiveness, greater interoperability and operational effect. It is hoped that further economies may be found through rationalization and efficient basing arrangements. Ultimately, these capabilities would be available for EU, NATO or other operations by Member States.
Progress was also made on the development of a cooperative project to provide field hospitals. Thirteen ministers signed a Declaration of Intent to establish Multinational Modular Medical Units. Based on an vision initiated by Italy, this project is already ahead of schedule. This year, work gets under way on standardization, and by 2014 a deployable capability should be ready for use. Another key decision was the approval of two new projects. The first, Go Green, looks for innovative ways to reduce the use of fossil fuels, potentially by employing solar panels. This will save money, as well as helping the environment and reducing dependence on finite energy resources. The second is the launch of the EU Battle Group Logistic Services Pilot Case. These cooperative pilot projects will help Member States save money and increase capabilities.
In the longer term, there was also a ministerial-level consensus that further progress is required on harmonizing regulation, and the Steering Board called for further discussion of the role of financial incentives and opportunities to reinvest all or part of the savings realized through Pooling & Sharing initiatives. Concrete results were agreed in the research field, with the approval of the Second Joint Investment Programme on Innovative Concepts and Emerging Technologies, a two year project with an expected budget of €10m. Similarly, ministers formally approved the Programme Arrangement of the Research & Technology Joint Investment Programme on CBRN Protection, which develops CBRN protective measures in close coordination with the European Commission and European Space Agency, governed by the European Framework Cooperation.
Meanwhile, ministers recognized and complimented the EDA’s recent work in Pooling & Sharing, with especial reference to the European SATCOM Procurement Cell, helicopter training and maritime surveillance. Perhaps the greatest endorsement, though, lies in their calls for the EDA to explore still further areas of defence cooperation. The EDA will build on these concrete results in the coming months, and continue to work with Member States for closer defence cooperation in Europe.