You are here

A proposed armaments, research and capabilities agency

01 January 2004

Until now, EU member states have excluded defence procurement from the European integration process, preferring such cooperation to remain outside the EU framework. But in the wake of the new European constitution drafted by the Convention, this situation looks set to change. Debate on proposals in the Constitutional Treaty to create a European Armaments, Military Capabilities and Research Agency; the European Commission's communication on establishing a European defence equipment market (announcing new market- and research-oriented initiatives); and the conclusions of the EU presidency at the Thessalonika Summit, envisaging the creation of an agency as soon as 2004, all show that national governments mostly are no longer hostile in principle to EU involvement in armaments policy.
<b>New spirit of openness</b>
It is primarily the development of the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) that has changed the political landscape and paved the way for the current debate. In addition, crossborder link-ups and mergers between defence companies have increased the need for a common regulatory framework, while continuing budget restrictions mean European governments must envisage more efficient solutions and find new ways of cooperating. For the first time ever, the EU has a real opportunity to help shape armaments policy. This is a positive development--the EU could contribute to vital reforms in this sector, as it is ideally placed to establish a coherent institutional structure, using a wide range of Community or Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) instruments. This combination could underpin a cohesive strategy in areas most requiring reform:acquisition, research and procurement.
A common EU armaments policy would also form a natural complement to the ESDP. Politically speaking, this could help to remove the dividing lines between armsproducing and non-producing countries. From a practical viewpoint, EU military bodies and a reformed European Capabilities Action Plan (ECAP) could play a useful role in the early stages of the procurement cycle, by developing common concepts, doctrines and capability needs as key elements for harmonizing military requirements.
<b>An ad hoc group to establish a working concept</b><br />
Until now, debate has focused on creating an agency to embrace capabilities, research and armaments. Following the EU Summit at Thessalonika, early in September 2003, the Committee of Permanent Representatives (COREPER) decided to establish an &quot;ad hoc preparation group&quot; to define a working concept for the agency's organization and missions. Mid-November, the group submitted a report that will now serve as a roadmap for the project. An Agency EstablishmentTeam will be set up early 2004 to clarify the underlying financial, organizational and legal issues, and to define the agency's activities. However, there is no guarantee this project will succeed. There remain big differences of opinion between member states concerning the agency's rationale, and these differences will prove an even greater hurdle within an extremely complex, intergovernmental decision-making process. Add this to the usual bureaucratic inertia and traditional reluctance of national administrations to hand over their prerogatives to EU bodies, and we get some idea of the obstacles to be overcome.
In this context, it is no surprise that the ad hoc group's report does not propose a &quot;big bang&quot;solution, but rather the creation of a smallscale structure with a limited mandate. Which is fine, provided it serves as the springboard for a more ambitious project. It is therefore essential that governments should follow up their stated intentions and give the agency the required competencies to move progressively up to speed.
A strong agency could play a key role in upgrading the EU's military capabilities. Ultimately, it could also be responsible for space assets, thereby progressively combining separate programmes already underway in Europe. However, we must remember that only a few European countries are engaged in military space activities, with France the clear leader. Other countries will only transfer responsibility for their programmes to the agency if it is flexible enough to allow restricted cooperation through varying levels of participation.
<br /><b>Working to increase civil/military synergies in space</b>
The dual-use capabilities of space technologies are another factor in the equation. Military and civil space applications are usually developed from the same technology, and the decision to dedicate that technology to civil or military purposes is often purely political (Galileo being a good example). Dual use also sits well with new security concepts that extend well beyond military and defence aspects.
One of the problems in Europe's space sector is that political and institutional structures have not (yet) taken these technology and security realities on board. To achieve more efficient solutions, Europe should coordinate military and civil space activities much better to fully exploit potential synergies. The issue here is whether it is better to have a defence-oriented agency managing military space programmes or a space agency managing civil and military space activities.
Questions like these may seem premature--the European Armaments, Military Capabilities and Research Agency is still on the drawing board, the outline of the future relationship between ESA and the EU remains unclear, and the European Commission has only recently turned its attention to homeland security. We have no way of knowing how the institutional landscape will evolve in the years to come. However, this uncertainty should not become a pretext for ducking the hot political issues. On the contrary, it represents a unique opportunity to start planning early.