RDR Solving the European Defence Market Puzzle

One of the major obstacles towards closer defence cooperation among EU member states is a highly fragmented market for military equipment. National armed forces often procure small batches of highly expensive systems which are not necessarily compatible with the ones neighbouring EU countries deploy. Scholars and political practitioners have looked at this problem from different angles during a recent project. At this event they will present their findings and discuss them with Brussels based experts. Some key questions that are to be discussed include: What are the driving factors behind military cooperation? Will the EU’s newly established instruments like the EDF and PESCO lead to more efficiency in defence procurement? What is to be expected by the ‘Franco-German engine’? And should central and eastern European countries stop to ‘buy American’?

One of the major obstacles towards closer defence cooperation among EU member states is a highly fragmented market for military equipment. National armed forces often procure small batches of highly expensive systems which are not necessarily compatible with the ones neighbouring EU countries deploy. Scholars and liberal defence experts looked at this problem during an ELF project in 2018 and present their findings in a recent publication titled “Solving the European Defence Market Puzzle”. Four of the publication’s six authors came to Brussels on March 13 to discuss their analyses and ideas with a Brussels based audience. Pauline Massart, deputy head of CEIS and active in the defence debate for more than 10 years, commented on the input and added her own views to the discussion. The audience engaged with the speakers by using Slido, and interactive tool to propose and rate questions.

Michael Kluth, an associate professor from Roskilde university, kicked off the debate with his assessment of the status quo. According to his research, military cooperation among EU member states is slowly increasing, but not in a linear way and not across all sectors. The naval domain gives a particularly bad example at the moment with a large number of recent frigate replacement projects being run on a purely national basis. A decisive factor for more intense cooperation would be cross-border company mergers like Airbus. “There is no such thing as a naval airbus” concluded Kluth. András Radnóti, risk analyst and foreign affairs advisor of the Hungarian Momentum Movement, explained that the Central and Eastern European countries’ tendency to buy their defence equipment from the United States is actually serving the European interest. Countries like Poland and Romania are strengthening the EU’s ties to NATO and are about to contribute capable militaries to the EUs set of national armed forces, asserts Radnóti.

A change of perspective was offered by Eve Roehrig, who was recently promoted to be the official defence advisor to the group of La République en Marche in the French national parliament. Eve proposed 9 conditions for Franco-German cooperation to be not only successful but to have a positive spill-over effect to other EU members. Among them is the development of a common threat perception and strategic vision.

This will not be achieved without more solidarity, reckoned Laurens Bynens, defence advisor of the Flemish liberal party OpenVLD in the Belgian parliament. Bynens gave a fascinating report on how his country went through the process of deciding for a replacement for his ageing fleet of F-16 multi role fighter jets. Belgium was according to Bynens, bullied by his larger neighbours France and Germany to decide for a European product, the Rafale or the Eurofighter. Belgium eventually chose the American F-35, but is not sure if it will still be able to join the Franco-German FCAS project.

Pauline Massart, acting as a discussant, lauded the results of the authors’ research and stressed three points. Firstly, a common strategic vision is an indispensable feature of any effort to work closer together. Secondly, it is clear that after the UK’s departure from the bloc, France is by far the most capable military power in the EU. This fact will have to be recognised by other member states as long as others do not match France’s level of capability. Thirdly, innovation will affect the development much more than ever before. “We are today planning weapon systems which are supposed to operate until 2080. This is as if one had planned a weapon system in 1919 for the first Iran-Iraq war in 1980”. The boundaries between military and civilian innovation will also continue to blur.

After 90 minutes of lively debate, several conclusions can be drawn: The future of European defence integration will very much depend on European integration as a whole with rising nationalist and populist forces being among the most adverse factors. Member states will have to agree on the nature of threats in order to develop and procure the same equipment. France and Germany will have to find a strategic cooperation rather than the opportunistic one which we have seen in the last decades. They should also treat their smaller partners with respect in order to win them over. And Central and Eastern European countries attitude towards European arms projects will grow warmer in the longer-term outlook.

These are just a few pieces of the puzzle that the “Solving the European Defence Market Puzzle” project is proud to contribute to the ambition of a more deeply integrated European defence policy.

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