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Defence needs joint plan, ministers told

Leaders should introduce a pan-European strategy for defence research to address "highly risky" problems with coordination, the European Policy Centre has said.

In an opinion paper published on 4 December, policy analyst Andrea Frontini says that such a roadmap could lead to more exchange of defence competences within Europe. This should happen through a more capable Common Security and Defence Policy, and through putting the 2007 European defence technological and industrial base strategy into action, he writes.

Member states must also agree on systematically pooling research funding and results, and improve collaborations through European Commission and European Defence Agency research agendas, he adds.

The policy paper was issued in advance of a European Council meeting on 19-20 December, during which leaders are set to discuss the defence industry. However, Frontini warns that the Council’s conclusions could be “far too vague to be translated into concrete action” because of the industry’s “inherent sensitiveness”.

He writes that, although there have been moves to improve the fragmented situation in Europe policies are affected by “severe limits”, such as inadequate resources for the European Defence Agency and disparities between how much money the member states put into defence technologies and production.

Frontini describes the fragmentation as "highly risky" because "dispersed national or sub-regional initiatives are simply insufficient to guarantee the sector’s long-term sustainability, autonomy and competitiveness. This demands a genuinely political and policy cross-cutting reflection based on the overarching logic of European interdependence".

Frontini says that in 2012 the European defence industry had a €96 billion turnover, with around €3bn worth of R&D that also improved technologies in electronics, space and civil aviation. Despite such contributions, he continues, Europe’s defence technology and industrial base has been severely affected by uncoordinated austerity-driven cuts in European defence spending, which total a 20 per cent drop in 2005-13.

The market also fails to reach the critical mass achieved in countries like the US because of these cuts, Frontini says in the paper. This has caused companies to move overseas or focus on the dual-use aspects of their developments, he states.