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The European Commission Launches the E.U. Defense Fund

By Katie Russell

Amid a turbulent political environment, exhibited by a turn towards populism and an increasingly hostile relationship with Russia, the European Union (E.U.) faces the looming task of proving itself effective in securing the safety and well-being of member countries’ citizens. Evidenced by an E.U. Commission poll held this year, citizens indicated their greatest concern is security; therefore, it came with little surprise when the E.U. Commission announced plans for launching the E.U. Defense Fund this past June.

Some of Europe’s most influential leaders, such as Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron, have voiced strong support for common European defense, especially amidst the Trump Administration’s expressed displeasure with the lack of European contributions to North American Treaty Organization (NATO). In response, E.U. member countries had already agreed in May to develop an initiative that increased military spending with the goal of strengthening the E.U.’s autonomy and position on the world stage.

Albeit details on contributions and spending have yet to be confirmed, current plans for the multi-billion dollar fund are mostly for spending on traditional defense assets; helicopters, drones and other weaponry assets with some technology-related spending [1] . However, the effectiveness of these types of assets cannot meet the most pressing and growing military demands of the Fund, and ultimately, of the E.U.

Spending on physical capital is critical to enhancing capabilities and demonstrating military strength on the global stage, however this type of spending is misguided in addressing the most pressing concerns to E.U. citizens themselves. As security threats become increasingly domestic and entwined with technology, it is imperative that the E.U. Defense Fund promote the sharing and development of intelligence. The use of technology for hacking, cyber attacks and dissemination of extremist propaganda pose some of the greatest threats to regional security. Intelligence networks enable participating countries to develop a better understanding of these existing threats and prepare for an even more technologically-dependent economy in the future.

In the past, when intelligence sharing was promoted by the E.U. Commission, many member countries rebutted that national autonomy is limited if their intelligence, resources and methods are known by the E.U. and thus dependent on the political stability and allegiance of each member country. Although a rational concern, and especially heightened amid concerns of Soviet-leaning and right-wing populist countries, domestic vulnerability of fellow member states must be exchanged for desperately needed continental strength. It should not, however, be expected of member states to indiscriminately provide their intelligence resources to other countries simply on the basis of it being an E.U. member country. The sharing of intelligence resources is some of the most sensitive information held by governments. Therefore, such sharing should not be granted to all E.U. member states solely on the basis of them being a part of the economic union. Rather, the E.U. Commission should create standards by which E.U. member countries can join the intelligence network. Regulations on the use of intelligence should be agreed upon and followed by all members, and in the event any are broken or information is misused, those countries should be subjected to disciplinary actions. Intelligence that is shared throughout the E.U. should also have a purpose. Rightfully, member states have concerns that their sources and methods would be compromised if all sharing were disclosed. Therefore, goals of such an intelligence unit should be outlined and intelligence pertaining to any new initiatives that require greater intelligence sharing should be approved by all member states.

To ensure the E.U. has availability to both the best technology and traditional military assets, further development of and cooperation among E.U. member countries’ defense markets is imperative. This is well known by E.U. leaders. Within the Fund’s existing outline, it is clear European leaders are directing spending to boost research and development in, and consolidation of, the European defense market. This ambition is exhibited by a rule in which money will only be allocated to projects that use at least three companies in two countries [2] . The hope in doing so is to encourage cross-border collaboration that will boost the quality of European-made defense products, and thus, make the European defense market more globally competitive. Such an initiative is well-founded — the E.U Commission estimates there is a EUR 30 billion opportunity cost associated with the lack of interoperability [3] . Additionally, ensuring the E.U. has access to world-class military assets independent of the U.S., requires they are able to develop and manufacture these assets domestically. Thus, when introducing the Fund, the E.U. Commission stated that, “systemic defense cooperation and integration in turn requires a true single market for defense” and that in order to achieve this, requires “ encouraging industrial competition, cross-border access of small industries in the supply chain, specialization, economies of scale for suppliers, optimized production capacity, lower production costs and security of supply [4] . In the past, such efforts have failed; however today, the E.U. faces some of its greatest motivations to ensure the Defense Fund is a success.

Despite the E.U.’s economic integration, defense spending and initiatives remain nationally partitioned. This has caused a large discrepancy between the E.U.’s defense spending and its ensuing results — the E.U. spends approximately 50 percent as much as the U.S. on researching and manufacturing defense capital, however these assets account for only 15 percent of those the U.S. is able to deploy [5] . Not only has this caused weakened geopolitical strength, but the European defense markets remain greatly fragmented; the market is mostly a collection of relatively small, national firms. Such a fragmented market has caused the E.U. to have significantly less research and development (R&D) within the industry than other nations, especially in comparison to the U.S. and Great Britain.

The creation of the E.U. Defense Fund marks a pivotal step for the E.U. towards military independence. Although tremendous political and economic advancements are required, the E.U. is well intentioned in making the Fund promote the safety of its citizens, demonstrate autonomy on the global stage and ultimately use the initiative as a rebuttal to rising anti-E.U. sentiment. However, the E.U. must also look forward — the military requirements of tomorrow are not the same — cyber and hybrid attacks by foreign bodies and governments will be some of the greatest threats to the Union’s stability. Therefore, the E.U. Defense Fund should be designed to defend the very ambition that created it — the future of an ever closer union.

[1] Emmott, R., & Vey, J. (2017, June 22). E.U. Flexes Military Muscles with New Defense Plan

[2] Norman, L., & Barnes, J. E. (2017, June 07). EU Dedicates €500 Million to Unifying Its Fractured Defense Market

[3] European Commission. Reflection Paper on the Future of European Defense (Issue brief). (2017, June 7)

[4] European Commission. Reflection Paper on the Future of European Defense (Issue brief). (2017, June 7)

[5] Emmott, R., & Vey, J. (2017, June 22). E.U. Flexes Military Muscles with New Defense Plan