Presentation at a conference of the European Parliamentary
Group of the European United Left
Brussels, 10. Dec. 2004

European Defence Agency: A Core Instrument for European Militarisation

by Christopher Steinmetz

EDA can be regarded as a contribution to EU militarisation

After a long period of idleness, interrupted by occasional half-hearted calls for of an European Armaments Policy and an European Armaments Agency, the idea to create a European agency in the field of armaments, research and military capabilities gained momentum in 2003.

During the preparatory work for a "Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe" it became clear that the interests of all major actors were converging on this issue. Every group, ranging from the European Commission and the arms industry to the EU-member states and European Council, regarded the creation of a co-ordinating agency as the first step towards the solution of their subjective problems.

As it became obvious towards the end of 2003 that the ratification of the "European Constitution" and the therein included creation of an European Agency for Armaments, Research and Military Capabilities will - at best - be delayed until 2007, the European Council began pursuing its establishment through a Joint Action. In July 2004, only half a year later, the European Defence Agency (EDA) was officially created by the European Council.

Of course many issues regarding the European Defence Agency (EDA) still remain to be settled. But already the way towards its inception and the broad mandate handed to EDA imply that regardless of whoever’s interests will eventually dominate the agency, EDA will be a contribution to European militarisation:

  • Defence ministers of the EU member states, being put in charge of EDA, now have their own instrument to shape the political debate on ESDP at the European level
  • EDA will plan and co-ordinate the build-up and modernisation of the military means for intervention and propagate an increase in defence spending and procurement
  • EDA has the necessary instruments to shape the direction of future military research and development of respective technologies
  • EDA will restructure the European defence market, most likely thereby strengthening the European arms industry and liberalise the arms trade

Furthermore, this process will be pursued by the various interested groups without adequate "Checks & Balances" in place. The already opaque political decision-making structures in the defence field on the national level will become even hazier on the intergouvernmental European level. Strengthening democratic control, transparency and public participation are unfortunately no items on the political agenda.


EDA’s specific contributions to European militarisation

In line with its broad mandate, the European Defence Agency (EDA) is quickly moving forward and staking its claims vis-a-vis other actors. On November 22nd, 2004 the Steering Board of EDA held its 2nd meeting in Brussels charting the course of action for 2005. On the same day, the same ministers met for the Military Capabilities Commitments Conference. There they confirmed the special contribution EDA will make to the build-up of capabilities for military interventions, specifically through a better guidance and co-ordination of the present Project Groups in the ECAP process.

This clearly points to the main factor which will ensure EDA’s success: its ability to offer a comprehensive approach for European militarisation. As an interlocutor and catalyst between the Military Command and Military Staff of the General Secretariat and the European Council as well as through the involvement of the national defence ministries EDA will soon possess the capacity for long term strategic planning, for providing necessary financial means and to act as an co-ordinating authority which can apply pressure on individual member states to comply.

The EDA Steering Board is moving fast to seize the initiative in various relevant fields. The work schedule for 2005 already identified the following tasks:

  • defining the precise direction of the ECAP planning process
  • increasing the military capabilities in the field of command, control, communication and interoperability,
  • dealing with the questions of configuration and logistical support for the largest European military procurement project, military transport aircraft A400 M,
  • identifying convergence requirements for the armoured fighting vehicles sector and proposing common projects aimed at restructuring this secto,
  • preparing a technology demonstration project on long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicles.

But for the mid-term the main strategic focus of the agency will lie in pulling together the various existing but dispersed multilateral instruments in order to secure its central position and set the standards for future state co-operation on defence issues.

Aside from strategic planning and monitoring tasks in the ECAP process and Headline Goals 2010, this means e.g. an integration of the military research & development instruments of the Western European Armaments Group (WEAG) and the attached Organisation (WEAO), including a registry of all military test sites and the EUROPA MoU, which permits the management of military research & development in a multilateral frame by a small group of states.

Another issue will be the adaptation of some of the aspects negotiated in the Framework Agreement concerning Measures to Facilitate the Restructuring and Operation of the European Defence Industry (short "Framework Agreement") of 2001. This far reaching agreement signed by the six largest arms procuring and producing EU-member states provides a basis for a far reaching liberalisation of the arms trade, a commitment to reduce duplication of arms production capacities, access to government funded research and support for transnational industrial mergers.

A third instrument to be pulled into the agencies reach will be the Organisme Conjointe de Cooperation en matiere d’Armements (OCCAR). Created by Germany, France, Great Britain and Italy in a lengthy process between 1996 and 2001, this agency was designed to manage multinational arms procurement projects. The main innovation was the decision to abandon the principle of "juste retour" which linked the share of national procurement costs to the share of national industrial participation. OCCAR is presently managing projects worth about 33 billion €. Making OCCAR the procurement arm of the EDA Armaments Directorate would give the agency a powerful instrument to push governments into procurement programmes. EDA would become a central intermediary by handling a large share of national defence expenditures.

Of special importance and deserving public attention is the future development of the agency’s relation to the European Commission. The Commission has a seat on the EDA steering board without voting rights unless financial contributions of the Commission are involved. Such an involvement will most likely occur in the area of Research & Development. There, the Commission is presently setting the pace. In 2004 it launched a Preparatory Action to determine the inclusion of security-related research in the 7th Framework Programme for Research. A so called "Group of Personalities", including the usual suspects from the arms industry, advised to include additional funds of around 1 billion € for security-related technologies. This will make the Commission an attractive partner for EDA and could lead to an unchecked increase in defence-related research designed to improve the interventionist capabilities.


EDA will be a success story

Naturally, this expansion of responsibilities won’t be a smooth process. Many issues have a conflict potential and the time schedule could be delayed by the haggling over details.

One potential trip-wire is the future relationship of the EDA to the U.S. and to the involvement of the U.S. arms industry in the build up of European military capabilities. It is difficult to imagine that European governments would agree on a common project financing structure only to purchase U.S. technology. On the other hand, member states like Great Britain emphasis at each possible moment, that the choice of procurement venues should not be proscribed by the EDA.

Another problem will be the status of the OCCAR. The influential OCCAR-states, foremost again Great Britain, insist on the future independence of this body. According to them, projects initiated by EDA can be transferred to OCCAR for the procurement management but have to follow the OCCAR guidelines. In the long run this will not be tolerable for non-OCCAR-states, since they could only choose to follow the rules or not.

Nevertheless, the main course is charted, and it is not the question, if EDA will be an influential player, but only when.

There are two interdependent reasons for assuming that EDA will be a success. First, the agency is a product of the traditional approach of the EU to transform complex political issues (here a European Armaments Policy) into incremental technical and administrative steps. Only after setting up such a mechanism (like the EDA) the policy dimension is reintroduced to fill the vacuum. Second, all relevant political and industrial actors agree that present initiatives, regimes and institutions lack the power and coherence necessary to solve the overlapping industrial, military, technical and budgetary issues. More importantly, each of them believes to be capable of shaping EDA according to their respective wishes.

The EU member states with greater industrial capacity and larger defence budgets regard the agency as a means to leverage some of the military costs on other member states, retain control of the direction of European militarisation and strengthen their national arms industry for transatlantic competition. In addition, EDA’s work structure allows those states to pursue co-operation in closed project groups, retaining absolute control of the work share and access to technical information. At the same time, they have the power to shape the national procurement policies of the other member states by determining the equipment standards and opening the respective defence markets for the big transnationals.

The European Commission regards the agency as an important step towards establishing a common defence market without custom barriers. Harmonising procurement requirements and opening the national defence markets for competition would not only strengthen the arms industry, in whose interest the Commission claims to speak, but would also finally establish Commission responsibility for ALL economic transactions inside the European Union. In addition, cooperation through EDA would allow the Commission to gain a foothold in the exclusive ESDP domain of military hardware.

For the Europe-based transnational arms corporations the creation of EDA holds many promises. First and foremost, a single European procurement agency able to sign binding contracts would allow the companies to focus their efforts only on one supranational body instead of all national entities. In addition, such contracts would cover larger quantities and would make it more difficult for states to reduce their orders. Second, industry expects EDA to push for a liberalisation of national defence markets. Third, the agency is seen as an ideal instrument to speed the harmonisation and standardisation of military requirements and contracting. Fourth, industry expects EDA to introduce some protective measures against the U.S. defence industry and apply pressure on the member states to "buy European". Last but not least, such an European Defence Agency will most likely grant the arms industry a privileged position as an advisor to the agency. This would give them far-reaching power to determine future research topics and procurement needs. In the past, the arms lobby group European Defence Industries Group (EDIG) enjoyed such a privileged position in the WEAG structures. In the wake of the preparations for the agency, EDIG joined forces with their aerospace counterpart in spring 2004 and founded the AeroSpace and Defence Industries Association of Europe (ASD).


EDA offers an intransparent future

Through EDA the European Union now has an instrument to pursue and shape the future European Armaments Policy. Regardless of which actors will be able to shape the agency according to their wishes, it is certain, that EDA’s existence will lead to more military spending and more procurement programmes. This will be connected to a further liberalisation of the intra-EU trade to reduce the procurement costs and - most likely - also a further increase in European arms exports. The agency will also be an entrance point for the arms industry to become formally involved in the military planning process. In the past, they had to pursue indirect avenues through the Commission, the WEAG or single European member states in order to introduce policy proposals.

The growing concentration of strategic planning and decision-making power in multinational, supranational or intergouvernmental settings will have repercussions on the already marginal national democratic control and transparency in the defence field. Binding agreements on the European level will serve as justifications for the governments vis-a-vis their parliaments. Access to information about ongoing or commencing projects can be easily blocked since the dissemination would violate the security interests of other states.

All in all, there is an urgent need to change the present Europeanisation process in the field of arms policy. This requires first and foremost the introduction of effective democratic checks and balances for EDA and Commission initiatives. One possible avenue would be to strengthen the role of the European Parliament as a legitimate overseer of the EDA and the Commissions conduct of business in the security field, especially regarding the respective allocation of finances and project decisions taken, similar to the WEU Assembly. Leaving aside the enormous challenge to convince the EU Council to share information, this would require establishing an adequately staffed Committee on Defence Affairs and improving and formalising the information exchange with their repective counterparts in the national parliaments on arms issues.


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