BRUSSELS — EU officials at a March 21 European Defence Agency conference underlined the need for a pragmatic approach to EU defense cooperation, focusing on groups of EU countries rather than the EU as a whole.
The discussion comes ahead of a December EU summit where heads of state and government will discuss defense cooperation.
“As you will have gathered by now, my aim is not to produce yet another strategic paper ahead of the December summit. What we need are tangible projects: All initiatives, whether bilateral or trilateral or in group, are welcome. Cooperation will be different according to projects and groups of countries. There is no one-size-fits-all. We must be pragmatic,” said European Council President Herman Van Rompuy.
During the summit in December, he said he wanted concrete progress on three key issues: priorities for future investment and equipment procurement; strengthening the industrial base to remain competitive and innovative; and the preparation and availability of forces.
In a morning keynote speech, Ireland Defense Minister Alan Shatter pointed to the difficulty of ensuring that key enablers, including strategic lift, air-to-air refueling, reconnaissance and attack helicopters, were provided for EU missions in Africa.
“It’s difficult to understand why member states failed to provide them,” he said, arguing that there is “a lack of political will to use the resources we have for the common good.”
Ireland holds the rotating presidency of the EU.
Gen. De Rousiers, chairman of the Military Committee of the EU, said that EU battlegroups and European Transport Command had worked “because we had a vision. We need a vision between two or three nations or more because these projects took many years to implement. The issue is not about UAVs, etc., but what we want to do with them.”
He listed areas such as protecting maritime borders, fighting illegal trafficking and gaining intelligence. “We will go in clusters as not everyone will want to go together on all these areas,” he said.
Van Rompuy also set out a number of practical questions for the EU summit to deal with: setting common priorities for investments and coordinating budgets; consolidating demand; reaping the benefits of research for dual-use technologies; ensuring savings are reinvested into defense; and guaranteeing that access to capabilities that are pooled are available when needed.